One of the more obscure aspects of government in Jordan is the role and criteria for choosing governors (muhafidhin), and heads of the districts (mutasarifin) and other levels of centrally appointed representatives in the various governorates and districts in the country. These bureaucrats are appointed by the minister of interior, and exert heavy influence on the administration of the country, particularly outside Amman. The question of administrative, legal and political reform in the country can not really be addressed without scrutinizing this issue.
The role of the governor includes the public security as defined by the crime prevention law, the control of public meetings, and the assurance that tribal disputes are solved according to the traditional code, among other less glamorous duties. The governor exerts influence on the running of municipalities and all central government affairs in his governorate.
The laws ruling the governors almost always give him complete authority. For example, under the crime prevention law of 1954, the governor has the authority to indefinitely jail people who he deems threats to public order. They do not need to have committed any crime, and no judicial review is needed. The governors defend this right on the grounds that it is only used against ex convicts, it protects society and that the judicial process is unfair to the poor. Naturally, human rights activists don’t buy it, and argue that jailing people without proper judicial procedure is unconstitutional. Some people have successfully appealed against such decisions in the courts, but why should they have to?
The governors are also charged with deciding whether or not to allow public meetings or demonstrations, with their decision being final and without having to give justifications.
The implementation of tribal laws at the expense of civil law is anachronistic, as I have argued in the past. The modernization of the state should ultimately mean that people are equal under the law, and nobody should be punished for the acts of others.
So, who are these people who are given these near-dictatorial powers? Few people know, as only a small item in the newspaper announces the appointment of a new governor somewhere, with no indication of why the new governor was chosen or what his qualifications are. The only pattern that anybody can see is that certain tribes and geographic regions have a greater genetic propensity to be governors, and governors are never appointed to the governorates where they originate. This probably makes sense.
Asides from perfunctory duties and strangling civil society, there is no particularly useful role that governors offices perform that a more appropriate agency couldn’t do better. The previous minister of interior had to ask employees in these offices not to download CD’s of games on their official computers, as this habit leads to inadvertent infestation of viruses on the machines. I am not sure how they are getting along with not being able to play Red Alert any more.
On the other hand, a modern state would do better to phase out such positions in favor of empowering municipalities, police and the courts.