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Agony of inequal opportunity?

Oct 13,2018 - Last updated at Oct 13,2018

Hierarchy of competence, just like a sense of equal opportunity, is essential for justice, equality, national pride, sense of individual significance and relevance to homeland. The increasing perception among Jordanians that there is less “equal opportunity” in the country adds to the ever-growing complexity of state-society relations and its existing, yet, challenged social contract. 

In a September 2018 nationwide poll, NAMA asked the following four-point scale question: “To what extent do you think equal opportunity exists in Jordan?” The results were not positive, as 46 per cent said it does not exist at all, up from 40 per cent in June 2018, 29 per cent said it exists to a little extent, down from 32 per cent in June, 19 per cent said it exists to a medium extent, down from 25 per cent in June, and 3 per cent said it exists to a great extent as it was in June.

Nearly half of adult Jordanians believe equal opportunity does not exist in the country. This statistic constitutes one piece of empirical evidence shedding light on a growing public policy challenge. This challenge has arisen in the context of ineffective economic policy, pointing a finger at incompetent
policymakers for this miserable economic situation. This highlights that in Jordan, the hierarchy of competence is not meritocratic. In this situation in particular, it is rather power-based favouritism which led to hierarchy of incompetence, in which accountability does not go hand in hand with responsibility.   

Perception is not only more important than reality, but it is also more dangerous. Public opinion, government’s source of legitimacy, is shifting away from reporting prevalence of equal opportunity in the country. This should not be denied or brushed under the carpet, especially when the sense of disappointment among taxpayers with Razzaz’s government is linearly correlated with the perception of less equal opportunity. Recent government conduct has been perceived by the public as compromising proper competitive access to public opportunities. Such perceived conduct is not helping to fix the image of incompetent hierarchy.

Two thirds of Jordanians believe the country is going in the wrong direction, according to the most recent polls by the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. This is a similar percentage to that of April 2018, which led to the protest movement that toppled the Mulki government. Moreover, two thirds are reporting that their household economic situation is worse now than it was when compared to 12 months ago, similar to April 2018. Also, expectations of a better household economic state have gone down from 45 per cent in June to 25 per cent today, again similar to that of April 2018. On that note, half are expecting their household economic situation to get worse in the next 12 months, up from 26 per cent in June. Concerningly, for the first time the percentage of people saying their household income does not cover their expenses and they face difficulties has reached 72 per cent, according to NAMA September poll, growing steadily from 42 per cent in July 2011. 

Equal opportunity is not limited to economic realm. That being said, it is practical to expect that when people are under economic stress they will report less prevalence of equal opportunity. Currently, people have more economic reasons to express dissatisfaction than ever before as interest rates increase, taxes increase, energy costs increase and public capital expenditure decrease. Furthermore, nearly half of people are not satisfied with essential services like cleanliness, education and health. The current circumstances are not very different from those of April-May 2018, as little has been done in the past six months to ease this economic hardship. This undesirable reality is the product of incompetent, public-averse, power-hungry and arrogant policymakers who live an unaccountable state of denial.

The combination of decreasing sense of equal opportunity matched with a rise in economic frustration, public disappointment and negative expectations is indicating a similar public mood to that of April-May 2018. This significant attitudinal public support for protest action ought to be concerning to authorities. Passivity and denial do not make the undercurrent go away. Politicians should provide solutions, not niceties, excuses and explanations, to problems created by incompetent and unaccountable appointees. The only way to truly change public opinion is to treat the chronic economic problems that are causing discontent. Message massaging public opinion neither treats its problems nor makes it “feel good” about 18.7 per cent unemployment rate.

 

The writer is chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions

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