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Coming clean

Oct 28,2017 - Last updated at Oct 28,2017

It was interesting that Prime Minister Hani Mulki started his two-hour meeting with academics and other stakeholders associated with the Strategic Studies Centre at University of Jordan last week by saying that “we need to come clean in order that we reach an understanding”.

By coming clean he meant that the government was going to be transparent about the challenges it faces and how it intends to tackle those challenges, and in turn, the citizens were invited — through these meetings — to come clean with their concerns about the government’s performance.

I say interesting because the premier framed the whole conversation that ensued within the “Jordan is a country under siege” argument. In fact, he went on to take this framework to another level by exploring two layers of economic analysis around this siege: “A siege that is imposed on us and which is severely restricting Jordanian exports and another siege that our army is imposing on us to ensure that we don’t allow terrorism to infiltrate our borders but as a result giving a strong message that long-term investment in Jordan is risky.”

In his opinion, this caused a double jeopardy where we saw a decline in growth rates and higher spending on security.

Against a background of investor caution and the regional consequences of the so-called Arab Spring, Jordan’s economy struggled. Lesson learnt was that the Kingdom’s economy could not continue to remain propped up by the “outside” and that if Jordan had been more self-reliant we would have coped better.

The package of measures and decisions that the government has already embarked on to move us towards self-reliance were listed succinctly, within their strategic objective and justification covering multiple sectors and smart statements that ticked off most of the boxes that citizens question.

These included administrative and public sector reform including minimising bureaucracy, electronic government, “hire and fire” policies based on merit and performance, safeguarding public money and services against corruption and mismanagement.

On education, he went through steps taken to institutionalise a system of curriculum reform, teacher training and vocational education.

On the rule of law he emphasised citizen protection through speedy, efficient, specialised courts and justice process, and promised severe consequences in cases of public fund mismanagement and corruption, and at all levels.

On employment, the premier used the motto “tashgheel badal al tawtheef”, which is tricky to translate into English, but in general indicates a policy for building the baseline for long-term career employment and growth rather than just providing jobs in order to fix unemployment numbers.

I cannot do justice to all the topics he covered and the steps the government has already taken, but suffice it to say that, as Mulki suggested, his approach aims to be holistic, logical and long term, and will require a lot of courage and some quite thick skin to absorb the criticism and the uncertainty the citizens may feel as we move forward.

I came out from that meeting feeling encouraged and confident that this prime minister had taken the time he had so far in government to assess the situation, read the indicators in multiple sectors, study the options for moving us forward and is now working on resolving those that are within his grasp.

As a friend said, the premier has chosen the timing to “come clean” very well. Specifically, on the economic and financial health of the country, the government seems to be on track.

Without diminishing how hard it is going to be able to “fix” our economic and monetary situation, and how grateful we will be as a nation if the premier and his government manage to put us on track in that direction, there remains a strong concern that the real fix we are going to need in parallel — and perhaps the premier did not articulate this as well in the meeting — is the value system that we seek for a successful and self-reliant Jordan.

The question that remains is: What is the government working on to encourage the evolvement of the Jordanian we want as a citizen and the state that represents that citizen?

Yes, by all means let us focus on education reform, but what yardstick are we using?

What is the identity of that citizen that we are infusing into our curriculum? What are we training our teachers to propagate as a value system?

We all agree that rule of law is important, but what law? What does the law we want represent?

Is it equality for all citizens, regardless of origin, gender and religion? Is it human rights? Is it a secular state that respects all religions and religious freedoms? Is it a religious state that only tolerates liberals?

When our judges are required to make a call that needs a measure of upholding the values we stand for as a nation, what will those values be?

I am certainly not calling for any conferences or new strategies; we have had our fill of those. But I am asking the government to come clean about the values that it — and therefore we, citizens — are defending.

The government needs to know why it is taking every single action it takes and whether the justification for that action fits in with what we working towards.

Where does the new electronic crime law fit in our value system?

I personally believe it is a necessary law if it falls under the value of silencing the bullies, rather than a security tool to silence all.

Where does the banning of a religious minority’s celebration fit in with our value system?

Where do laws that deny Jordanian women the right to pass the benefits of their nationality to their children fit in with our value system, or are men only our primary citizens?

Where does littering fit in?

I am in Aqaba as I am writing this column, and throughout my stay I have been wondering how glass bottom boats are allowed to blare music across the beech disturbing all that is sacred about being on a beachfront: the sound of waves breaking across the sand, quiet reflection, etc.? 

Is profiteering more important as a value than the sanctity of a citizen’s space?

I would add to the premier’s very important and solid analysis of Jordan under siege a third dimension and, in my opinion, a siege even more damaging than what he described: a siege caused by our lack of vision on what we want to be as a state and that state’s pact with its citizens based on common values and objectives.

I spoke of what I called state actualisation before. Economic and monetary health is important to that process, but nothing will be more important than the value system defined and articulated.

 

 

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Comments

EXCELLENT ARTICLE AND I AM IMPRESSED AT THE UNSANITIZED QUESTION(S) THAT NERMEEN HAVE ALWAYS ASKED AND I WISH THAT JORDANIANS WILL JOIN IN THIS DEBATE TO HELP JORDAN REACH AND ACHIEVE ITS GOALS. WHILE I THANK THE MINISTER FOR HIS COURAGE IN LAYING THINGS AS THEY ARE IN THE OPEN FOR DEBATE, I WISHED THAT HE COULD HAVE AT LEAST FIRST DELETE ALL THOSE FACTS THAT WE ALL KNOW THAT IS JUST BAD AND UNCIVILIZED, FOR EXAMPLE THE EQUALITY OR UNEQUALITY AMONG CITIZENS, CITIZENSHIP FOR MEN ONLY AND THE RIGHTS OF RELIGIOUS MINORITY. ONE CAN NOT TALK ABOUT THE FUTURE WITHOUT RE-SETTING THE PRESENT.

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