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Not really fair

Jan 11,2017 - Last updated at Jan 11,2017

In another display of lack of real coordination among Cabinet ministers, the finance minister last Sunday said prices of fuel derivatives and gas cylinders will be raised — in the case of the latter quite steeply — while the prime minister asserted that “we cannot increase the price under the current circumstances”.

It turned out, eventually, that the government plans to raise the prices of fuel derivatives by 7 piasters, starting next month, will unify sales tax at 16 per cent, cancelling the zero tax on certain items, and will double the fee for issuing passports, making it JD40. Among others, most probably.

The JD1.5 increase on gas cylinders will not happen, at least for the time being, and just as well, as the country, like most of the northern hemisphere, is affected by a harsh winter and many citizens resort to stoves heated by gas to warm up.

The increase in gasoline prices, limited to 90 and 95 octane, is understandable, if not palatable.

Oil prices have risen on the international market in the past few weeks, after the OPEC members reached an agreement, last month, to put a cap on their oil production in order to drive up prices. 

Knowing that the government adjusts prices of fuel derivatives monthly, it is normal to accept that they will follow the international trend and go up. No quarrel with that. 

Even the passport fee can be absorbed. People who can afford to travel can probably afford to pay 40 dinars every five years for a passport.

Given the huge budget deficit, people understand that the government has no choice but to stop subsidising fuel prices. And that they have to tighten the belt even further.

But what they find difficult to understand is why Cabinet ministers, members of parliament and other government bureaucracies have not indicated any measure they intend to take themselves to tighten their belts.

To be sure, the government is sensitive to the public concern about the high cost of living, and especially about securing basic needs.

The prime minister’s move on gas cylinders is proof of that.

But what about government expenses?

On use of official cars, on outrageously high salaries to some officials, combining inflated retirement salaries with other incomes from government sources, exaggerated travel expenses for government delegations, opening new embassies in the far reaches of the globe for no justifiable reason, and even on creating new ministries, instead of compacting the bureaucracy?

The government cannot expect the public to scrimp and scrounge while it continues to spend well beyond its limits, knowing that the budget deficit is dangerously large. 

 

If the country is to sail the rough economic tide and see the national debt reduced, the government and the public must act together, with each shouldering its share of the burden fairly.

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