With low public trust, could the government be on its way out?

Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh
(File photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh

Ruba Saqr

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.

Jordanian journalists and media analysts have been speculating that the government of Bisher Al-Khasawneh may be on its way out on the heels of a new poll that shows a steep decline in public trust in the current administration: from 52 percent in October 2020 to 33 percent this month.اضافة اعلان

The recent survey published Tuesday by the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) at the University of Jordan shows that the approval rating of the current government has dwindled sharply among the vast majority of Jordanians over the past two years.

The rate of respondents who believe that the incumbent premier is able to carry out his responsibilities declined from 56 percent in 2020 to only 33 percent this year, a 23 percent drop. The poll also demonstrates that public trust in the premier has slid from 68 percent to only 32 percent in the span of two years, a whopping drop of 36 percent.

Speculations over the future of the current administration started going around earlier on, in September. Two scenarios were on the table at the time: a reshuffled Cabinet under the incumbent prime minister, and the appointment of a new premier with a completely refurbished Cabinet.

Nowadays, some observers are of the opinion that it is more likely that a new prime minister is poised to take the helm of government in the coming few weeks.

Incidentally, a day ahead of the poll, one of Jordan’s veteran opinion writers wrote a scathing column criticizing the premier for “sweet-talking” the Jordanian people, while turning a blind eye to the serious socio-economic problems facing them.

On Monday, Al-Ghad News columnist Maher Abu Tair published an article titled “Stop drugging us, your excellency the premier”, in which he criticized some statements the PM had made during a recent visit to Tafileh Governorate.

There, Khasawneh acknowledge the prevalence of “poverty and unemployment”, but said that the country’s wealth of “manhood, dignity, belonging, magnanimity, and the ability to work and to achieve” would see its people through these hard times.

Abu Tair argued that “honey-coated” words do not put bread on the table and that the government should work to make people feel tangible results in their everyday lives.

Two years ago, the premier received the Royal Letter of Designation that specified the areas of improvement his government needed to focus on. Jordanians taking part in the CSS survey believe that the current government has been unsuccessful in implementing 19 out of a total of 22 action items stated in the letter.

Ahead of the premier’s assumption of duties, His Majesty King Abdullah directed him and his government to develop the “state’s administrative apparatus”, adding that “a scientific study must be implemented over the next three months, and recommendations must be presented on the possibility of merging some ministries and entities, to enhance the efficiency of the public sector, improve the level of services, and control expenditures”.

Instead of going for the obvious — like merging the ministries of water and agriculture (and possibly energy) to create a new “climate ministry” — the government decided to abolish the Ministry of Labor, a proposition met with major backlash from former senior government officials who described the move as lacking in insight and experience.
Jordanians taking part in the CSS survey believe that the current government has been unsuccessful in implementing 19 out of a total of 22 action items stated in the letter.
The announcement also coincided with the recent establishment of the new Ministry of Investment, which points to a disturbing predisposition of the current administration to compromise on the labor rights of Jordanian workers to “incentivize” future local and foreign investors. Without a government entity overseeing labor rights, new and old investors alike could go undeterred in treating their workforce badly.

Although the government retracted, saying that such plans were not set in stone, it seems to be unaware of the need to strike a balance between sustainability and development, and in this case, between the rights of laborers and economic gain.

Abolishing the Labor Ministry could affect low- to middle-income Jordanians, hampering Jordan’s efforts to expand its worn-out middle class and to improve the standard of living of marginalized Jordanians.

The government faced further criticism for the recently endorsed law regulating the investment environment for the year 2022. Economist and former minister Yusuf Mansur said the law was “encumbered with flaws and shortcomings”, and that it was “also draconian in certain areas, and simply naïve… in its incentives”.

In a previous opinion piece by this writer, the legislation was criticized for granting an upcoming Cabinet-formed incentives committee the power to give foreign and local investors discounts on their water bills, although it is known that Jordan is the world’s second most water scarce country.

On agriculture, King Abdullah gave directives to the government to engage local communities residing near state-owned arable land in a major national drive to ramp up the country’s sustainable agriculture and food security efforts. Two years on, Jordan’s shrinking rural communities are still as marginalized as ever and there is no news about the status of this particular plan.

With respect to water, the government has come up short against holding top officials in the current Ministry of Water accountable for their decision to empty a number of dams, against the objections of former water and agriculture experts who described the move as an “error in management”. The letter of designation clearly underscores the importance of “reinforcement of the rule of law, based on transparency and accountability”.

In terms of information-sharing, the government’s “digital transformation” program falls flat against the basic task of improving the public sector websites, most of which are still considerably lacking in terms of design and content. Zoomed in on services and poorly written news sections, government sites have no substantial information on policy or other kinds of data that could be useful to the country’s next generation of political parties.

Furthermore, this government has done nothing to combat a barrage of misinformation and disinformation campaigns targeting the child rights draft law, even though earlier this year, in January, a number of public sector spokespersons took part in a pilot training program that was supposed to take their communication skills to a “new level”.

The government’s silence in the face of falsehoods aimed at the child rights bill has resulted in Parliament endorsing a seriously maimed piece of legislation that works against the best interests of Jordanian children and their mothers in a country that, ironically, wants women to have a bigger say in public life.

All in all, observers believe the current government has shown a weak grasp of global trends like social justice for women and children, labor rights, and climate action. Some are also of the opinion it has been unsuccessful in making use of two whole years in office, which amount to half a term in US politics.

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.

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