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Government survival guaranteed by improved performance not appeasement

Nov 03,2018 - Last updated at Nov 03,2018

The hardest task for readers of the political map over the past couple of weeks has been to make sense or create a legible framing of the government’s largely incoherent and inconsistent policies, statements and actions. As the weeks roll by since the appointment of Premier Omar Razzaz’s government, many have the feeling that someone, somewhere, appears to throw the cards in the air every week and we Jordanians watch with trepidation and cross our fingers as they land. 

While commentators, including myself, had optimistically credited the government of Razzaz again and again with “good intentions” and “promising actions”, the government has yet again stuttered and stumbled through flippant, strategically vacant and unstudied public statements, actions and reactions that only highlight its inexperience in handling the country’s affairs and reading, and reacting to, the public mood.

It is this inexperience, and the fragmented rush to speak in the media without any planning or coordination, that observers are now blaming for the multiplied negative and angry public reaction to the traumatising events of the Dead Sea tragedy a week ago, and as a result the public’s total frustration and disappointment with the Razzaz government’s performance. 

Let us review some of the more glaring mistakes: public statements by the premier himself trying to dodge blame and responsibility, flippant and irresponsible conversations by the government spokesperson showcasing lack of political maturity and understanding of the centrality of communications in containing public anger, misunderstanding of the location of the tragedy highlighting the disconnectedness with the country, disparate and contradicting statements by ministers to the media highlighting the lack of central planning and coordination, yet unexplained delays in the arrival of rescue teams to the individuals and children trapped or lost in the area of the tragedy, shocked and traumatised families left without government support for hours while allowing the whole scene to play out on media channels, complete lack of updates to families on the whereabouts of the dead and injured, an utter fiasco in identifying the bodies and matching them to their families, a traumatised father publicly appealing for any information on his lost child, a shocking case of mixed bodies indicating they were dispersed without recourse to scientific confirmation in a clear breech of protocol, the premier forming a review committee that includes some of the ministers under investigation clearly presenting a conflict of interest, the premier reneging on his earlier statements absolving his government of responsibility and now saying that the government does accept a responsibility.

Then the news is leaked on a Friday that two ministers have handed in their resignation to the prime minister. The two have clearly been pushed under the wheel, to become the scapegoats of a government that is looking to extricate itself of any blame and escape the ramifications of this national tragedy. 

But what everyone in the country now believes is that the tragedy was not the responsibility of those two ministers alone, but the full responsibility of the government as a whole. 

This tragedy removed the last shred of protective cover from the public sector, highlighted the failed mechanisms of its quality control functions that are meant to protect citizens and emphasised what we knew all along: the corruption and nepotism that contributed to the public sector bulge and its institutionalised and rampant inefficiency has now come to bite us, in fact, as shown by last week’s tragedy, it has now come to kill us. 

The moral and administrative responsibility of the government today is to own up to the need to reform the public sector as an immediate priority, remove the nepotism pathways to employment within this, and any other, sector, reinstate meritocracy as the primary criteria for employment utilising closely monitored systems based in performance indicators and parallel capacity building tracks. The government must also review the positive discrimination policies that allowed the entry of unqualified employees based on geographic considerations unless these policies are coupled with requirements of dedicated and consistent training and orientation. Most importantly, the government must immediately review its by-laws and instructions for quality control of all its services to the public, especially those that can put the public safety at risk.

Jordanians must also look at themselves in the mirror and ask of themselves what their role was in allowing this tragedy to happen. How many times did we shy away from enforcing accountability because we did not want to bring on the wrath of those being challenged? How many times have we participated in nepotism to appoint people we know are not sufficiently qualified for the favour we are seeking for them? How many times did we ignore injustice to others because it was none of our business? How many times did we turn a blind eye, deaf ear, mute mouth because it suited us and served our benefit?

We already know that in this tragedy there was government responsibility, but there was also complacency by the school’s administrators, by the companies that run the tourism tours and by the professional associations or unions that represent these sectors and are often busier with political wrangling that raising the standards of the profession. I am sure that if we dig deeper we will find even more layers of inefficiency and complacency that piled up to leave those young victims with no chance of survival. 

But, having said that, we must come back full circle to the government, its leadership role and its responsibility to lead the reform that will get us past this malaise that has not only affected our government performance but our ethical values as a people. 

The government must lead by example. It must immediately stop what appears to be a strategy of appeasing critics and trying to win over detractors through under the table and out-of-national-character favours to those the government has decided are power bases that must be won over. 

Regardless of whether those are deep state, Islamist, tribal, businesses or whoever manages to place themselves within the circle of the government’s leadership, they must be neutralised and politically contained for the more strategic and urgent benefit of the country. 

Jordanians do not today want a government that adopts a policy of appeasement and conciliation to ensure its own political survival. Jordanians want to see a government that is more focused on its service to Jordan as a country and which recognises Jordanians, as a whole and not as sub-populations or political groups, as the primary critical ingredient of this country’s survival. 

The premier must show leadership today by bringing all of his government together and engaging them in a plan to reverse the trajectory of inefficiency that is plaguing this country’s performance and is clearly behind the tragedy of last week. He must himself, and instruct that all his team members, stop playing footsie with the powerful yet inefficient or appeasing political opportunists just to avoid public confrontation or risk being removed from office.

Ultimately, the only guarantee of survival or popular support will come from improved performance and meeting the expectations of the people of Jordan, who are more politically savvy than they are being given credit for, and fulfilling the political directives of leadership as expressed and articulated by His Majesty King Abdullah in his many statements and papers on public sector reform and efficient performance.

The lesson that should be learnt from this tragedy, by both government and people, is that appeasement and conciliation does not work, efficiency and quality does. 


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