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.

  • You know what else the Danish are good at?

    Sending excellent Ambassadors to the foreign countries :).

    We should push for more tranparancy.

    We also need a stronger media outlets.

  • You know what else the Danish are good at?

    Sending excellent Ambassadors to the foreign countries :).

    We should push for more tranparancy.

    We also need a stronger media outlets.

  • Hälsningar,

    Tycker du att jordanien kan verkligen lära sig något från Danmarks erfaranhet? Det tror jag inte.

    Jag är en jordansk-svensk journalist och har arbetat hit och dit… Och jag har lärt mig en viktig sak, korruption börjar i familjen, som du har märkt, detta är ett mentalitiet som tar över samhället… och det tar en väldigt, väldigt lång tid för att motverka det här.

    Jag tror inte att jordanien har en chans eller alternativ, när de som sitter högst upp sponserar och förtfarande brukar mutor på ett systamtisk sätt.

  • Hälsningar,

    Tycker du att jordanien kan verkligen lära sig något från Danmarks erfaranhet? Det tror jag inte.

    Jag är en jordansk-svensk journalist och har arbetat hit och dit… Och jag har lärt mig en viktig sak, korruption börjar i familjen, som du har märkt, detta är ett mentalitiet som tar över samhället… och det tar en väldigt, väldigt lång tid för att motverka det här.

    Jag tror inte att jordanien har en chans eller alternativ, när de som sitter högst upp sponserar och förtfarande brukar mutor på ett systamtisk sätt.

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  • So I guess, we should pass anti-corruption laws, and wait 300 years for the culture to change!!

    I can’t wait that long :(.

    Excellent article and I agree with the observer. Too bad we can’t have you as a PM. 🙂

  • So I guess, we should pass anti-corruption laws, and wait 300 years for the culture to change!!

    I can’t wait that long :(.

    Excellent article and I agree with the observer. Too bad we can’t have you as a PM. 🙂

  • Thomas, if we look at the rankings we see that many of the Nordic countries scored in the top ten. Is there something they have in common, politically or socially, that has allowed them to experience low corruption over the years simultaneously? And why are they so different from their western European counterparts?

  • Thomas, if we look at the rankings we see that many of the Nordic countries scored in the top ten. Is there something they have in common, politically or socially, that has allowed them to experience low corruption over the years simultaneously? And why are they so different from their western European counterparts?

  • Lass

    Y.E.,
    very enlightening article.

    I think peace and stability play an important role in fighting corruption. Unfortunately we lack stability in our region, and that reflects on economy, employment, jobs and politics.
    When one is living in an un-stable economy, it’s always hard to live by day to day lifestyle, without thinking about what might happen next. I think we have lived in this un-stable status for so long; it’s hard not to think in another way. It is a different case for most Western countries, where social security, pensions, national health care and state education are provided by the state, accessible to all – so when one has a job, with a decent salary, worrying about the future is the last thing on one’s mind. While in countries like Jordan, where one cannot rely on the state for providing long term social security, nor free health, nor good state education, it’s always a case of saving for an unknown future, or manipulating the system, one’s position or job morals to get more of what can be offered, and that’s where corruption flourishes.

    A developed national system that can guarantee its people security from an un-known future will give them faith and trust, and teach them respect of law and the system – But saying that, I think we are talking about what differentiates a developing country from an already developed one. I might be wrong, though!

  • Lass

    Y.E.,
    very enlightening article.

    I think peace and stability play an important role in fighting corruption. Unfortunately we lack stability in our region, and that reflects on economy, employment, jobs and politics.
    When one is living in an un-stable economy, it’s always hard to live by day to day lifestyle, without thinking about what might happen next. I think we have lived in this un-stable status for so long; it’s hard not to think in another way. It is a different case for most Western countries, where social security, pensions, national health care and state education are provided by the state, accessible to all – so when one has a job, with a decent salary, worrying about the future is the last thing on one’s mind. While in countries like Jordan, where one cannot rely on the state for providing long term social security, nor free health, nor good state education, it’s always a case of saving for an unknown future, or manipulating the system, one’s position or job morals to get more of what can be offered, and that’s where corruption flourishes.

    A developed national system that can guarantee its people security from an un-known future will give them faith and trust, and teach them respect of law and the system – But saying that, I think we are talking about what differentiates a developing country from an already developed one. I might be wrong, though!

  • I think that transperancy starts from the top then it trickles down the ranks of the societal structure. Besides, when you look at the “anti-corruption” moves in our society you can clearly see that corruption is tolerated and many times go unpunished. The stories that we hear in our daily lives about how corruption is tolerated at the top will eventually affect how we percieve corruption, some even now call it “being smart”. Any how, I believe in leading by example when it comes to this stuff-unless they have something to hide why wouldn’t they lead us?

  • I think that transperancy starts from the top then it trickles down the ranks of the societal structure. Besides, when you look at the “anti-corruption” moves in our society you can clearly see that corruption is tolerated and many times go unpunished. The stories that we hear in our daily lives about how corruption is tolerated at the top will eventually affect how we percieve corruption, some even now call it “being smart”. Any how, I believe in leading by example when it comes to this stuff-unless they have something to hide why wouldn’t they lead us?

  • Thanks for the comments. LOL @ Zait O Za3tar….300 years – that’s a long wait. The way that we communicate and interact today shouldn’t make eradication of corruption take that long if you do a serious effort. As stated by some of the commentators it’s all about a change of mentality and behaviour on both sides – those how asks for favours and those who provides them – and on all levels of society. If one link in the corruption circle refuses to participate the circle breaks down. In the end it is simple – say No.

    Nas is right; the reason is obvious – Denmark used to rule most of the Nordic countries and a lot of Danes immigrated to the new world so they must have left a strong anti-corruption mark on these countries 😉

    Not so? Maybe this then – it definitely seems that the Scandinavian countries and some of the countries that to a certain extent have chosen a similar model of society (NL, NZ, AUS) are doing very well on the corruption issue. Without going into a very long anthropological and sociological study it seems to me that one of the factors these countries have in common, and which distinguish them from many others, is that they have an equal distribution of wealth among their citizens. What is normally referred to as the middle class is the overwhelming majority in these countries. They are also based on the principle that the state (government) will take care of the neediest and in order to do that they have a very well established and rather progressive taxation system. I think this is one of the reasons we don’t see corruption reappearing in these countries. Then there is the whole political side to it – but that does not stick out compared to many other democratic countries.

    What I find more intriguing is that fact that Singapore is ranked fourth. I have no reason to doubt that this society is among the least corrupt in the world. But I wonder how they made it, compared to the northern European countries – and Singapore might set an example as to how you can achieve this rank within what I believe must be a relatively short time span. If anybody can provide some information on this I would be interested? I’ll try to talk to one of my colleagues and maybe ask her to comment on this.

    Lass’ thinking go along the same lines as mine. But it is in my opinion still a dilemma – how to create a social responsible state without getting rid of corruption in the first place. I am a keen believer in the free market forces and as long as you “corrupt” the system and thus the market, you will not get optimal solutions and even run the risk of a negative-sum-game where everyone becomes a loser in the long run.

  • Thanks for the comments. LOL @ Zait O Za3tar….300 years – that’s a long wait. The way that we communicate and interact today shouldn’t make eradication of corruption take that long if you do a serious effort. As stated by some of the commentators it’s all about a change of mentality and behaviour on both sides – those how asks for favours and those who provides them – and on all levels of society. If one link in the corruption circle refuses to participate the circle breaks down. In the end it is simple – say No.

    Nas is right; the reason is obvious – Denmark used to rule most of the Nordic countries and a lot of Danes immigrated to the new world so they must have left a strong anti-corruption mark on these countries 😉

    Not so? Maybe this then – it definitely seems that the Scandinavian countries and some of the countries that to a certain extent have chosen a similar model of society (NL, NZ, AUS) are doing very well on the corruption issue. Without going into a very long anthropological and sociological study it seems to me that one of the factors these countries have in common, and which distinguish them from many others, is that they have an equal distribution of wealth among their citizens. What is normally referred to as the middle class is the overwhelming majority in these countries. They are also based on the principle that the state (government) will take care of the neediest and in order to do that they have a very well established and rather progressive taxation system. I think this is one of the reasons we don’t see corruption reappearing in these countries. Then there is the whole political side to it – but that does not stick out compared to many other democratic countries.

    What I find more intriguing is that fact that Singapore is ranked fourth. I have no reason to doubt that this society is among the least corrupt in the world. But I wonder how they made it, compared to the northern European countries – and Singapore might set an example as to how you can achieve this rank within what I believe must be a relatively short time span. If anybody can provide some information on this I would be interested? I’ll try to talk to one of my colleagues and maybe ask her to comment on this.

    Lass’ thinking go along the same lines as mine. But it is in my opinion still a dilemma – how to create a social responsible state without getting rid of corruption in the first place. I am a keen believer in the free market forces and as long as you “corrupt” the system and thus the market, you will not get optimal solutions and even run the risk of a negative-sum-game where everyone becomes a loser in the long run.

  • Very good observation regarding Singapore. Naseem, it’ll be great if you can ask the Singaporean ambassador for an article 🙂

    but I’m serious, if anybody has more info on how Singapore society fought corruption, that would be great.

  • Very good observation regarding Singapore. Naseem, it’ll be great if you can ask the Singaporean ambassador for an article 🙂

    but I’m serious, if anybody has more info on how Singapore society fought corruption, that would be great.

  • Excellent post your excellency. When I visited Denmark in the Autunm of 2006, young Danes were telling me how they all had to learn to speak English, becuase Denmark is a small country( about five million) with little natural resources, Denmark is a country that relies on the intellect of its citizens to develop and prosper even further and communicate with outside world.So,it struck me how similar that was to Jordan.I came back telling my friends that we as Jordanians need to stop looking up to countries that have very little if anything at all in common with us. We keep looking up to the United States and Great Britain, and those are countries that have a long history of being great economic power houses with abundant natural resources, I was telling them we need to start looking up to Denmark, it is a small country, it has about the same population we have, but it managed to far surpass us in development. I agree with you completely, we really need to start learning from the Danish model of government, and I really hope we do that sooner than later.

  • Excellent post your excellency. When I visited Denmark in the Autunm of 2006, young Danes were telling me how they all had to learn to speak English, becuase Denmark is a small country( about five million) with little natural resources, Denmark is a country that relies on the intellect of its citizens to develop and prosper even further and communicate with outside world.So,it struck me how similar that was to Jordan.I came back telling my friends that we as Jordanians need to stop looking up to countries that have very little if anything at all in common with us. We keep looking up to the United States and Great Britain, and those are countries that have a long history of being great economic power houses with abundant natural resources, I was telling them we need to start looking up to Denmark, it is a small country, it has about the same population we have, but it managed to far surpass us in development. I agree with you completely, we really need to start learning from the Danish model of government, and I really hope we do that sooner than later.

  • rakan alkhateeb

    I salute u and respect your observation , and it is time for jordan to change .. we should not have nepotism and favoritism to do our things isnt it ?
    and also the authorities in jordan abusin their powers , u guys should talk about it too LOL

  • rakan alkhateeb

    I salute u and respect your observation , and it is time for jordan to change .. we should not have nepotism and favoritism to do our things isnt it ?
    and also the authorities in jordan abusin their powers , u guys should talk about it too LOL

  • Ssekkys

    when you look at the “anti-corruption” moves in our society you can clearly see that corruption is tolerated and many times go unpunished. i my country uganda corruption seems to be normal, no drugs in public hospitals, poor road network. the officail in government solve this by treating their relative abroad and buying powerful 4WD cars. i wish the route in jordan could be transplanted to uganda.