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Budget law and reform

Nov 13,2017 - Last updated at Nov 13,2017

On Sunday, His Majesty King Abdullah opened the second ordinary session of Parliament. More than one third of November is gone, and the clock is ticking for the 2018 budget debates.

The government is yet to submit its proposed budget to the Lower House. The process requires that such a law be sent to the Finance Committee where a month is required for debate. It then comes back to the Parliaments’ floor for a marathon debate that would take a week.

If approved, it then goes to the Senate for a repeat of the same process, but it will take one third of the time it requires at the Lower House. If approved in the Senate as it came from the House, it awaits a Royal Decree and publication in the Official Gazette.

However, this years’ budget will encounter three new issues that may elicit heated debates. 

The first is the fact that this budget comes after the decentralisation elections. The new governorate councils would like to see how the central government views their role and authorities as far as fiscal allocations are concerned.

Each governorate will have its own budget and each will monitor the capital projects that are to be implemented in it.

Parliamentarians from each governorate must be keen to defend their respective allocations, ask for more and demand that the government undertake to execute extra projects in their governorates. Some of them may make the promise of extra funding conditional to an approval vote.

The second issue is inclusion of the new fiscal measures into the budget figures. If the government changes its policies regarding bread subsidy and enhancing tax collection, then such amendments should be reflected in the budget.

These measures do not necessarily require changes in the law. They may require executive action by the government. Yet, their impact on the Budget Law should be clearly enunciated and it will stir heated debates.

The exception, of course, is the need to amend the Income Tax Law to include more severe penalties on tax evaders and to reorganise both the tax collection method and to the Income and Sales Tax Department.

The third point concerns the current difficult economic situation.

Parliamentarians are expected to direct severe criticism at the government’s economic policy.

There is widespread conviction that economic recovery is a far-fetched goal and peoples’ expectations are dismal.

Businessmen who are either closing-up business or moving to the informal sector complain about the difficulties they encounter in getting public approvals.

Bribery and gifts to employees to get their papers through a thick hierarchy is becoming an added tax.

These points will haunt the speeches that are going to be delivered by the members of Parliament in an attempt to convince their respective constituencies that they are doing their jobs.

That is not going to level the field for them. They will face the same public dissatisfaction the government suffers from.

The budget may be approved in mid-January 2018, and life will go on with the same modus operandi.

Yet, with His Majesty reemphasising the fact that we have but ourselves to fix our economy, such debates in the Parliament should take a more rational course.

 

 

The writer is a former Royal Court chief, deputy prime minister and member of Senate. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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