From : Yousef Iresheidat
Sent : Monday, June 20, 2005 11:03 PM
To :
Subject : King Abdullah’s Trip to Chicago and Misappropriations of Public Funds

King Abdullah’s Trip to Chicago and Misappropriations of Public Funds: This has got to stop!
From the outset, I should acknowledge that I am writing this opinion piece after having been inspired by two Jordanian patriots whose views were recently published in your newspaper. Dr. Al-Abbadi's open letter to the King and Dr. Meshagbah’s follow up remarks are the driving force behind my decision to express my own opinion here. Both eloquently expressed the views and sentiments of many Jordanians concerned with the corruption and misguided democracy, which pervade the political climate in Jordan.

According to the 2004 Global Corruption Report, “…Political corruption is the abuse of entrusted power by political leaders.”

Although extravagant, the circumstances of corruption in Jordan are far from uncommon. In general, the conditions favorable for corruption and abuse of power are abundant: concentration of decision-making power, lack of government transparency in decision-making, and self-interested ruling and business elites.

Much as I think we, Jordanians, must always be aware of what the Jordanian government does, I also feel we must be alert to “failures and abuses” when we see them. That being said, this small introduction leads to the theme of my opinion piece.

While poverty and unemployment are widespread throughout the Jordanian communities, the King of Jordan made a very expensive trip to the United States to appear before a University of Chicago’s audience to talk about “democracy,” “human rights” and “transparency” for “two hours” and immediately flew back to Jordan after completing his visit. While in rich democracies, this kind of undertaking is not only respectable and encouraged but also affordable, it is rather ironic that the leader of a small country like Jordan which is beset with tremendous foreign debt, stagnant economic performance on the grassroots level and a high unemployment rate would behave in this manner.

My own account is rather simple and is actually a matter of public record easily verified by looking at publications on costs of operating a large private jet, airport landing fees, daily allowances and hotel accommodation expenses, in this case resting and refreshing.

If we assume that the King was accompanied by 70 personnel including aides, security officers, and communications specialists, the total cost of the trip would exceed $500,000. This sum, while modest in international standards, is a huge amount of money for a country like Jordan. These funds could have been used to help establish small business projects in local communities to create jobs for the country’s army of unemployed. They also could have been used to finance social programs to feed the poor and hungry.

This kind of behavior amounts to the utmost political and fiscal irresponsibility. It appears to me that the King planned this trip while his newly “appointed” Prime Minister is instructing and advising his Cabinet to cut administrative and travel expenses to save public funds. Prime Minister Badran should remind his boss that he needs to do the same thing if he is serious about introducing a genuine reform and public accountability.

While it is important that the country’s political leaders are engaged with their international counterparts in government, business and civic organizations, there should be prudence on how to go about doing that. One of the options that the King could have used and hence saved his starved treasury unnecessary expenses was to appear via satellite to present his “passionate” speech about “government responsibility”, “transparency”, and “democracy.” The King could have also chosen to make this kind of appearance during his quarterly visit to Washington.

If the King and his phony “reformers” (Moasher, Kawar, Rafai and others) are serious and committed about being democratic, then they need to change their public conduct and rhetoric. The recent fiasco that was reported in your newspaper about the Jordanian Embassy National Independence celebration is a clear example of this unacceptable behavior. I strongly believe that this kind of behavior should not be tolerated or condoned. With each such irresponsible act, the Jordanian King has severely undercut his credibility on the precise ideals he was purportedly endorsing in Chicago.

This public mistrust and abuse continue to surface when the government recently proposed through its “men” in the Parliament to purchase “luxury BMW cars” to its members. The argument that is being presented to the Jordanian public is that the money is coming from the Parliament’s own budget rather than the executive branch of government. They make it sound like the Parliament has its own resources and revenues. Those people need to be reminded that these funds are public monies belong to Jordan and its people. The ultimate source is the Jordanian Treasury.

Over the years, the Jordanian Parliament has been deemed “ineffective” in the country’s political life. However, with the courage of a few members of this institution, the King had no choice but to accede to their demand to remove one of the country’s most ineffective politicians, Bassem Awadallah. It was reported that he was arrogant, did not play by the rules and did not get along with his Cabinet colleagues.

Due to this principled stand, the institution gained some respect in Jordan and abroad. Therefore, I urge members of the Parliament to decline to accept this form of bribery. The public expects much from them and hopes that a true democracy can emerge and flourish under their watch.

There is a window of opportunity for all of us to exert some influence for genuine reform, and the time for profound change in policies has never been so favorable.

Y. Eresheidat Bani Hassan

p.s. please do no publish my email address