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The next Parliament — ‘we will reap what we sow’

Aug 22,2016 - Last updated at Aug 22,2016

Parliament stands to play a major role in the country’s economic policy. However, its role has been quite limited, at best, and that in spite of valiant attempts by various legal and economic committees, and Parliamentary blocs to improve its performance.

Unfortunately, over the past years, the MPs’ influence on the economy has been reduced to individual interferences driven by favouritism or wasta and narrow benefits rather than national interests.

In general, the relationship between the legislative and executive branches has been characterised by bickering associated with a clientelistic exchange of favours, as opposed to separation of powers with functioning checks and balances.

Transforming this reality requires addressing specific questions: What should be the economic priorities for Jordan going forward? What should be the role of the Parliament and how can such a role be realised? Similarly, how could voters identify candidates who are capable of playing such a role?

I will try to address the questions above in the hope of generating dialogue around economic programmes that candidates can declare before their electorate.

No one in Jordan is naïve about the credibility of campaign promises made by candidates; indeed, they often vanish as soon as the MP is elected.

Nonetheless, we also realise that previous elections produced a number of credible MPs who were frustrated as they were unable to achieve much.

We, as voters, need to also recognise that our duties do not end on election day, but need to continue, through constant monitoring of the performance of MPs to ensure accountability for their efforts during their years of service.

Through these measures only can we start having a functional democracy.

Regarding economic growth that leads to employment opportunities, this should be the most pressing priority. But is this even possible under the current regional circumstances?

Indeed, to create enough jobs for those entering the labour market on a yearly basis, we need a growth rate of 7 per cent more. Now Jordan has a 2.4 per cent growth rate.

How can the economy make such a jump, especially given the local and regional conditions?

Many might argue that this as impossible, thus sparing themselves the agony of trying.

I argue that while it is a difficult target to achieve, it is not impossible at all and, more importantly, we have no option but to aim at it.

It requires clarity of strategic objectives; a clear, ambitious and transparent economic policy, with measures to monitor progress and hold government accountable; and broad buy-in from stakeholders in Parliament, the private sector and civil society.

Most importantly, we do not have to start from scratch. We have the Jordan Vision 2025, with its detailed action plan, to start with.

The basic building blocks of such a policy should not be controversial: — Prudent macroeconomic policies which include i) a fiscal policy that ensures reducing the deficit and public debt through containing spending; efficient use of revenues; a stable, efficient and progressive tax structure; and ii) a monetary policy which gives the Central Bank of Jordan the needed independence to oversee a stable Jordanian dinar, as well as the incentives for bank financing of large, medium, small and start-up firms, and by local and foreign investors.

— An investment policy which i) reduces the remaining barriers facing local and foreign investors and incentivises investments in high value-added, export-oriented, and job-creating sectors throughout the Kingdom; and ii) reduces the cost of production by investing in energy, water and transport infrastructure.

— A shared prosperity policy that distributes the fruits of economic growth justly through education, employment, health, public transport and social protection programmes.

Much remains to be done in these areas, including closing the education gap across public schools (a main impediment to equal opportunity); active labour market programmes in partnership with the private sector, civil organisations and the donor community; universal health insurance coverage aimed at all those uninsured by public and private schemes; reliable public transport that allows workers to commute to work; and, finally, social protection systems such as social security and targeted assistance funds which ensure coverage in old age, to people with disabilities and those living in abject poverty.

But what is the role of Parliament in all of the above?

Indeed, it has a major role to play through three of its main functions: i) reviewing, amending and approving the government’s yearly budget; ii) proposing and enacting laws, including national concessions; and iii) monitoring the performance of government and public units both from the financial and the developmental impact perspective.

Budget approval processes have been largely ceremonial in the case of previous Parliaments, interrupted only by long-winded speeches that lacked relevance, coherence or impact.

parliamentarians are not the only ones to blame, but also the lack of budget transparency and of instruments available to Parliament to review previous performance and impact in relationship to national objectives.

Parliament’s main legislative role has also been limited. It never exercised its right to introduce new legislation (guaranteed by Article 95 of the Constitution), but remained at the receiving end of drafts presented by government.

Even there, what has often been good quality review by Parliamentary committees tended to evaporate under the chaos of the vote under Dome, such that many changes were introduced at the last minute, undermining the work that had been done.

Last but not least, Parliament was absent in many temporary laws altogether, a practice that, hopefully, will end now that the Constitution has been amended to limit the powers of government in this regard.

The third function, that of monitoring government performance, has been by far the weakest of all three.

Parliament lacked the adequate tools to monitor, evaluate and hold government accountable for its performance. The lack of such a function has made the division of powers relatively meaningless.

These three functions (approving the budget, enacting laws and monitoring government performance) can be greatly enhanced by taking the implementation of Vision 2025 seriously; moving towards result-based budgeting; and creating the institutional framework to identify KPIs, measure them and hold bureaucrats accountable.

Without such accountability mechanisms, all visions and strategies will remain just great ideas on paper.

Will Parliament rise up to the challenge? Will it also abide by a code of conduct that prevents conflict of interest, wasta and clientelism?

Will parliamentarians transparently disclose their voting record through the electronic system which has been installed but not yet activated in Parliament?

The answer is not only in the hands of the candidates. It is also in the hands of the voters who will need to decide the basis on which they vote for candidates and hold them accountable to their campaign promises and their code of conduct.

 

 

The writer is chairman of the Jordan Strategy Forum. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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