Is wasta corruption?
The parliament is going through a heated debate over how to include wasta into the definition of corruption. This is part of the debate over the “anti-corruption commission” that the parliament is considering.
Wasta is an important component of Jordanian life, and most deputies in the parliament view it as part of their job description. Simply defined, wasta is favoritism, which is an attempt to use the influence of relatives or acquaintances to achieve certain objectives. This can include anything from hooking up your house to the water system to getting appointed in a high level government job. Most people feel that getting anything done smoothly and quickly requires some sort of wasta with the people in charge of the particular issue.
In reality, people use their connections at all levels of society and of decision making. It does not need to be with the minister or a high level official. Sometimes the wasta is with a mid or low level bureaucrat, a secretary or even the guy who delivers coffee and tea in the department.
The debate is not to delegitimize wasta absolutely, but what type of wasta to ban. The most recent phraseology delegitimizes “what achieves illegitimate results and takes away a right”. This is an attempt to keep a semblance of fairness to decision making processes. For example, if two people want the same job, then wasta would be illegal if it achieves the appointment of the less qualified person. There are two problems with this. The first is that which candidate is the most qualified is often a subjective decision, based on multiple criteria. Should more weight be given to academic degrees, experience, fluency in English, personal charisma or whether his father was a minister? Should all jobs have uniform weights for the different attributes, or should different weights for different jobs be a factor? In reality, I suspect that even demonstrably lower caliber candidates can be defended as being superior by the decision maker if he or she so chooses.
The second problem is that the wasta is only illegal if it achieves a bad result. Thus, if influence peddling is attempted, but fails then it is not illegal. In fact, wasta is a process, and not the achievement.
A whole set of wasta related to getting “legitimate” results achieved is ignored. This seems to be an admission that the bureaucracy simply can’t function smoothly if you show up with your papers and stand in line like everybody else. Isn’t jumping the line by going behind the counter and talking to your cousin achieving illegitimate results? You got your work done before the guy standing in line, who will probably be sent away to search for ten piasters worth of revenue stamps. Is that legitimate?
It is too bad that people are giving up on fixing the bureaucracy in a way that people can get their work done quickly and fairly without wasta. By ignoring this aspect, the culture of wasta will continue, along with all the sense of entitlement that goes with it. Attempting to fragment this will only dilute it to uselessness.
More on the debate at the Black Iris.