Friday, 16 March 2012

Byzantine Bidding - Jordan's Government

‘Paul, we’re going to be fair to the bidders, but the Jerusalem Consortium has some big innovations to bring to the table, including ways of recovering water that will benefit both Jordan and our friends in the West Bank. It’s hard to compare the two bids as apples to apples. One is visionary and brilliant and one is professional but doesn’t address our longer term needs.’ He tapped the desk for emphasis. ‘But these bids will be treated fairly and openly and honestly by a committee tasked with evaluating them.’
Olives, Page 128

I have been involved in such processes myself, responding to tenders, presenting to evaluation committees and the like. It’s a skill in itself and rarely less than entertaining, particularly in Jordan. On one occasion I remember the bid evaluation committee starting to argue with each other, our team presenting our bid in Arabic increasingly ignored as the argument raged with increasing heat until one member of the committee left the room, red faced, his hands sweeping the air as he shouted ‘Ana falah! Ana falah!’ ('I'm a peasant'). I never managed to quite work out where that all came from.

The red tape involved in dealing with government entities (including NGOs and semi-government organisations)can be choking and I often find myself wondering quite whether the process is quite as ‘fair, open and honest’ as the process was originally intended to ensure. Part of the issue is that the process itself favours those who have mastered the arcane art of actually managing the process. There are people in Amman who exist pretty much on their ability to scout these contracts out and negotiate the many, various and occasionally incomprehensible hoops that you're expected to jump through.

Permeating it all is the ever-present spectre of 'wasta' or influence, contracts being awarded to companies owned  by cousins and the like.

It can get pretty Byzantine.

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