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It's high time for practical roadmap to survive economic woes

Jan 20,2018 - Last updated at Jan 20,2018

There is a national consensus spearheaded by instructions of His Majesty King Abdullah addressed to the country that economic reforms must not be at the expense of the low income Jordanians. The King said this much over and over again and most recently when he reiterated his counsel on the occasion of his meeting with the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament and chairmen of the House's committees on January 8 of this year. 

The necessary follow-up question to this challenge is how exactly the country can go about addressing the woes of the poor given the dire economic realities facing the country. What measures can be adopted and implemented to give expression to the King's concerns and deal with the economic realities facing the low income Jordanians. 

This issue has, in fact, two principal dimensions: The first is the pressure being applied by international monetary institutions, including the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF),  on Jordan to apply certain draconian economic and financial policies in order to qualify for continued financial and economic support from them. The "instructions" of such international financial institutions are often at the expense of the low income people. Macroeconomic and financial policies and practices while sound in principle they often undermine the basic economic and social rights of the poor who happen to be too many in Jordan. 

In this vein, Jordan has a powerful tool to offset pressures from WB and IMF by resorting to the counterpressures being applied on the country by the International Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Jordan is a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and is bound by its rulings and recommendations. The jurisprudence of this human rights body is clear and is addressed to both state parties and to international institutions calling on both of them to respect and abide by the covenant provisions when entering into agreements between the two sides. 

Article 7 of the covenant calls for respect of the right to "the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure, in particular, fair wages and a decent living [for workers] and their families".

Article 11 states that parties to the covenant are called upon to "recognise the right to an adequate standard of living... including adequate food, clothing and housing..." 

Article 12 stipulates that state parties must recognise the "right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health". 

These obligations fall not only on state parties but also on all other parties that enter into agreements with them including international institutions. This potent weapon can and must be used by the government whenever it is subjected to draconian economic or financial conditions when it enters into accords with the IMF or the WB. 

Then comes the more difficult and thorny part of the equation. What can Jordan do on its own to fulfill the instructions of the King when he called for prioritising the economic rights of the lower class of people when drawing up annual economic and/or financial plans. 

As a matter of fact, there is little that the government can do to rescue any group of citizens from their plight as long as the national economy remains weak and vulnerable to pressures and restraints. Yet, the government can still meet some of its obligations under this front by cutting down on waste and then channeling saved funds to address the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups of people. 

Despite all the rhetoric against waste, there remains a lot more that can be done. Cutting down on state bureaucracies by eliminating institutions that are not absolutely necessary is one way. 

To cite only a few, neither the Economic and Social Council nor the Constitutional Court are cost effective. Budgets for some quasi-official agencies including the National Centre for Human Rights can be cut to size in order to make them cost effective without compromising their duties. Yet, saving expenditures here and there would not guarantee the channeling of funds to the welfare of the poor amongst us. 

For a starter, there is a pressing need for an economic and financial policies that are both aware and conscious of the woes of the poor. The urgent needs of the less fortunate citizens need first to be identified and then addressed. 

Subsidising certain food items is too cumbersome and almost impossible to administer. The US flirted with the so-called "food stamps" idea for the poor to combat hunger with no avail. This policy became vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. 


What is needed is a more practical roadmap to help the poor survive the rigours of economic and financial hardships. For this purpose, the country needs to assemble a group of experts to analyse the problem from all its dimensions and come out with a comprehensive plan of action that could be affordable and sustainable. Obvioulsy there are no easy answers.

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