Fighting Corruption In Jordan: Learning From The Danish Experience

الخميس 25 أيلول 2008

Written By: HE Thomas Fouad Lund-Sørensen, Ambassador of Denmark

Transparency International (TI) publicized its anti-corruption index for 2008 this week. The eight most non-corrupt countries have something in common. They are small-sized economies with no natural resources. They are all heavily dependent on their ability to trade and engage with foreign countries. And they are all well established Rule-of-Law societies. Why do I say that? Because this is where Jordan should be and not further down the rankings.

Let’s have a look at my own country, Denmark that once again topped the ranking of non-corrupt countries. There are a number of reasons for that. First, and foremost, the Danish society has through the years developed a widespread culture against corruption. Starting in the 17th century, corruption was made a criminal offense and enforced rather strictly. The next major achievement came during the 1920’s where a code on public servants that guaranteed a reasonable salary, job security and pension in particular for the lower echelons was adopted, and corruption laws came under review. Today, it is morally and utterly unacceptable to provide or receive anything that could resemble corruption. An example – trying to bribe your way out of a speeding ticket or into a construction permit will certainly get you an extra criminal charge on your neck.

The same goes for nepotism and favoritism. We have very clear rules of “competence to act” in all public affairs and decisions. If you have a family, economic or private relationship with a “client” when dealing with a public decision you will have to declare yourself incompetent in that specific matter. And people do that because they don’t want to be blamed afterwards for having taken an unjustified decision that will be contested. And it actually works both ways. A “client” does not want to engage in a decision process that might taint an eventual favorable outcome.

Another example – at university I had to pass a test in a course where my beloved father was the professor. He declared himself incompetent in marking my paper so another professor was called in. I was happy about this for two reasons. First, had he given me high marks people would have thought “Ahhh” that’s because of his dad. Second, had he been the one to mark my work, my marks would definitely have been low in order for him to avoid being accused of nepotism. This self-restraint is in the backbone of every public employee.

Many of these phenomena evolve around the concept of a Rule-of-Law state. This means that ideally, every decision taken by any public authority is taken according to a set of well-established rules and regulations commonly known and publicly accessible. Every decision is taken on an equal basis meaning the same type of request equals the same type of decision – and most often; such a decision is appealable to a higher authority. Naturally, in such a setting, it is typically well known which public employee or authority was responsible for making the decision, to say nothing of the fact that a decision taken on the basis of corruption tends to stick out. So obviously, transparency plays an important part in fighting corruption.

While corruption doesn’t like transparency, the press does. Access to information has proven to be the tool to uproot the few cases of corruption we do see from time to time. Any citizen, including a journalist, has a law-given right to have access to documents on public affairs. This is a very efficient way of controlling the Government and the public administration.

Political corruption, which TI describes as one of the most damaging forms of corruption, such as vote-buying or influence-selling, is almost unheard of in my country. These are just a few examples of why corruption has a hard time surviving in Denmark.

Where does this leave Jordan? The Kingdom ranked 47 in the TI ranking, which is actually not that bad, and a 10% improvement compared to last year’s ranking. I have not firsthand witnessed any kind of corruption in Jordan, but I have, like everyone in the country, heard of possible incidents either directly or from press and reports. And I don’t think Jordan has a choice. Like the other small resource-deprived countries on top of the list there is only one way to become a wealthy Rule-of-Law country and that is to beat corruption, whether in the form of political vote-buying or in its domestic form of wasta.

In the end, it boils down to a change in culture towards rewarding merits instead of socioeconomic ties, and creating more transparency in public affairs. Some serious steps have been taken already, a number of them with Danish support. The establishment of the anti-corruption commission, training of law enforcement and the ombudsman bureau are examples but the real long term hurdle will be changing the culture of favoritism.

Looking at that list of rankings it seems that small, is beautiful and Jordan is small so why can’t it be beautiful too? Like everyone else, I would like to see Jordan at the top of the list, and it is doable.

For instruments to fight corruption the Danish Foreign Ministry has, together with other countries, developed a toolbox for doing business without corruption that I recommend you have a look at. It had 20.000 hits last month so corruption is high on the agenda everywhere.