The quest for reform in Jordan has been plagued by piecemeal, sporadic and disconnected reforms and the relative retardation of mainstream institutions. The battle that emerged between the reform minded, powerful as they may be, and those who were neglected by the reform and tagged as helpless, is all too painful; the victim, Jordanian reform efforts.
The apparent story of reform in Jordan goes like this: There is a weakness in the delivery of a certain service, usually a public service or, to be precise, a private service delivered by the public sector. Because fixing such a service in terms of the policies, institutions, and processes, requires so much time and gargantuan efforts, it is best to create support systems and projects that address one or two aspects of the public service generation or mode of delivery and create quick, albeit small, wins.
Once political leaders are alerted to the mishap, convinced of the solution, a new body emerges that claims to solve an important aspect of the problem. The new institution or mechanisms act in parallel to the mainstream flow of things, and resources are redirected, borrowed, gifted or sought from donors to ameliorate the situation through the newly established body. The new body is availed with human capital that the mainstream cannot afford; relative resources that are not readily availed to the mainstream service delivery institutions; and, equipped with the power and prestige of the patron, funds flow at them from donors (domestic and foreign) relative to other organisations. However, in spite of the wonderful results the new body achieves, the majority of the service delivery remains unreformed, and the country loses as the population grows and with it the demand for the service while the new reform body, activity or intervention is unable to catch up with demand. Hence, the majority loses.
One reform initiative after another are created that compete with each other for success. A new glitzy, highly-paid bureaucracy emerges that is so alien to the bureaucracy in the mainstream. Donors are tapped by the new highly-educated, well-paid and amply-empowered bureaucrats and the donors pay.
Some may argue it is best to do something rather than nothing, which is the mantra of reform-minded people of Jordan. I say to those, this is a false argument. The clout of those involved and the resources they can mobilise are best used to make gradual improvements throughout the whole system of service delivery, not small aspects of it to a minority group of recipients while the majority lingers in wait. The lack of economies of scale in terms of service delivery, being targeted at the few, makes the service delivery extremely expensive to a resource-poor economy and misses the majority. Moreover, the mainstream itself will consequently become even more doomed as it is tagged as a hopeless unfixable case, and jealousy is created between the two systems; those who benefit, whether in terms of employment compensation or prestige, from the new bodies are alienated from the underpaid and underfunded many of the mainstream. The jealousy creates further resentment and resistance to overall reform, and herein lies the greatest negative impact of the piecemeal reforms.
Instead of the sporadic initiatives that we witness and cheer as valiant reform efforts in Jordan, we should explore, and attempt the more arduous route: mainstream reform. We should rally the national dialogue into fixing service delivery to the majority, not the few. Policies should be formulated through large stakeholder groups and national involvement. From such policies laws, bylaws, and regulations should emerge, or be adjusted to reflect the national policy. Strategies should also emerge from such a policy or policies, and resources be allocated for long-term commitments and efforts — instead of approaching donor organisations and countries for small, focused efforts, we should present donors with a national reform agenda for enhancing the service and ask them to add to national efforts and resources towards a goal, resources which should be additional contributions and not in lieu of national (public and private) resources. And reform should touch everyone; in other words, we should target equity for all instead of quality for the few.
The proper approach is to create small improvements for the maximum number of service recipients possible. Such improvement is geared towards a goal that is shared by all and announced for all to envision, share and measure. The improvements, once felt by the vast majority of people, will lead to further improvements and progress and thus starts a virtuous development cycle. After all, the road of development is about equity; it is charted for steady gradual progress over decades not years or months; and it is about fixing policies, institutions and processes. All of Jordan comes first, and in the truest meaning of “all”. JordanTimes May 22, 2012