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Restoring public trust

Sep 17,2018 - Last updated at Sep 17,2018

The new proposed income tax law in Jordan is taking some knocks. The number of those pouncing on it is on the rise. Not surprisingly, ministers representing the government, who tried to get people see the point of view of the government and, therefore, enlist their support for the law, were not received well in some governorates in Jordan. Rather than thinking outside the box, writers close to the government turned against protestors and underestimated the relevance of their arguments. But the ridicule is misplaced. The truth is that public opposition to the new proposed income tax is not without its reasons.

Let us be honest, the dialogue the government is having with various sectors of the Jordanian society is vital. But if the past is a prologue, the government’s efforts will fall short. The government should have taken seriously His Majesty King Abdullah’s instruction to restore the public trust. Back in 2002, I wrote an article for The Jordan Times in which I argued that there was a gap in trust between the government and the people. Now I do believe that the gap is widening to an alarming point. No matter what the government says, people remain sceptical.

For the past two months, the government has launched a campaign to enlist support for the proposed law. Explicit in this campaign are two points. First, while the government sympathises with people, the income tax law must pass. Second, the need for balancing the deficit in the budget has never been more urgent. The law, this line of thinking goes, is the best given the current situation and the lack of other options. On the other hand, the common arguments among people are that the current proposed income tax will have detrimental impact on their daily life. Given the developmental gap between Amman and the peripheries, many people consider the proposed law unfair. Besides, many also see the government’s compliance to the World Bank as a sign of weakness. They refuse to be emotionally exploited by a government that does not represent their priorities. Worse, people do not believe the government. Chances are likely that they may take to the street to protest the law. It was a sad scene to see the ministers of the government being expelled from Tafilah, a southern governorate!

The strategy the government has devised to convince the public to support the law has not been successful. I believe it boils down to one point: Jordanians, on the whole, are aware of the inability of the government to make a difference. This is true especially with the government of Omar Razzaz. Sources close to Razzaz kept saying that the man represents the demonstrators at the Fourth Circle. Although this is inaccurate, Razzaz is now required to fix the problems. But, will he manage to do that? Does he have a strong ministerial team to help in the process? Would his public relations campaign succeed in gaining the sympathy of people? Will he restore the public trust in the government? Will he manage to address the problems of unemployment, poverty and inflation?

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