x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Jordan's anti-corruption campaign gets a boost

New strategy seeks to change perception hoping to boost public confidence in state institutions.

AMMAN // Jordan has embarked on an ambitious anti-corruption campaign, hoping to boost public confidence in state institutions in light of complaints of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, and to prevent corruption from spiralling. The four-year strategy launched last month, with the help of the European Union, will dovetail with the work of the Anti-Corruption Committee, set up in 2005 with a mandate to fight financial and administrative corruption.

"We have administrative corruption, administrative violations ? fraud and bribery. We are trying to create an environment that will fight corruption and this is where we hope the strategy will help us," Abed Shakhanbeh, head of the Anti-Corruption Committee, said. Although corruption is not endemic in Jordan - mostly nepotism, small-scale bribery and accountancy fraud - officials are keen to prevent it from spiralling and to change common perception that corruption is inevitable and acceptable.

Last year, Transparency International, a corruption watchdog, ranked the kingdom 53 out of 179 countries on its list of the most transparent, a drop of 13 points, while its perceived corruption ranking grew to 5.3 from 4.7. The new four-year strategy will review practices of government offices to see if there are any loopholes that could allow for corruption to take place, as well as try to raise awareness among the public of the impact of bribery.

"Now, the challenge lies in implementing [the strategy]," said Claus Heiberg, deputy head of the European Commission's mission to Jordan. "The framework is really there. Let them show some rapid results. "We should take advantage of the fact that corruption is not deeply rooted in Jordan and yet we need to act quickly." Jordan has stepped up its fight against corruption over the past two years. An anti-corruption law was endorsed in 2006 in compliance with the UN Convention Against Corruption, which created the ACC.

Several other pieces of legislation, ranging from a financial disclosure law to one on money laundering and an ombudsman law, have been issued. An access to information law, which was activated last month and promised to widen press freedoms, is also supposed to improve the environment for greater transparency in business and government. Anti-corruption experts believe that financial corruption is perpetuated by a handful of powerful individuals.

"With limited press freedoms in Jordan, those individuals are far from criticism," said Mamdouh Abbadi, a member of parliament and president of the Jordanian chapter of the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption. Officials' abuse of power came to light last month when the government terminated a contract with an engineering consultation company to design and supervise the implementation of an industrial city in the Aqaba Special Economic Zone, south of Jordan, after the media reported that the company belonged to the wife of the zone's chief commissioner.

The government also cancelled a deal with a company it had contracted to build a multimillion dollar housing project for the poor after finding out that the owner of the company was the minister of housing. In another recent incident, two influential members of parliament who had access to crucial company information inflated the value of the company's stock, causing a rush by investors and pushing the price higher.

The pair then sold their holding and the stock price plummeted, causing small investors to lose out, according to the Arab El Yawm daily. smaayeh@thenational.ae