Friday, April 20, 2007

Shooting the messenger

A recent opinion poll (summary here) by the Jordan Social Research Center has been the focus of some debate. The Islamists made hay over it because it showed that people for the most part would not like to see them getting in power. So, they shoot the messenger.

Of course, the results are similar to previous polls conducted by the center, and are not too different from those conducted by the rival Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. They are not different from actual results from elections, either, or from my own unscientific empirical observations. But as they say: “denial is not a river in Egypt”.

So, the heretical results of the new poll show that only 17% of people want to vote for the IAF in the next elections. These results also show that most people are happy with the one vote election law, and given the choice, would only use one of their votes. This is what is really angering to the Islamists and their leftist and Arabist allies.

In 1989, the Islamists won 22 out of 80 seats available in the parliament at the time. Newly reintroduced elections, general disenchantment with the economy at the time, the fact that the Islamists were the only legal political organization for the previous 30 years helped them in achieving this result. However, the multiple vote law used at the time helped immensely in magnifying their voting effectiveness. While voters voting for independents wasted their votes by distributing them among a large pool of candidates, the Islamists voted exclusively for the MB ticket.

Realizing the ability of the Islamists to abuse the system, the 1993 elections were conducted based on the one-vote law. While the Islamists were unhappy, they went along. In 1997, they boycotted the elections in protest over the one vote issue. In 2003, they ran and won 17 of the 115 contested seats.

The poll results anger the Islamists because, 18 years after winning 27.5% of seats in the parliament through abusing the voting system, they think that they are the only qualified representative of the Jordanian people, and they feel that any system that denies them their inalienable right to be the custodians of the Jordanian people is undemocratic.

In reality, people support the one vote law for precisely this reason. They don’t want the Islamists to gain power. But maybe if they talk about normalization some more, people will change their mind.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Shawerma strikes again

Another episode of shawerma poisoning unfolded in Madaba a couple of days ago. This time around 250 people were poisoned, as opposed to the 700+ who were afflicted last summer in Zerqa.

To me, it is no surprise that this has happened again. The last time, the government applied little substantive response to the problem, simply fining the offending restaurant a measly 135 dinars (i.e. less than 20 piasters per poisoning). A bargain of sorts.

The press has had fun with this, with Emad Hajjaj drawing this cartoon.


It is a warning on a box of shawerma, saying that spoiled mayonnaise is ruins the health and may cause death (a warning from the ministry of health).

Humorist Ahmad Hassan Zoubi compared shawerma with booby trapped car bombs, which can strike when you least expect them.

The government seems to have been embarrassed that this happened again. This is what happens when a government stays in office for too long: it tends to fall in the same trap more than once. Anyway, the government has decided to do something substantial this time. No more fooling around! The PM has decided to form a committee to study why this happened. I feel better all ready.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Backing off

The government has partially backed off taxing safety equipment for new cars. In a new decision yesterday, cars with smaller engines (less than 1600 cc) were again given the previous exemptions. This came after an outcry from car dealers and consumers. The exemptions were removed for the larger cars.

This episode is similar to the time when the government reversed a decision to float the prices of over the counter pain killers. At that time, the government quickly backed off after a public outcry.

It is good that the government is sensitive to public opinion. However, it is worrying that decisions are being made with little consideration for their larger repercussions. I am personally willing to donate a sign to hang it the room where the cabinet meets. This sign would read “think before you decide”.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Safety is optional

The government, in it’s never ending insatiable drive to collect money, has decided to impose customs and sales taxes on safety and environmental equipment on new cars. It is expected that new car prices will go up between 6% and 8% as a result. The exemptions that were in place before were granted a few months ago, but now we are told that “new car designs integrate these features into the car, and so the exemptions are meaningless”. Yes, the car manufacturers of the world waited for the Jordanian government to enact this exemption, so that they can suddenly, in unison, change the way that they design their cars. How about “people started importing cars with the features included after the exemption was in place.”?

Now, car importers are considering not including many of these features on new cars, in order to lower costs.

Another way that people will save money is to hold on to their old cars for a little longer. This is not a reassuring thought, given the condition of many of the cars on the road all ready. I suspect that any net gain collected by the government will be spent on medical treatment for victims of car crashes. Oh, I forgot. There is no universal health insurance in Jordan.

The late king Hussein used to say “people are our most valuable asset”. I think that the government’s new slogan should be “people are useful to tax, but expensive to protect”.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The “fighting corruption” fiasco

One of Marouf Bakhit’s famous achievements is taking up the mantle of fighting corruption. In one case, the ex-minister of municipalities and senior ministry officials were questioned on the garbage press case. Basically, when Abdurazzaq Tubeishat was a minister of municipalities, he engineered the merger of adjacent municipalities across the country. In an effort to make this work, garbage collecting equipment was needed. When he tried to get funds for this, he was told that the government couldn’t afford to buy this equipment. So, it was suggested and the decision was made to buy used equipment from Germany. The government could afford that, and so a delegation was formed to go to Germany to get the needed equipment.

After the equipment was delivered, allegations that some of it did not meet the specifications were made by the General Accounting Bureau. Since then, the issue has been raised a number of times. Finally, a parliamentary committee studied the issue. The resulting report concludes that Tubeishat did nothing wrong, and that the issue of the sanitary equipment was handled correctly. Tubeishat is threatening to sue for defamation.

A second front on the war on corruption was on the General Union of Voluntary Societies. The case against GUVS (a scam to collect lottery ticket winnings for unsold tickets) was thrown out of the court yesterday (on a technicality). The other issues still being studied have stalled, also suggesting that the cases are flawed. Time will tell.

During the last parliamentary session, deputy Fawwaz Zoubi asserted that previous governments have given tax breaks to a certain individual worth 45 million dinars. This was also based on a General Accounting Bureau report. After a parliamentary investigation, the committee investigating the issue found that this was not true, and that the tax exemptions were legal and appropriate, and benefited a large number of companies.

Now, the failure of the grand scheme to eradicate corruption gives pause. Does not corruption exist in Jordan? Are the wrong cases focused on, in order to hide real corruption? How useful are General Accounting Bureau reports? It seems that upon follow up, many of their allegations do not add up to real corruption.

Former minister of water, Hazim Nasser, who was dismissed when Adnan Badran took office, says that attempts to collect two million dinars for water consumed by companies in the Disi area were frozen by Badran. Investigations show that Badran is a major shareholder in one of the companies that is supposed to pay. This seems to be well documented. Will this be investigated? Or is the anti-corruption campaign over?