Dec 16 2012
By Daoud Kuttab
The Jordanian Cabinet’s decision to scrap wintertime came at the most difficult time: one day before a long holiday and also one day before the original plan to start wintertime. Furthermore, the rationale for the decision was never fully discussed and defended by those taking it.
For years, Jordanian governments determined the seasonal time changes arbitrarily. Recently, this policy became more structured and institutional. A decision was made declaring the last Friday of March and of October as the day when the new time changes take effect.
This decision was obviously passed on to various local, regional and international bodies. Royal Jordanian and other airlines, Microsoft and other computer companies, as well as telephone companies were all aware that on midnight of October 25 this year, for example, Jordan shifts its clock one hour.
Airplane itineraries, computer-based clocks, cell phone and tablet clocks were all programmed to shift automatically.
Two weeks before October 25, Jordan reiterated that the time change would take place at the scheduled time. But then, the government met and apparently convinced the Cabinet members to vote for keeping summertime all year around.
The decision was made public with little explanation 24 hours before the planned change.
One Cabinet member was quoted as saying that different local institutions could adjust time as they please and that this decision was made to alleviate traffic jams in the capital!
With the press off for Eid Al Adha, everyone was left to scramble.
Royal Jordanian had to inform all passengers of the fact that the time on their ticket was wrong and that they should be at the airport one hour before the one listed on the ticket. Schools were also perplexed, wondering whether they had the option to adjust the start of the school day at will.
A few days into the holiday, the minister of education said that all schools were to start half an hour later. This, of course, did little to calm the public anger, with everyone commenting. It was the topic of holiday conversations.
Even Jordan’s meteorologists chimed in, saying they feared that when it gets icy cold, schoolbuses will have to do some dangerous driving, as they will be on the roads before sunrise.
The social media was abuzz with the topic, and a group was formed announcing a public rebellion against the government’s time diktat.
Nothing seems to have changed the government’s decision. When work and school reconvened Tuesday, ministers stood by their decision and released news of a study that they say showed that Jordan would save $60 million (JD) if it does not switch to wintertime.
It is not clear how scientific this study is and whether it does in fact save money, but it is clear that members of the government did not feel they owed it to the public to share this particular study with the public before the decision was made.
Irrespective of whether the decision saves energy, the incident once again revealed a major fault line in the decision-making processes.
It is obvious that governments feel they do not have to respect the decisions of their predecessors or accumulated world experience.
What is even more worrisome is the apparent lack of proper decision-making mechanisms that should include a wide range of government, private and non-governmental partners, especially when it comes to issues of general public interest, and the lack of interest or understanding that decisions need to be discussed in the public arena before during and after they are made.
Such public airing would undoubtedly help avoid bad decisions and would give the public a sense of ownership once consensus is developed. As it stands now, the government’s choosing to take decisions alone is bound to widen the gap between it and the public, which is contrary to the reform process Jordan says it adopted in the post-Arab Spring era.
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