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Government is like a tree; ‘you can tell what a tree is like by the fruit it produces’

Ruba Saqr
Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency. (Photo: Jordan News)
The Jordanian government is brilliant at theory, but when it comes to practice, its conduct is laced with a lack of attention to detail, haphazard action plans that are seldom guided by vision or strategy, and poor performance that rarely gets exposed to the purifying fires of accountability.اضافة اعلان

Such damaging traits have played a major role in the widening trust gap between the public and government, resulting in a prevailing sense of hopelessness that has sadly become the norm for many Jordanians, with the nation’s morale now declining to an all-time low.

Mediocrity, lethargy and incompetence are fairly easy to spot, especially for anyone with adequate professional experience, or, at least, good intuition. By the same token, excellence, dedication and drive are also clearly visible – as they have an unmistakable uplifting effect on people’s daily lives and moods.

Such principles are rooted in Muslim and Christian spirituality that guide the mores of Jordanian society. In Islam, the Quranic metaphor of “a rotten tree, torn out of the earth with no roots” or firmness to stabilize it (Surah Ibrahim, verse 26) is an apt analogy to describe the perilous effects of government incompetence on public mood, often contributing to a heightened level of desperation and demoralization.

By contrast, honest, thoughtful and sincere work is like a “good tree that has deep roots into the earth and whose branches have reached high up into the sky” (Surah Ibrahim, verse 24).

In Christianity, the following verse should serve as a warning to civil servants who treat their jobs with nonchalant negligence and insincerity: “You can tell what a tree is like by the fruit it produces” (Matthew 12:33).

When the burden of responsibility of public service falls upon the shoulders of incompetent bureaucrats, the damage to society is long-lasting and real.

The trigger for these thoughts came as a result of a particularly upsetting photo that appeared this Monday on a local news website. It captured the listless eyes of a Jordanian minister who, for some mysterious reason, is in charge of one of the most strategic dossiers in Jordan’s modern history.

It is true what they say: a picture is worth a thousand words. His boredom, disconnection and impassivity (contrasted by the clearly enthusiastic person sitting next to him) could be seen from outer space. In fact, looking at him, statically in still photos or animatedly in televised interviews, it is impossible to believe that he could inspire trust in the country’s future.

No one knows if this particular public official is actually depressed or not, or whether he is doing this on purpose with some twisted ulterior motive that aims to drag everyone’s morale down with him, but keeping someone with this level of lethargy in government is a real detriment to public morale and, more importantly, to productivity.

His posture is not the only problem. He actually has zero negotiation or communication skills, although his job requires him to deal with seasoned international politicians and consortiums with decades of experience under their belt. Alarmingly, his ministry is entrusted with one of the most strategic public dossiers in the Jordanian Cabinet, even though it is clear as day he is unfit for such a sensitive role.

The second trigger for today’s article is the shocking realization that one of the most celebrated public officials, whom I have personally held in high esteem for almost two decades, has turned out to be all talk and no action.

Preparing for what should have been this week’s opinion piece, I decided to delve deeper into a certain topic by doing some extra research, only to discover that one of the preachers of “good governance” was himself in public office when an appalling breach of government integrity and work ethic happened right under his nose.

When the “golden standard” in local governance turns out to be just another mediocre employee with no real leadership or attention to detail, the alarm bells should ring louder than ever.

I once interviewed him as a reporter and one of the first things he did back then was to criticize a certain ministry’s attempts to influence his decision making. This happened right in front of a large audience of apple-polishing visitors smoking and drinking coffee in his office (which should have served as a dead giveaway to his moral grandstanding).

In retrospect, his cynicism, which I had mistakenly perceived as a sign of unwavering integrity, was meant to paint a picture of the “clean elected official”. Alas, his well-studied bravado turned out to be nothing more than sheer exhibitionism.

Years later, he did end up joining the Cabinet as a minister, and to my disillusionment, it was under his jurisdiction that a certain set of regulations were adopted (not drafted) by government. All I wanted was to find an answer to the pressing question: under whose watch was this glaring example of government ineptness committed?

Many people with public service jobs are masters of “much ado about nothing”, pretending to work when all they do is pour their energy into fabricating a false persona to advance their careers through cheating and illusion.

While the first case describes a civil servant who is still in government although his demeanor reeks of clear-cut unfitness for office, the second is about a more dangerous type that knows how to don an image of integrity and proficiency to hide a multitude of sins.

Character, loyalty, integrity and work ethic should be an integral part of people who are asked to join government. Their long impressive CVs are not enough; who they are as people matters. Conscientious and driven individuals with a hands-on approach to leadership, and a heart that burns for the greater good are what Jordan needs at this juncture.

Anything short of egoless service to homeland and countrymen and women will breed more mediocrity and more rot in the roots of public governance.

The writer has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.

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