Omar Razzaz, Former Chairman of the Privatization Evaluation Committee
Date of Interview: May 2014
After many suspected major mistakes were made during Jordan’s controversial privatization drive, the government formed the Privatization Evaluation Committee in 2013. A year-long investigation led by its chairman, Omar Razzaz, concluded the sell-off of public assets was by and large well executed, but some deals were marred by negligence, incompetence, and a lack of transparency.
In 2014, Razzaz spoke to Venture about the possible response from the government in terms of policies and procedures now that the findings have been revealed.
From the interview
The report made some serious accusations regarding some of the deals, including the one concerning the phosphate industry. Are you calling for the prosecution of those who were involved in those deals?
This is the toughest question we get and we have to explain that our mandate was to evaluate a process not to investigate. We don’t call for prosecution because that’s beyond our terms of reference. We don’t have the power to investigate, to interrogate, and therefore we cannot accuse a specific person of wrongdoing. But we have been very clear where there was a violation of the law, where there was gross negligence, and when we felt that a transaction did not rise up to the international standards of best practice. So we really have different terms for different problems, whether a decision or transaction is illegal, in violation of the law, and whether it does not serve the public interest. And here we tried to distinguish between making a bad judgment with the benefit of hindsight, or whether that person or that committee should’ve known at the time that this was not in the public interest. We identified violations of the law, there were few, not many, phosphate is one of them.
So do you think it was mainly incompetence or corruption?
Much of it we think was incompetence. That’s what’s worrying for a lot of the forthcoming transactions in the future. Unless public sector reforms improve the capacity of decision making and negotiating, a lot of these issues will stay with us. We are unable to verify anything that’s related to corruption, again because corruption accusations would require proving several things, not just that it’s not in the public interest but that there’s an intention and there’s a private benefit that has accrued.
Where our work ends, is exactly where the work of Anti-Corruption Commission and the general prosecutor begins, because we have looked at documents in an analytical way, and pointed out where the problem is. Many of the cases are already being investigated, but I think the methodological approach we brought to the table brings additional clarity to those who are investigating these reports.
What happened next?
Although the committee’s report made some important findings, the follow up has arguably been underwhelming and no concrete action have been taken by the authorities to settle the issues raised.
This is part seven of a 10-piece story. Articles in the series of Venture at 10 also include: