Friday, June 27, 2008

If it ain't broken...break it!

Jerash Festival is permanently canceled. The incoherent reasons reported behind discontinuing a festival that we have all grown accustomed to for over 20 years leave plenty to be desired. This cancellation highlights an arrogance in the decision making process that disregards any ramifications of such an ad hoc move. More important the scrapping of such an important cultural event calls for the need to have meaningful transparency and straightforwardness in breaking to the public news of what many might perceive as an "arbitrary" and an "irrational" decision.

The announcement of this news should be a case study in "what NOT to do" in handling the media when it comes to matters of great importance to the public. The first lesson, never underestimate the intelligence of the audience receiving the news. The second lesson, you better have a good reason in explaining the need for such a drastic move. The third lesson, the people responsible for such a decision should have their finger on the pulse of the general mood out on the street instead of seeming to give it the finger. The fourth lesson, have alternatives ready and easy to understand; claims that "Jordan Festival" is the substitute should shed light on what this Festival is and why it is assumed to be a better option than the one canceled. Finally, those responsible should have made sure that there is one spokesperson for this very serious decision. Instead, we have seen several officials talk with more versions than we can count of what this "Jordan Festival" is supposed to be. In essence, by beating around the bush, they have not only managed to confuse the public, but they have also managed to rob any goodwill that might have been attached to it.

This is as far as the decision making process is concerned. What bothers me even more is that the funding for the alleged substitute huge event is still unclear. Had it been a private sector initiative, it would not have been an issue at all. However, the event is supposedly funded by the government through the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB). This Board receives its funding from the public sector as well as through levies collected from the private sector. The overall budget of the Board does not exceed JD 7 million. The mandate of the Board is to market Jordan worldwide. Any simple calculation reveals that the programs of JTB by far exceed the budget set for it. The question then remains, where is the money coming from for at least this "Jordan Festival", and at what marketing activity's expense? Moreover, have the stakeholders funding this Board been consulted on these drastic measures, at least the private arm of them? Afterall it is their money that is partly funding all of this mess. My gut feeling (a bit more than a gut feeling) tells me they have not.

Jerash Festival was a great event that needed fine tuning through ensuring responsible and effective management. The lack of good oversight should have never been a reason for discontinuing such an important public and national outlet. The JTB (if they in fact had anything to do with the cancellation!) should have been savvier in building on a know-how that has been in the making for the past couple of decades. They had the perfect venue and material to make their job easier in marketing Jordan. Instead they or "someones" have managed to expose JTB's overall incompetence in the most public, humiliating and controversial ways.

Throwing the baby with the bathtub is what we are eventually witnessing with this whole Jerash Festival fiasco. The sad part in all of this is that the people who should be holding those responsible accountable are the very people we do not want to hear from. I personally have become sick and tired of hearing the representatives of the people pushing their personal agendas in the name of the public good.  In the final analysis we are once again reminded of how the ineptness of the legislative branch has left the arena wide open for the executive branch to play without any hope for a much needed accountability.

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