Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mediocre is good enough

Fahed el Fanek has finally articulated what we practice, but don't like to say. In his article today, he says that it is not important to have excellent people as cabinet members. He argues that some ministries are important, such as the Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs are important, and exceptional people were in fact chosen for the posts. He sarcastically asks if it is the PM's job to find brilliant people to take our breath away.

He goes on to fudge, claiming that most of the chosen ministers are technocrats. The implication is that technocrats just need to take orders, the recipe is there in the national agenda, and there is no need for these technocrats to be smart, imaginative or visionary.

I wonder if Dr. Fanek would let a nurses assistant who is good at taking orders perform heart surgery on him, or if he would like to have a good 16 year old mechanic's assistant fix his car. Is it important that our finances and foreign relations are ok, but other aspects such as public works, health, water, agriculture or energy are not? Is our foreign minister supposed to think for himself as well as for water and energy?

Besides, since there is no shortage of people willing to become ministers, why not choose the best? Dr. Fanek is an economist. Shouldn't we try to get the best value for our money?

The implication of Fanek's argument is that good people are hard to find. Is that true? I mean, we pride ourselves as being some of the best educated people in the region. The most distinguished one percentile of the adult population of Jordan comes to about 25000 people. Can't we find 25 of them? Can't we figure out a mechanism to pinpoint them. Is it easier to find a terrorist than to find a distinguished professional in Jordan?

A deeper issue, of course, is our sheepish acceptance of mediocrity. A Ph.D. from Darfur university is quite willing to claim that he is more qualified than a Ph.D. from Harvard. You can be sure that nobody will ever challenge his contention, and he will find people sympathetic with the injustice that he is suffering.

A typical refrain is "he is not the worse". I go nuts when I hear this. Instead of raising the bar so that the excellent can improve, we lower it to the point that being able to crawl under it would be difficult. When will we learn to encourage and reward excellence, and put the average nincompoops in their proper place?


At 11:10 PM, Blogger Ziad said...

I don't think that what he meant was that there was no need for excellent, well-qualified individuals (most of them are!). He likely meant that we shouldn't expect to see some "never before heard of" super-heroes that can fix problems by magic.

At 11:28 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Hi Ziad: He basically says that they need to be able to carry out the programs, and not formulate them.

وهو يحمل برنامج عمل واضحا، ويلزمه فنيون قادرون على تنفيذ البرنامج، فاختار من يثق بأنهم قادرون على مساعدته في تحويل الافكار الى اعمال، وهو بالنتيجة مسؤول عن اختياره.

So, as long is everything is spelled out for them, they just follow the plan. Unfortunately, there is no perfect plan, and problems show up on implementation. At that point, do you want a thinker or a follower in charge? They both cost the same.

At 11:55 PM, Blogger jameed said...

FF's justification for "mediocrity" of some cabinet members may just be a preemptive excuse for him to join a future government.

Is FF ever going to save readers from his rhetoric boot licking?

At 1:39 AM, Anonymous Hamzeh said...

Al Fanik's article correctly points out one fact: that an entire team has just finished drafting an enormous document that we call the national agenda after months and months of deliberations. You can't possibly imagine that the major part of the new cabinet's role is going to be to rewrite that agenda and improvise once again.

You have to understand that a lot of the tasks of this government and probably the ones to follow in the next 10 years is going to be reviewing and implementing the agenda. And Al Fanik said, the prime minister within his constitutional rights put his trust in the team he has presented, and he bears responsibility for his selection.

I believe that everything you said regarding the need for excellence is true, but has already been addressed and confronted in the last sentence in Al Fanik's article,

حكومة عادية نعم، ولكنها تملك كل امكانيات النجاح.

Now I personally do not know the qualifications of each of the new cabinet team members enough to judge whether they do have the potential for success or not or whether they are to be considered excellent or just average, do you? Also, I am not sure I am fully aware of the scope of each member's tasks and responsibilities and what their objectives are for the period of their service, do you? Does anyone here know these things? Yes, you may know some, you may know actually a lot, but trust me, there is so much more that goes into making such judgements.

This is how cards are dealt in Jordan. You and I as ordinary citizens pretty much have almost nothing to do with it. Al Fanik just seems to think that these were good cards that got dealt.

At 6:06 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Hi Hamzeh: I am not talking about the current government, although Fanek is conceding (and I know) that many of the members are average. My point is that this in itself should not be acceptable. This is a question of principle, not necessarily dealing with cabinet members, but also with physicians, high level civil servents and university faculty. Low expectations are becoming acceptable. We all try to get the best plumbers and electricians in our house, and only lower our requirements if it costs too much. If what is acceptable is constantly being revised downward, then we should explain why. In essence, this is politics as usual, and is a bad sign for a government claiming to want reform (check my post New Government Again).


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