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Capacity building for politicians in contexts of systemic corruption: Countering ‘wasta’ in Jordan

The design of one common integrity-building intervention – capacity building for politicians – can be adapted to respond effectively to systemic forms of corruption. In the context of Jordan, systemic corruption is often bound up in the concept known as ‘wasta’ – a practice of exchanging favours. Wasta is difficult to counter with capacity-building programmes that seek to strengthen conventional anti-corruption frameworks. Alternative strategies may challenge the incentives and norms that sustain the system of corruption.

28 July 2019
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Main points

  • Systemic corruption exists when a corrupt act recurs consistently and is connected to other corrupt acts through an underlying system that enables and encourages the corruption. In designing all types of interventions, practitioners need to consider whether the corruption they seek to address is systemic – and how. Tackling systemic corruption requires alternative approaches; these need to go beyond the sorts of standard interventions that target more isolated forms of wrongdoing.
  • We consider how the design of one common integrity-building intervention, capacity building for politicians, can respond effectively to systemic forms of corruption. We explore this question in the context of Jordan, where systemic corruption is often bound up in the concept known as ‘wasta.’
  • Wasta, in basic terms, is about pulling strings. Wasta-practices normally involve an exchange not of money but of favours, and typically represent not a single occurrence but many exchanges over time. Wasta in Jordan has three qualities that make it systemic: it is functionally, normatively, and politically embedded in the society.
  • Forms of systemic corruption, like wasta, are difficult to counter with capacity-building programmes that seek to strengthen conventional anti-corruption frameworks but neglect to address the system underlying the corruption. Anti-corruption in this context requires alternative strategies that challenge the incentives and norms of the system.
  • To address systemic corruption, capacity-building programmes for parliamentarians could focus on supporting them to: (1) Improve the equity and efficiency of public service delivery institutions; (2) Use their leadership positions within social networks to build up normative constraints against the most pernicious forms of wasta; and (3) Build a coalition of parliamentarians to oppose the most pernicious forms of wasta.

Cite this publication


Jackson, D.; Tobin, S.; Eggert, J.; (2019) Capacity building for politicians in contexts of systemic corruption: Countering ‘wasta’ in Jordan. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2019:9)

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About the authors

Dr. David Jackson leads U4’s thematic work on informal contexts of corruption. His research explores how an understanding of social norms, patron-client politics, and nonstate actors can lead to anti-corruption interventions that are better suited to context. He is the author of various book chapters and journal articles on governance issues and holds degrees from Oxford University, the Hertie School of Governance, and the Freie Universität Berlin.

Sarah Tobin

Dr. Sarah Tobin is an anthropologist whose work explores transformations in religious and economic life, identity construction, and personal piety in Jordan, including amongst Syrian refugees. She is the author of the monograph Everyday Piety: Islam and Economy in Jordan. Her most recent book is the co-authored Politics of the Headscarf in the United States. Dr. Tobin is a Senior Researcher at CMI in Bergen, Norway.

Jennifer Philippa Eggert

Dr. Jennifer Philippa Eggert is a researcher and practitioner working on gender, political violence, preventing/countering violent extremism, Islam(ism), migration and development in Europe and the Middle East. She currently works as Head of Research and Development at the Humanitarian Academy for Development. I am also Non-Executive Director of the social entreprise We Rise UK and Research Advisor of the Women Muslim Advisory Project.

Disclaimer


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Keywords


Jordan, Western Asia, social norms, aid, parliaments, accountability, collective action, political corruption, Featured