The political and administrative context: Jordan’s government system

Strong powers vested in the King and a limited policy-making role for the parliament

Jordan is a monarchy with a parliamentary system recognised in the Constitution adopted in 1952. It mandates the separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, with the King holding extensive legislative and executive prerogatives (Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Constitutional Court, n.d.).

The Throne of the Hashemite Kingdom is hereditary to the dynasty of King Abdullah Ibn Al-Hussein, who is a 41st generation direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and passes in a direct line from the throne holder to his eldest son. The King, whose prerogatives are anchored in Article 28-40 of the Constitution, is the Head of State and the Supreme Commander of the Land, Naval and Air Forces, while being immune from any liability and responsibility (Article 30 of the Constitution). The King appoints the Prime Minister and the Ministers and may dismiss them. He appoints the members of the Senate and its Speaker and may, due to an amendment to the Constitution in 1974, dissolve the Senate or relieve any Senator of membership. The powers vested in the King are exercised by Royal Decree, which needs to be countersigned by the Prime Minister and the Ministers concerned. He ratifies and promulgates the laws, and directs their enactment as may be necessary for their implementation. In his relation to the parliament, the King is entitled to issue orders to hold elections and may dissolve the Chamber of Deputies.

The prerogatives of the government are outlined in the Articles 41-61 of the Constitution. The Council of Ministers is entrusted with the responsibility of administering all affairs of the State, internal and external, unless specified otherwise by the Constitution or by any other legislation to any other person or body (Article 45). Every Minister is responsible for the conduct of all matters pertaining to his Ministry (Article 47). The current government was sworn in on 28 September 2016 and is composed of 29 ministers, 27 of which are male (7% of Ministers are women compared to an OECD average of 29% in 2015) (OECD, 2015). In a government reshuffle in January 2017, five ministers were replaced. Unlike in most OECD countries, the cabinet in Jordan is not formed on a party basis (e.g. mandate to form a cabinet is given to the party or coalition of parties that obtained the most votes), instead it is appointed by the King.18 However, the Council of Ministers is collectively responsible before the Chamber of Deputies in respect of the public policy of the state, and each Minister holds individual responsibility for his or her portfolio. The Chamber of Deputies can force the Council of Ministers or an individual Minister to resign through a motion of no confidence. In practice, however, parliamentarians loyal to the government and the King of East Bank and rural origin tend to dominate the parliament over urban, Palestinian-Jordanians and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Freedom House, the dominance of parliamentary representatives loyal to the government and the Royal Court has been sustained by previous electoral laws and the practice of gerrymandering (Freedom House, 2016).

Jordan has adopted a bi-cameral parliamentary system in which the National Assembly consists of a Senate whose members are appointed from among former high- level political figures from the government, parliament, judiciary or retired military, and a House of Representatives whose members (130) are elected in general direct elections for a term of four years. Both Houses have the right of legislative initiative, provided that the draft law is proposed by at least ten Senators or Deputies (see Articles 62-96 of the Constitution), however, the Chamber of Deputies cannot enact laws without the assent of the appointed Senate. According to the Government of Jordan, the decentralisation reform will help to upgrade the role parliament plays in shaping the policy agenda in Jordan. In the current system, parliamentarians are frequently approached by citizens or (interest) groups from local constituencies hence limiting its function as policy makers or, collectively, as an effective oversight body of government action (Jamal Shakir Al- Khateeb, 2010). The tribal affiliations of most parliamentarians, many of which rely on the support of their tribe in running for parliamentary elections, risk favouring narrow interests over the general interest. In this context, ensuring inclusive stakeholder consultation and engagement along the policy cycle is of particular concern.

The government, including the Prime Minister, is responsible before the Chamber of Deputies both collectively and individually in respect of the affairs of each Ministry (Article 51, Constitution). The Integrity Plan 2012 defines three main oversight agencies with an independent legal status: the Audit Bureau, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Ombudsman Bureau. Together with a number of other (state) institutions, they are tasked with regulating different sectors of the integrity framework (Inform, 2012). The Audit Bureau exercises independent administrative oversight of state revenues and expenditures of governmental ministries, departments and agencies, public institutions, municipal boards, boards for corporate services and the Greater Municipality of Amman and corporations with a government share of more than 50%.19 For each fiscal year, an annual report is prepared and presented to parliament. Since 2006, the Jordan Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission (JACC) has been tasked with investigating corruption, undertaking measures to prevent corruption, and educating the public against corruption hazards with a view to increasing citizens' trust in government institutions and consolidating the values of justice, integrity and ensuring equal opportunities. JACC publishes an annual report on its website.20 The Jordanian Ombudsman Bureau (JOB) examines complaints from individuals relating to any decree, procedure, practice or any act of refusal by public administration, and publishes an annual report.21 In 2006, as part of wider modernisation efforts, the Ministry of Public Sector Development developed a Code of Conduct to establish ethical standards, rules and basic principles for public offices and officials. A review of its implementation conducted by the OECD in 2010 identified six priorities to strengthen its implementation such as appointing an administration body and clarifying the legal basis and enforcement procedures (OECD, 2010).

Although the institutional setting is similar to control frameworks in most OECD countries, a 2013 OECD assessment concludes that in the Jordanian cases, it suffers from a lack of co-ordination between and within the institutions, and a lack of clarity regarding individual mandate and jurisdiction (OECD, 2013). Another challenge for accountability and social cohesion identified by Jordan 2025 is that “wasta”22 “is deeply anchored in the Jordanian and other societies in the region and is supposed to frequently occur in the interaction with government officials and the way in which economic and social issues and conflicts are dealt with (e.g. renewal of documents, hiring decisions) (Inform, 2015a).” According to a survey conducted by Transparency International in 2016, 75% believe that corruption rose in the 12 months prior to the survey, and 61% feel that the government is doing badly in fighting corruption (Transparency International, 2016a). However, in the same perception-based survey, Jordan scores the lowest bribery rates for public service use among nine Arab countries, while, due to perceived increasing requests for bribes and petty corruption, Jordan lost twelve places compared to the previous year in the 2016 edition of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (57th of 178 countries) (Transparency International, 2016b).

According to the Constitution, the Judicial Power is autonomous and independent (Article 97: judges are subject to no authority other than that of the law in the exercise of their judicial functions; and Article 101: courts are open to all and free from any interference). The legal system is based on a combination of principles of civil law and Shari’a law. The court system is divided into religious courts (sub-divided into Shari’a courts and tribunals for non-Muslim religious communities), and civil courts that exercise jurisdiction over all persons in all civil and criminal matters. The King appoints the Court of Cassation’s chief justice, whereas the other judges are nominated by the Judicial Council, an 11-member judicial policy-making body whose members are approved by the King. Special courts, appointed by the Court of Cassation, decide in case a dispute arises between two religious courts or between religious and civil courts (ACRLI, 2004).

Figure 1.3. Organisational structure of public entities in Jordan

Source: Information provided by the Government of Jordan (2017).

Individual freedoms and rights granted by the Constitution

The revision of the traditional approach of centralised policy making towards a bottom-up process is the key objective in the reforms Jordan has been leading in the last decade. The new approach relies on local civil society organisations (CSOs) and citizens and their active participation in the identification of service needs and policy priorities. To fulfil their new role, citizens need to understand the implications of the new legal framework and must rely on (democratic) rights and freedoms without any undue interference.

The Constitution guarantees the rights and duties of the citizens of Jordan in Articles 5-23, including equality before the law and freedom of religion (Article 6), personal freedoms (Article 7), freedom of speech and press (Article 15), freedom of association and political parties (Article 16), and the right to elect parliamentary representatives (Article 67). The Constitution stresses that municipal and local council affairs shall be administered by municipal or local councils in accordance with special laws (Article 121). These are basic rights, but indispensable for creating a culture of more open and participatory governance at the local level. Article 6 (ii) holds that the government is requested to ensure equal opportunities to all Jordanians, and emphasises the principles of inclusiveness and fairness that should guide decision makers. With a view to the integrity of official appointments to government offices and government-attached institutions, or

any municipal office, the Constitution promulgates that hiring decisions should be made on the basis of merit and qualifications (Article 22). The limits to the rights granted by the Constitution concern the freedom of the press and publications, as limited censorship on newspapers, publications, books and broadcasts affecting public safety and national defence can be imposed in the event of the declaration of martial law or a state of emergency.

While the recent constitutional amendments from 4 May 2016 did not affect any of the rights and duties outlined above, the changes have further concentrated power in the King at the expense of the Council of Ministers. In particular, they grant the King the sole power, without any countersignature by the Prime Minister or Ministers concerned, to appoint key figures in the political apparatus, for instance the Crown Prince, the Regent, the Senate Speaker and members, the Chairman and members of the Constitutional Court, the Chief Justice, the commander of the army, and the heads of Intelligence and the Gendarmerie. There has also been criticism about the short timeframe of a process that did not provide sufficient opportunity for the public to voice their opinions on the amendments (Obeidat, 2016).

 
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