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House endorses budget bill amid noticeable abstentions

Lawmakers agree measures to mitigate impact of subsidy lifting on low-income segment

By JT - Dec 31,2017 - Last updated at Dec 31,2017

MPs vote on the budget draft law on Sunday (Photo by Hassan Tamimi)

AMMAN — The Lower House on Sunday voted in favour of the state budget and budgets of independent government units draft law in a session that witnessed the absence of more than 30 MPs, who boycotted the deliberations, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported. 

Among the 99 legislators present (out of 130) in the evening session, 58 lawmakers voted yea. The Islamist Islah bloc (14 seats), and other deputies, had announced boycotting the debate in protest to lifting subsidies off essential commodities that have been a fixture in the national economy over decades, including bread.  

In an unprecedented occurrence, the House debated and voted over the bill in one day, a development seen by officials as a leap in the reforms to the way the Chamber operates, while critics, including social media activists, slammed the House for completing the task without enough deliberation (see story on page 3). 

The 2018 draft state budget includes, for the first time, a social safety network/cash subsidy with a value of JD177 million to make up for rising cost of living brought about by lifting subsidies.  

The cash subsidy will be directed to each member of the army, security and civil service whose salary is below JD1,500, the government and the deputies agreed, as suggested by the House’s financial committee, which studied the budget and made a set of recommendations. 

Other measures the government has agreed to include cancelling two conditions set originally for individuals to be eligible to receive the cash support, namely, the family should not own two cars or more and/or real estate worth JD300,000 and more.  

Otherwise, all Jordanian families whose total annual income does not exceed JD12,000 and individuals whose annual income is not more than JD6,000 will be eligible to receive the cash subsidy, estimated for each individual at around JD32 annually. 

The corrective measures to be implemented by the government, including public expenditure control, will increase revenues by JD450 million in 2018, according to the budget statement. 

The Finance Ministry is expected to activate a website it has already designed to allow would-be beneficiaries to post their information, with 2016 used as a base year for income. 

Civil and military employees and pensioners, retirees served by the Social Security Corporation and beneficiaries of the National Aid Fund will have the subsidy added to their monthly salaries, while other beneficiaries will receive quarterly or biannual payments, including divorced women who receive alimonies. 

The government also agreed to exempt households that consume less than 300kw/h a month from any price hikes that apply when the oil barrel’s price exceeds $55.

The Cabinet had already decided to include the 60-69 age category under the free medical care umbrella, among other measures to ease the impact of the new system on low-income citizens. 

Following the endorsement, Prime Minister Hani Mulki thanked lawmakers for their vote and commended the new approach to the deliberations, as only 31 deputies took the podium, of whom six spoke on behalf of their blocs. House Speaker Atef Tarawneh said that around 110 deputies were represented in the speeches delivered. 

Mulki told deputies that off-budget expenditure is blamed for the accumulating dues on the state, vowing to bring an end to such a behaviour. He said that without the debt service, the budget would have a JD400 million surplus. 

Under the budget law submitted to the Parliament, domestic revenues stand at JD8.496 billion, compared with JD7.715 billion of reestimated revenues in 2017, while current expenditures are estimated at JD7.886 billion and capital expenditures at JD1.153 billion in 2018.

The after-grants deficit in 2018’s budget is expected to sway around JD543 million in 2018, dropping by JD209 million in the reestimated value in the 2017 budget.

As for government units, revenues are estimated at JD1.664 billion and expenditures at JD1.812 billion with a deficit of JD148 million.

 

 The combined deficit of the central government and government units will drop this year to JD831 million, down from JD1.035 billion in 2017.

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