Jordan: Anti-corruption law praised but questions remain

Critics say ban on public officials from doing business with the government will not deter illegal practices.

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    A man holds a Jordanian flag during a march demanding more employment opportunities near Amman in February [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]
    A man holds a Jordanian flag during a march demanding more employment opportunities near Amman in February [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

    A new law recently passed to tackle rampant corruption among Jordan's public officials was widely praised as a necessary step to improve the country's moribund economy, but some critics questioned its effectiveness or whether it will be business as usual.

    The constitutional court issued an explanatory decision of Article 44 in the constitution that bans ministers, officials, and parliamentarians with businesses from involvement in government contracts while in office.

    Since then, only one member of parliament's upper chamber resigned, however, and critics point out many public figures have evaded the ban by placing their business holdings in the names of family members.

    Jordanian anti-graft activists have long alleged that many public officials are involved in widespread corruption.

    Many of Jordan's mega public works projects - such as roads and bridges with price tags that often reach in the tens of millions of dollars - are often awarded to companies owned by families of members of parliament or other deeply connected figures within the ruling elite, according to one Jordanian official.

    "It is a very open secret," said official, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

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    Following the decision, one member of the Senate - billionaire Talal Abu Ghazaleh - resigned his seat because his international accounting firm, Talal Abu Ghazaleh Global, maintains contracts with the government.

    'Reinforces independence'

    Faisal al-Fayez, the president of Jordan's 65-member Senate, told Al Jazeera on the phone from the capital, Amman, the law is needed because public officials must maintain a high standard of ethics. 

    It is vital that the country's leaders not to give the perception of a conflict of interest between their public work and personal business interests, al-Fayez said.

    "This law reinforces the independence and neutrality of the cabinet and parliament members in the eyes of the public," he said.

    Commending Abu Ghazaleh for his move to step down, al-Fayez said: "Any member of either chamber of parliament or a minister in the government should also resign his office if they have a business relationship with the government."

    Al-Fayez confirmed the majority of public officials in parliament and those who hold ministerial positions have business interests, but he said he was unaware of any links to government contracts.

    "I don't know if any have contracts with the government, but if they do they must resign their office," he said.

    The constitutional court's decision in August didn't elaborate on whether newly appointed public officials should divest their business holdings acquired before assuming public office. Al-Fayez said he expects a legal decision on this issue soon.

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    The critics

    Ghazi al-Hawamleh, a member of parliament representing the southern region of Aqaba, said while the new law looks good on paper, in reality it won't end the "widespread corruption within government officials".

    Al-Hawamleh told Al Jazeera many MPs and officials have major construction companies, import-and-export businesses, and international franchises - but escape scrutiny because they register their entities under relatives' names.

    "These people are the cause of all corruption and poverty problems in the country because of their selfishness and greed," he said.

    Al-Hawamleh added the new law will not deter officials from mixing business with their public duties.

    "It will continue to be business as usual. Only the poor in our country pay the high price of their corruption," he said.

    According to Jordan's department of statistics, the average citizen earns less than $5,000 per year.

    Echoing al-Hawamleh's sentiments, columnist and former Jordanian diplomat Fouad al-Batayneh said he believed the kingdom was teetering on the brink of economic collapse because of rampant corruption and a lack of rule of law.

    "Any decision made by any government entity is designed to serve the interests of influential members of the Jordanian regime," al-Batayneh told Al Jazeera.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera