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Razzaz’s government before the House

Jul 17,2018 - Last updated at Jul 17,2018

Last week, the House of Representatives convened in an extraordinary session specifically dedicated to consider whether the newly-appointed government of Prime Minister Omar Razzaz would gain the House’s vote of confidence. After delivering his policy statement at the beginning of the session, Razzaz met separately with various parliamentary groups to further elaborate on his government’s plan of action.

The government statement was well received. It was generally viewed as constructive, considerate and adequately cognisant of the many issues of popular concern as expressed by Jordanians’ demonstrations weeks earlier, particularly complaints against rising taxes, unemployment, poor services and endlessly spiraling cost of living.

The House has been in session since Sunday, debating the prime minister’s plan. While most deputies’ statements were complimentary to Razzaz; praising his competence, fairness and clarity of approach, they, at the same time, questioned his choice of his team, some of them at least. But the idea that any team member should be judged on the basis of his or her performance in the weeks or months ahead was not missing in the debate. Both the prime minister and members of Parliament affirmed this fact.

The general debate will end with a vote, probably at the end of this week. There are good indications that the Parliament will vote in favour of Razzaz and his team. This is very much in the interest of the country, where stability is vital for enabling the new team to start good and serious work, addressing many complex economic, social, administrative and even political issues.

The tasks ahead of Razzaz government are extremely heavy, indeed too burdensome for any government to produce quick, satisfactory results.

Since his designation, Razzaz made significant commitments, often too generous. After withdrawing the controversial draft income tax law that precipitated the crisis just as the previous government pushed it to Parliament, the prime minister promised to review the entire tax system. In front of Parliament, he acknowledged that Jordanians could not cope any more with mounting burdens and that “enough is enough”.

For the ordinary Jordanian, this can only be understood as a promise to reduce taxes, reduce charges, reduce prices, create jobs, improve services, reduce the debt, upgrade the government machinery, fight corruption and solve most of the troubling problems.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with that. Eventually, that is what the government should do but it takes time; it takes much longer than what people’s patience can tolerate.

The problem is the quite narrow margin of manoeuvre for the government, particularly with respect to the ailing economy. There is no question that Jordan is hit by a serious economic crisis, resulting mainly from the prevailing instability all around, the closure of borders, refugees, security challenges, increased population, scarcity of resources, energy issues and rising citizens’ demands.

Razzaz’s government is inheriting a difficult situation, which means any plan of effective and efficient action, no matter how competent, as said, needs adequate time to show convincing results.

But time is not the only factor. For all the promises this government has made, it also needs money and this may have to translate into taxes and fees. There is a very complex dilemma, the money needed to reduce the living burdens on the Jordanians may have to partially come from taxes, in other words from peoples’ pockets.

However, and even if the government’s margin of manoeuvreability is very narrow, some good and substantial work can be done and can be understood, even appreciated by the majority of Jordanians.

The government needs to restore the lost confidence of the people in its action, facts, figures and measures. Once Jordanians realise that taxes are collected evenly, comprehensively, accurately and fairly, they will understand. They need to know that there should be no loopholes in any legislation for tax evasion or tax fraud. They also need to know that law enforcement agencies would not be lenient towards tax evasion or fraud.

Jordanians need to be convinced that money collected from them is spent correctly, wisely, transparently and efficiently. They have no tolerance for waste, lavish expenditure and incorrect or unlawful spending.

Such measures are within the government’s reach and they would have immediate and positive effect on public mood. It is, therefore, a management crisis as well.

Previous governments did in fact try similar measures but were hardly taken seriously. Rather, they were mostly seen as cosmetic, unreal and of momentary nature; thus counterproductive. They widened rather than narrowed the gap of confidence.

There are many lessons that can be learned from past experiences. Let us hope Razzaz’s government will benefit from them. Its success is a vital Jordanian interest.

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