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Bring back the trust

Jun 20,2021 - Last updated at Jun 20,2021

Distrust in government policies in Jordan, as in anywhere worldwide, leads to delays in the formation and implementation of proper policies, whether they are economic, social or political because the spread of mistrust creates an atmosphere of negativity and uncertainty that does not help bring the much needed economic recovery. Public mistrust of the government in Jordan has been on the rise for several years now. The main reasons for such mistrust are that economic policies and the implementation thereof did not materialise into improved citizenry welfare. Also, there is an evident lack of follow up by government(s) on well-meaning initiatives. Therefore, there is an urgent need to bring back the lost trust in government.

Recent actions by the public sector have not helped douse a widely spread mistrust. On the contrary, such actions brought forth many protests internally that resulted in government reshuffles, and entrenched grievances over the lack of reforms, in spite of the many on-paper reform programmes and plans, as Cabinets hesitated, backtracked, or went into a perennial paralysis. Moreover, the mistrust has translated into a relapse in the ranking of Jordan in some of the indices that matter. For example, the position of Jordan in the global index on corruption of Transparency International has slipped from 45 in 2015 to 60 in 2020, and the ranking of Jordan was reduced from “Partly Free” to “Not Free” in the Freedom House index in 2021. Such arguably justified mistrust can delay if not derail government policies and efforts aimed at improving the status quo through reform. 

The COVID-19 responses by the government and the defence orders have not improved matters either. Worsening economic conditions due to the harsh closures, curfews and the apparent lack of a comprehensive model and preparedness to deal with the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 during 2020 and still in 2021 have intensified the calls for political anad economic reform.  

As the economic data shows, such calls are legitimate (and may have been behind the formation of the recent royal committee). The economy contracted by 1.6 per cent in 2020, unemployment rose to 24.7 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020 (one out of two youths is unemployed; worse still, 75 per cent of degree holders are jobless), and the central government debt rose from 97.4 per cent of the GDP in 2019 to 111 per cent in 2020, note that 20 per cent of the debt is due to the electricity sector, where government policies have been devoid of any economic sense. Furthermore, such economic deterioration has come on the backend of a decade long recession where the per capita real income of Jordanians has been falling while unemployment was steadily rising. And, while the world is looking at 5 per cent plus growth, the Jordanian economy is expected to grow at 1.4 per cent, which is hardly a recovery, especially since the reference year (2020) was one of severe economic contraction. In addition, given a 2.5 per cent average population growth rate in the last five years, a 1.4 per cent increase in economic growth means that the per capita real income will decline by 1.1 per cent.

Beyond the political reform suggestions of the royal committee, needed now is a quickly impacting set of policies, both fiscal and monetary, that benefit and revive the private sector. The correct set of policies should be driven by a sense of urgency, especially when it comes to growth and employment; why? Because it is not business as usual! The economy has been dealt an unusual year that exposed its many ailments and weaknesses. Both the foreign and domestic direct investments have shriveled into a trickle; closures of many enterprises, especially those in construction, tourism and hospitality, and transport, is ever so apparent; and micro and small and medium enterprises, which contribute 52 per cent of the GDP, have been badly hit. 

There needs to be well-conceived growth oriented set of efforts that are formulated in a transparent manner and through a wide reaching discourse with the stakeholders. Most importantly, the strategies, plans of action and results should be properly monitored because making policies, as in the past, without proper follow up and monitoring mechanisms will only yield more mistrust. After all, Jordan is famous for launching initiatives that fizzle within days or weeks, which has led the public to lose interest in any new pronouncements. Doers and achievers must be rewarded, and the procrastinators, the do-nothing golden bricks, should be penalised. The law and its rules should apply to all and so do the rewards and punishments. Crimes, whether big or small, should be dealt with, otherwise the unpunished perpetrators of small crimes would believe that they are above the law and, thus, commit bigger and worse crimes. Let’s not wait too long.

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