2018-06-07

Open letter to PM designate Omar Razzaz

By: Daoud Kuttab

In your welcoming the honour of being chosen by His Majesty King Abdullah to lead the government, you ended your Twitter post by appealing for God’s help in carrying this huge burden. I am sure many share with you both congratulation and understanding of the big burden you have been entrusted with. But difficulties and problems are also opportunities for change and you have been given both the challenge and the opportunity for change and reform, so let us hope you can make the best of it.
 
When it comes to leading a government, you need to keep your eyes on multiple issues at the same time. But while watching the big picture and making sure major decisions are taken properly and wisely, it might be important to review the process as well as the outcomes. If you can institute proper processes, this will endure your legacy much longer than any specific decision or policy. This should not be difficult for you because you already have shown keen interest on progress when you were sworn in as minister of education. You told everyone you would not make any decisions until you have learned about them from various sources and points of view.
 
Such a democratic process that is based on listening is what the King has called on you to do in terms of dialogue regarding the draft income tax law. If handled properly, and if indeed you will launch a serious dialogue with political parties, professional unions and the civil society, you would have come more than half way towards serious reform.
 
Holding serious dialogue with the above-mentioned groups automatically means recognition of their existence and legitimacy. This would be a far cry from previous governments which had either ignored or paid lip service to anyone outside a narrow circle of yes men and advisers that toe the line and tell the prime minister what he wants to hear.
 
You will be coming from a huge bureaucracy with thousands of staffers to a much smaller team, mostly of advisors and consultants, where you will have more discretion in choosing them. Do not fall in the trap of naming consultants to give jobs to people who have been fired from their positions. That is both a waste of public money and a denial of important advice that you will need as you take on this huge responsibility.
 
The bulk of your new job will focus on the direction you want to give the government. Your own media profile will be of great importance, as the public needs to know from you and from your spokesperson your thinking. Use this bully pulpit regularly and wisely.
 
The media scene, as was clearly demonstrated in the last week, needs a total reshuffle. Do not change people, but change media ownership structure by removing advertising from all public service media as well as semi-public media, like radio stations owned by the army and the police. Create a mechanism that allows for diverse membership to oversee the public media. Remove obstacles facing not-for-profit community media, including the exuberant fees, and revisit the entire office of government spokesperson to include regular weekly press conferences and serious briefings on what is happening in the government.
 
As a person who believes in the role of civil society, many hope that you will reverse the current demonisation of civil society institutions and activists, and legitimise their work by holding regular meetings with civil society leaders. Remove conditions that restrict and delay the work of civil society, including the need to adjust the tax law to allow local businesses and philanthropists to have their contributions to civil society organisations deductible, as is the case in modern societies.
 
You have been chosen to this important position because of your dedication, your intense ability to listen, especially to the youth, and because of your liberal and democratic ethos. The people of Jordan and the region wish you success in your position and badly want to show how a person with your background can make a change for the betterment of society.
 
You obviously have to balance many factors when making decisions on your upcoming government and its policies. But your supporters are hoping and praying that you will give progressive and democratic processes serious weight and consideration in every decision you make. Wishing you the best for a progressive and forward-looking Jordan, under your wise and inclusive leadership.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net