The Bakhit government has so far initiated legal action over four major corruption cases. These are the Jordan Magnesia factory file, the Islamic Center Charity Society, the General Union for Voluntary Societies and the Ministry of Municipalities used garbage trucks and pressers case. The last case implicated the former minister of municipalities, Abdulrazzaq Tubeishat, who apparently authorized the purchase of used sanitary equipment to the tune of 4.5 million dinars. The specifications required for the equipment were not met, but the purchase was approved anyway.
The government, as all governments before, has vowed to fight corruption mercilessly. It seems to living up to its pledge. The prosecution of a former minister is noteworthy, as it has been quite rare that such high level officials be questioned about their actions. The notable exception was the former head of the intelligence service, Samih Batikhi, who was sentenced on corruption charges three years ago. According to local lore, he spent his sentence in luxurious house arrest in Aqaba, and is now in London.
In the last two days, a new scandal broke involving forged bank documents being used to give residency permits to Arab “investors”. Apparently, employees at the ministry of trade and industry were involved in allowing the use of bank documents from a fictitious bank. Again, the government is following up.
Jordan’s ranking in the 2005 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index is 37 with a score of 5.7. The highest score of 9.7 goes to Iceland. So Iceland is over 50% more transparent than Jordan, according to business “perceptions”. I would say we still have a long way to go, although it can be easily argued that many countries are more corrupt than Jordan.
So, is the government gaining any credibility for its efforts? Many people think that there are bigger fish than Tubeishat who should be questioned. Ziad Abu Ghanimeh is skeptical, and relates a hilarious story about a past minister who wanted to help somebody by hiring him. So he hires the guy as a teacher, despite his protestations that he is illiterate. “Don’t worry”, says the minister. “I will hire you as a teacher but your job will be to be my office boy”. So, it goes well until one day the illiterate teacher/office boy shows up in a panic in the minister’s office. “It is a catastrophe, a scandal!”. “What is the problem” asks the minister. “The government is checking if all the teachers recently hired are qualified, and they have set up a committee to examine them all”, the guy franticly says. “We will be scandalized and disgraced”. The minister laughs. “Why are you laughing?” “Didn’t you hear?” responds the minister. “I have appointed you as head of the committee to examine the teachers!”
For me, I think that these prosecutions are important for scaring would be crooks. I smile with relish as I think of corrupt officials tossing and turning at night, wondering if they are next. Or maybe I am just another naïve soul. Only time will tell.