Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Municipalities

Last week, the council of ministers unceremoniously fired the mayor of Irbid, Walid Masri, who was replaced by Ahmad Ghazwi. No reason was given for this decision.

In Jordan, the mayors and city councilmen have traditionally been elected by the public. In 2001, then minister of municipalities, Abdulrazzaq Tubeishat (a former mayor of Irbid), pushed through sweeping changes in the structure of municipalities in the country. This was in the heyday of temporary laws pushed through by the government of Ali Abu Ragheb.

The changes in the structure of municipalities were basically two fold. Adjacent municipalities were merged into large aggregate municipalities, cutting their numbers from over 200 to 99. Thus Irbid, for example, was merged with 17 adjacent municipalities to form the Greater Irbid Municipality. The second change was to appoint mayors by government decision, along with half the council members. The other half are elected directly by districts. More details here in English.

The justification for this undemocratic change was that the merged municipalities would have more resources to help serve the public, and that regional planning would be more efficient with larger administrative units. The appointment of mayors was justified based on the poor economic conditions of the municipalities. The argument was that elected mayors were tempted to overburden the municipality by over staffing (in order to get reelected), and they were reluctant to collect taxes from their constituents.

Since then, the issue has been on the table for much discussion. One side believes that democratically elected municipalities are more knowledgeable of local conditions. The government and some observers insist that the financial and administrative conditions for the municipalities are much better now than they were five years ago. The General Accounting Bureau (a government agency) has issued a report suggesting that the changes in the municipalities have not been as successful as its proponents have claimed. A new law is being prepared where the mayor will be elected, with a government minder appointed with him. It is not obvious who will have the final say.

The fundamental issue is the question of who the mayor works for. In an elected system, it is obvious that the mayor works for the constituents. When they are appointed, they work for the government and at the pleasure of the minister of municipalities. The appointed mayors have complained of interference of the ministry in the details of the work of the municipalities. The case of Irbid and Walid Masri is an argument against the concept of government appointment of mayors.

By all accounts, Masri has been an effective mayor for the city. Services are better, the streets are cleaner and there are aesthetic touches that have added pleasure to being in the city. He has been working at utilizing the cultural heritage of the city to draw tourists, and to revive the city center. There are complaints that the municipality is trying to collect too much money, but this was one of the arguments for the current municipalities’ law. The reason for Masri’s removal has not been disclosed, but rumors include disagreements between him and the minister, him and the governor and him and employees unhappy with some of his decisions.

No matter who the former mayor disagreed with, it is clear that being appointed does not allow for a complete mandate that an elected mayor might have and need. It is also obvious that tangible achievements were not enough to keep his job through a full term. I am sure that the next mayor will be more interested in keeping the minister happy than in running the city efficiently.

It is funny that the government readily acknowledges that it can’t run businesses (thus the drive to privatization), but is reluctant to acknowledge that it is not equipped to run local governments.

Samih Maaitah’s take.

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6 Comments:

At 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 6:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 8:19 AM, Blogger Habchawi said...

It seems like the city of Irbid, and other cities for that matter, will never be able to get a successful mayor and council members in booth scenarios (elected and/or appointed). In one hand you have an appointed mayor and council members, apparently selected based on a Word-of-Mouth, who lack the basic knowledge of the area because they are usually not from the same area and even if they are; they won’t have an agenda to work because, from my understanding, the selection just comes as surprise and in couple of days they start their new position. Moreover, the municipality will be reporting to the minister and the PM government and we already know what that means. In the other hand you have democratically elected municipalities that, from experience, tends to overstaff, neglect tax collection and focus their services on certain areas disproportionately all of that to please their constitutes and get reelected. Constituents here are usually the immediate relatives, same tribe, “alnsaib” and his/her hometown; and those close cconstituents will get preferable treatment when ever possible and if we go with large municipalities (due to merger) the small towns will be forgotten.
That’s being said I still have to go with the elected municipality with better representation and funding of smaller towns. However, to overcome the problems associated with this approach we need a better oversight in our government. Those institutions needs to be audited periodically to make sure that the plans correctly developed and implemented; taxes are collected in its entirety and people are held accountable for any wrongdoing. Unfortunately, I have not seen any agency in Jordan with such responsibilities except, the Audit Bureau (General Accounting Bureau) currently in place which is directly associated with PM and usually investigate based on the PM request and have been proved prejudiced in multiple occasions. I believe we need more independent nonpartisan agency with experience in auditing and inspection and authorized to audit and investigate bodies that receive public money. Such organization should report directly to the parliament and if the head of the agency is confirmed by the agency it would be excellent (asking too much). The agency should gather information to help parliament determine how well executive branch agencies are doing their jobs. And work routinely to answer such basic questions as whether government programs are meeting their objectives or providing good service to the public. Ultimately, the agency should ensure that government is accountable to the people. To that end, the agency must provide the Parliament with the best information available to help them arrive at informed policy decisions--information that is accurate, timely, and balanced. With all government agencies subject to its review, the office should issues a steady stream of reports and testimonies to the public each year and when it’s necessary. This will improve accountability by alerting policymakers and the public to emerging problems throughout government to take action when necessary.

 
At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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"man, people are dying"

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Zzzzzzz...municipalities?...Zzzzzzz

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-> Welcome to the real world my friend

 
At 7:38 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Habachawi: I agree with almost everything, except your suggestion to return to the smaller municipalities. These have been proven to be unsustainable from financial and administrative standpoints. As for the accounting bureau, my feeling that it does a good job, giving an annual report full of detailed analysis of transgressions in all government agencies. The problem is that nobody ever wants to act on this report, which is not the fault of the bureau.

Anon: If you think my posts are irrelevent, by all means don't bother reading them. I am sure you can find what you are looking for elsewhere.

 
At 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a waste of e-paper and e-ink my friend. I am concerned about the pollution to the e-environment here.

 

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