Dr.Awen Al-meshaqbah / د. عون المشاقبة
Has Jordan Learned Anything from the Water Contamination?Governmental accountability -- that is the duty of public officials to report their actions (i.e., public policy failures, misuse of public resources, achievements etc) to the citizens, and the right of the citizens to take action against those officials whose conduct has proven to be dishonorable or unacceptable is perhaps the most essential element of democracy.Much of the public’s trust in its government depends on its leaders being openly accountable for their decisions, actions, and mistakes. When a government operates in secret or refuses to disclose information to the public, it effectively strips the public of the ability to oversee governmental processes and to hold leaders accountable. Furthermore, by functioning in this way, it is the government which first displays a lack of trust, at best, a lack of trust in the public it is charged with leading, and at worst, an overt mistrust of its citizens’ ability to understand information and consider appropriate and fair actions.This short introduction brings me to two stories which have recently appeared in the news about Jordan: Mr. Abbas Radidah’s recently published an article on the King’s recent trip to North American, where he raised serious questions about the King’s conduct and whereabouts and secondly the water contamination incident that occurred in Al-Mafraq. In both instances, the Jordanian media failed to hold the highest ranking Jordanian official accountable for his actions.Access to information about government decisions, i.e. how they were made and the results of implementing them, is vital to enabling the public to hold the government accountable and to assess its performance accurately, realistically, and fairly. Without sufficient information, the public cannot fully understand the context in which decisions were and are made. For example, the Jordanian people have historically been kept completely in the dark with regard to the management of the country’s public resources and policies. . What happened in Mansheyet Bani Hassan in Al-Mafraq Governorate in regard to water contamination is a clear example of how the government of Jordan operates and conducts its daily business. The Prime Minister shamelessly and repeatedly assured the Jordanian public that everything was under control. In fact, as we know now, everything was not under control.Because public accountability may mean that responsibility or blame will be assigned to senior officials (i.e. ministers, executives etc), an inherent resistance to it exists within the system. It is this reluctance to risk criticism and reprimand that often gives rise to deeply entrenched secrecy.In spite of my serious reservations about his leadership, I commend the King for doing what was right, for firing the officials who allowed the contamination fiasco to happen. He finally realized that the public could not be fooled forever. Now, he needs to do the same thing in every aspect of Jordan’s political and economic life: expose corruption and hold those responsible accountable for their actions. Only in this way will he begin to convince the citizens of Jordan of his personal integrity and his commitment to their well-being.As for Mr. Radidah’s challenge to the media, I do not see any hope for a change in the near future. The record shows that the Jordanian media usually “rubber stamp” the opinion or point of view the regime wants presented and on many occasions, the media fails to carry out its professional duties and its moral responsibilities to do what is right.Sadly, when our people are not informed or are ill-informed, they cannot effectively hold their government accountable for its actions. Thus, incompetence and/or corruption, or more, is allowed to continue, and if allowed to continue, it will almost certainly flourish.The abuses that Mr. Radidah refers to in his article about the King and the results of the Mansheyet Bani Hassan scandal will continue to be part of Jordan’s political life until the King and his government are forced to recognize the need for a rigorous system of checks and balances and to acknowledge that such a system is the only way to prevent these sorts of things from happening again.In my opinion and opinion of others, “a sense of highest responsibility, a dignifying and elevating sense of being trusted, together with a consciousness of being in an official position so conspicuous that no faithful discharge of duty can go unacknowledged and unappreciated, and no breach of trust undiscovered and unpunished,” -- these are the characteristics, the only characteristics, which promote sensible, caring, responsive, and honorable leadership. This is the dream!P.s. The King is entitled to take a private vacation but he has to pay for it from his private funds. Unfortunately, this is not the case!