Jordanian MPs Pocket Tenders in the Millions
Radio al Balad uncovers the world of business for the MPs of the 17th parliament
· A quarter of a billion dinars for the Majali companies from the government
· 128 million for the Attiyeh brothers
· 150 million for the Tarawneh brothers
· 92 MPs have companies with capital of 1.5 billion
By Musab Shawbkeh and Mohammad Egbarieh with Anas Damra (Infographics)
Three years ago, while the MP Abdel Hadi Majali was calling for an accountability law to convince Jordanians about the importance of fighting corruption, the Sharq Al Aqsa Contracting company which he controls with his son Sahel was signing a tender agreement for JD 300 million to refurbish the Kamalieh bridge in the city of Salt.
Majali who was the speaker of the parliament for nine consecutive terms, since his elections in 1993, will not be the first or last MP whose company wins government tenders in a director or indirect way. This is a clear example of conflict of interest between branches that are supposed to be independent. Clause 75/2 of Jordan’s constitutions forbids members of parliament from having any direct or indirect contractual ties with the government while a member.
Some MPs, as our investigation uncovers, didn’t care about violating this constitutional clause which stipulates that they will lose their membership in the parliament for this act. A ruling by the higher Council for Constitutional Interpretation states that this can happen without a decision from the legislative branch. This was explained in decision number 1 for the year 2006.
A number of MPs signed contracts with the government after they had approved the parliamentary code of ethics for 2015 which calls on the MP to avoid adopting any subject which brings him personal benefit nor give priority to the personal interests on the account of the public interest. The code also stipulates that MPs must not cover up on corruption.
Clause 75 of Jordan’s constitution states: “members of the parliament and senate shall refrain from contracting with governmental or public institutions or companies owned or controlled by the government whether this contract is direct or indirect with an exception to previously signed rental agreements or if the MP is a stockholder in a company with more than 10 shareholders.”
This issue applies to any MP or senator as stated in this clause while they were members in either house. If its disclosed after they were elected, their membership is voided and his/her seat becomes vacant. This decision should be sent to His Majesty the King if issued by the Senate.
This investigation reveals a small part of the relationship that connects the members of parliament with three government institutions only. Twenty four government ministries refrained from supplying the authors of this investigation the names of companies that won tenders with them. The denial was not explained even though it was presented in an official way as part of the right to access public information.
Six MPs also refused to answer our questions even though their names or first of kin relatives were listed as having contracted with the central tendering department, the Amman Municipality and the Central Supplies Department. The requests were for the period of their membership in the 17th parliament in the years 2013- till June 2016.
This investigation shows that a number of MPs tried to superficially adopt themselves to the constitution by way of increasing the number of shareholders in their company to be more than ten stockholders.
Other MPs tried to withdraw from their companies in favor of their brothers or children before signing contracts with the government.
In this investigation, we will uncover part of the world of business that the representatives of the people of Jordan have. Ninety two MPs of the 17th parliament own some 460 companies with a combined capital of JD 1.5 billion, according to the publicly disclosed company registrations.
A question needs to be answered: Did the business of the MPs affect their role in holding the government accountable?
Yes says the former minister and former MP Mamdouh Abadi. “Interests is stronger than the whole world.”
Since its establishment in 1991, the Sharq Al Aqsa Contracting Company controlled by MP Abdel Hadi Majali and his son, the former minister Sahel, have won 22 government tenders with a total cost of JD 252 million. At least 231 million were won during the 17th parliament.
This company was born with a golden spoon. Five months after its establishment it won the tender to build schools in Marka, Salhieh Al Abed, and Sweileh from the ministry of education for 1.5 million JD. One and a half years later Majali ran for and won a seat in the twelfth parliament representing Karak. During this period his company signed four contracts with government agencies to build the infrastructure of the Hashemieh University and the Amoni Tanks for the Phosphate Company.
In 2002, Sahel, son of Abdel Hadi, established two companies with the same name. Al Awsat World Company for investment with a limited responsibility and with a capital of JD 200,000 . His father was appointed chairman of the executive board and continues in this post until today.
The second company has a declared capital of JD seven million. It owns total stock of the Al Awsat Contracting Company, according to publicly available company registration documents.
In the middle of 2014, when Majali was a shareholder in this company and a member of parliament, his company won a tender within the new Aqaba port for JD 50 million \ with the Aqaba developmental company which is controlled by the government. The contract was for infrastructure and other buildings. Three months later only the Al Awsat Consortium with the Spanish (OHL Industrial S.L.U) signed a contract with the Energy Ministry for JD174 million to build oil tanks in the Madonia area east of Amman.
In the end of 2014, Majali and son Sahel withdrew from the private Al Awsat company in favor of Med Holdings Co. UK limited in the United Kingdom. This company is controlled by Sahel Majali.
Dallas Tourism and Travel Company owned by former MP Amjad Maslamani signed a contract with the Waqf ministry early in 2014 to provide Amra services for the 1435Hijri season. We have a contract to this effect on our files.
The contracts of Majali and Maslamani with the government are clear violations of clause 75/2 of the Jordanian constitution. “This is an unquestionable violation and there is no discussion or other opinions,” says constitutional professor in Al Isra University Dr. Hamdi Qubeilat.
The head of the Jordanian Transparency Society and former minister and MP, Dr. Mamdouh al Abadi says that a parliament member’s contracting with the government is a violation punishable by loss of membership in the parliament. Abadi says he is shocked at their behavior. “An MP committing a violation without any hesitation and running for elections knowing full well that he is in a contractual state with the government is strange.”
The Jordanian Society for fighting Corruption lawyer Salah Maayta points to clause 175 of the Penal Code which makes it a crime for an MP to be in contract with the government. “This is a violation of a public trust. Taking advantage of is considered a corruption crime.”
Former MP Yousef Qurneh has tried superficially to adjust to the demands of the constitution. His company Al Qurneh, Salameh and Partners made a contract with the government at the end of 2014 while he was a member of the 17th parliament. The contract with the Public Affairs and Housing Ministry was to carry out the building of the Intensive care Unit at the Nadeem hospital for a cost of JD 3.5 million. This was not the first contract for Qurneh while he was an MP. His company also made a contract to building the Northern Badiya Hospital during his membership in the 15th parliament for a contract worth JD 14 Million..
Every time before running for elections, Qurneh increased the number of shareholders in the company to eleven, by adding six members of his family as shareholders, and three others, to make it appear consistent with the exception in Article 2/75 of the Constitution.
After the 2007, and 2010 election, in which Qurneh participated, nine shareholders of the company withdrew, which refers to the suspicion of violating the Constitution, due to the fact that the number of shareholders is less than ten.
Then he re-added these shareholders a month before winning the 2012 elections as a deputy. Qurneh owns 49.5% of the company's capital which reaches one million dinars, with the exception of his family possession of about 0.6% of it.
Despite Qurneh’s attempt, “he is still at odds with the constitutional article, because he is of great influence in the company, and contracting with the government and its institutions comes to his advantage,” according to Dr. Hamdi Aqbilat.
Chairman of the Parliamentary Integrity and transparency committee, former MP Mustafa Rawashdeh, believes that this exception loses the spirit of the text, and opens the door to circumvent the constitution, "which is what is happening now," according to his words.
Qurneh sent to the authors of the investigation, a response via fax, which says that "the company is established since 1983 and has legal status in accordance with Article 75 of the Constitution, because its partners are more than ten."
At the same time, Qurneh denies violating the Constitution, or conflicts of interest, and confirms that his position as deputy does not affect his company’s contract. He adds, "If our company submitted the lowest price, the tender will be referred to it as any other tendering company."
In 1999, Atef Tarawneh an engineer registered along with his brother a company in the name of Ahmad Yousef Tarawneh Company with a capital of JD500,000.
The new company was launched with a series of five contracts for a total of JD1.5 million. Atef continued with his brother’s company until the middle of 2003 when he withdrew one month before to run for the 14th parliament. His stock in the company was transferred to his brother Ibrahim. After Atef entered the parliament the company won a tender for the public works and housing ministry. The contract was to build a cargo section in the Jordan valley crossing point at a cost of JD2.5 million. During Atef’s membership in the parliament in 2003 and until 2016 he was elected speaker of the parliament three consecutive sessions since 2013. His brother’s company won 13 contracts for a total of JD150 million.
Advocate Salah Mayyta says that MPs whose next of kin win contracts with the government should lose their seat in the parliament. He explains: “The constitution bars MP from direct or indirect relations with the government. Brothers, sons, and wives fit in this category and they should not get into a conflict of interest situation.”
Despite the attempts to circumvent the constitutions, advocate Omar Attout says that every MP is a separate legal entity from his sons. “The only exception is the palace, so as long as the contract is not with the MP himself or his own company we can’t consider that his membership in the parliament is illegal.” The same argument was made by Mamdouh Abadi.
But to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the UN Agreement to fight corruption which was approved by Jordan, places realistic time limitations. After their resignation from a public position they must wait a reasonable time before entering into a contract with the government.
Former MP Hussein Attiyeh withdrew from his company Hussein Attiyeh and Sons and transferred his stocks to his brother Amjad.
The withdrawal of Attiyeh before enteting the 17th parliament by one month and during his presence in the parliament did little to stop his company from contracting with the government. His family company signed five contracts for a total of JD38 million.
The same was applied by former MP Atef Kawwar who withdrew from his own company Al Mayadeen Medical Equipment and placed his son Anis in his place six months before signing a tender agreement with the supplies department to provide medical equipment for JD324,000. During his entire period in the 17th parliament Kawwar’s company signed contracts with the government for a total of JD450,000. Kawwar replies to us that he withdrew from his own company in compliance with the spirit and text of the constitution.” He insists that he has used his position for any personal gain for the company. Kawwar defends the agreement that the company of his son and brother signed with the government. “Do you want the people to close their companies because they are close relatives to an MP?’
The former head of the Integrity and Transparency Committee MP Mustafa Rawashdeh says that the withdrawal of MP to their next of kin in order to get tenders with the government a symbolic act. “The company continues to benefit the MP.”
The constitutional professor Hamdi Qbeilat says: “the timing of the departure of the MP from the company and the person who replaces him are signals that this is not a real withdrawal and that the MP is still benefiting from the company and from the tender with the government.”
Salah Mayyta qutotes clause 16/4 of the Integrity and Transparency Law that considers the lack of disclosure of investments and properties or any other benefit means a conflict of interest. Any direct or indirect benefit that is not disclosed is therefore corruption.
The anti-corruption agency defines conflict of interest as “affecting the duties and works of a person to personal interests whether direct or indirect because of personal financial and other gains benefiting him personally or any of his relatives or friends.”
Khalil Attiyeh the older brother of Khamis Attiyeh was part of the 15th through the 17th parliament (2013-2016). During these ten years the Hussein Attiyeh Company owned by the father and sons won 19 government tenders for a total of JD127 million.
Khamis was the chairman of the board of the company when he ran as part of the Wattan faction headed by Atef Tarawneh for the 17th parliament. Khalil and Khamis became two MPS in the same parliament which was historic in Jordanian parliamentary politics. During this period the Hussein Attiyeh and Sons Company signed contracts for JD38 million.
At the end of 2000 Hassan Kooz and Sons Company registered a company for JD300,000. Former MP Raed Kooz was appointed executive director while Hassan his father was the largest stockholder.
Nine years after Raed entered the parliament, the Hassan Kooz and partner Company (the new name) signed a contract with the Public Works and Housing Ministry to refurbish the Northern Shona road for a cost of nine million JD.
In 2014 while he was an MP, Raed was added to the list of company owners and later he left.
During Raed Kooz membership in the parliament the company received six contracts with the ministry of technology and communications for a total of JD 17 million. In his written replay to us, Kooz denied that he signed any contracts with the government. “I don’t need to comment on the contract of my relatives and brothers with the government.” He also argued that “I was not effective as an MP in the fact that these companies got any government tenders.”
During the membership of Jamil Nimri in the 17th parliament, the Sons of Thalji Nimri company owned by his brothers George and Bassem signed a contract with the Public Works Ministry to build a medical center in Anjara and in Sweimleh, Mafraq for JD 1.7 million.
Jamily and George co own Fakhri Nimri and Partners Company.
Did these gains by the companies of MP affect their action in parliament?
Former MP Mustafa Rawashdeh says that he noticed changes of MP voting based on their interests. “I have seen and lives some of these cases.”
A survey of the positions that the MPs who have deals with the government (whether direct or indirect) during the 17th parliament shows the following results:
*MPs Atef Tarwaneh, Yousef Qurneh, Amjad Maslamani, Khalil Attiyeh, Raed Kzooz, Jamil Nimri and Atef Tarawneh gave confidence to the government of 2013 government of PM Abdallah Ensour while Abdel Hadi Majali and Khamis Attiyeh didn’t.
* In 2014 Tarawneh, Maslamani, Kooz, Kawwar and Nimri granted confidence to the Ensour government but Khamis Attiyeh didn’t. Abdel Hadi Majali and Khalil Attiyeh were absent with an official notification while Qurneh was absent without notification.
* Non of those MPs presented an inquiry to the government during the entire 17th parliament while Khalil Attiyeh did inquire about a Jordanian prisoner in Iraq, according to Rased parliamentary observatory.
Rased a civil society organization says that Majali and Tarawneh didn’t make any parliamentary questions during the entire period of the 17th parliament. None of them made any question or inquiry about centrally issued tenders or tenders of the Public Works and Housing Ministry..
Rased says that Khamis Attiyeh and Maslamni each asked seven parliamentary questions over the session followed by six to Khalil while Qurneh, Kawwar, Kooz, and Nimri asked two questions each during the three year period of the 17th parliament 2013-2016.
The former minister and MP Mamdouh Abadi says that MPs with government contracts are negatively affected in terms of their ability to hold the government accountable or to be effective legislatures. “The conflict of interest tends to make a person take biased positions aimed at protecting their interests.”
The evaluation of the National Integrity and Transparency report, of Transparency International, in 2016 that the legislative performance was weak. Jordan’s legislature performance received a weak 31% in terms of evaluating its national integrity.
Radio al Balad sent by way of express mail written requests for responses to the following former MPs: Abdel Hadi Majali, Atef Tarawneh, Jamil Nimri, Amjad Maslamani, Khamis Attiyeh, and Khalil Attiyeh. Same message was also sent to them by fax. They were asked to respond to the issues addressed in this investigation, but they chose not to reply.
Is the government delinquent or complicit?
Mustafa Rawashdeh the former head of the Integrity and Transparency committee in the 17th parliament says that governments ‘unfortunately’ award tenders to sons of MPs to ministers and to Senators. “Unfortunately this has become a reality in Jordan.”
Radio Al Balad sent a request to the spokesman of the government Dr. Mohammad Momani asking for the government’s take on MPs receiving contracts through their relatives. Momani refused to reply but a source close to him said “the issues raised in the investigation are not accurate.”
Dr. Hamdi Qubeilat says: “many know that some of the tradeoffs have taken place with persons or known companies with the knowledge of the government. “The government is often complicity and not delinquent in these cases.”
104 Mps in the 17th parliament and their families participate in 770 companies with a combined capital of JD1.7 billion. Mamdouh Abadi was shocked to hear this figure. “I expected the number to be closer to 10%. This shows that the main reason for persons wanting to join the parliament is for personal gain.”
Abadi has called for constitutional and legal reforms to address this problem. Hamdi Qubeilat agrees says that the goal for many is to sit on the parliamentary seat to protect his company and “not to provide the expected legislative and accountability duties to governments.
This investigation was produced by the investigative unit at Radio al Balad and with support from Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ).