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Not a good approach

May 31,2018 - Last updated at May 31,2018

The proposed income tax law, drafted by the government and submitted to the Parliament last week, has evoked a lot of anger by a lot of people across the various sectors.

As a result, Wednesday witnessed significant demonstrations and strikes against the proposed law, and a wave of anger through social media. The demonstrations, the strikes and the anger are expected to increase in the days ahead.

Many reasons stand behind the discontent, some of which have to do with the proposed income tax law itself and some with other matters, including the government's mindset and approach.

Regarding the proposed law itself, it is still under scrutiny and people are digging into it, trying to understand the various details and the various implications.

The implications, of course, differ from one individual to another, depending on their profession and income, and from one sector to another. The common denominator, based on an initial but careful reading, is that it has affected all, significantly: poor and rich individuals, professionals, business people, etc.

The statistics and the math reveal a significant hike and this is what scares a lot of people. People were under the impression, when the government was working on the draft law, that the main target was tax evasion: a principle with which very few people quarrel.

Now that the draft law has emerged, it turns out that it is also targeting faithful taxpayers as well, many of whom are governmental and non-governmental employees with fixed, humble salaries that barely enable them to make ends meet.

This particular category of people, the so-called lower and middle middle-class, feel particularly tricked and victimised, since most of them do not see any viable governmental services in return. 

They send their children to private schools and pay a lot, because public schools are in terrible shape; they are often forced to seek private medical facilities, because the public ones are overcrowded and unbearable; they oftentimes resort to using taxis and paying more than they can afford, because public transportation is in shambles. 

There are no adequate public parks or gardens to enjoy, no sidewalks, no playgrounds, etc. What are we paying for, they ask? What are we getting in return?

Ask other people in other social strata and other sectors and you will get other equally forceful and convincing, responses.

But people are also angry because of two other things.

For years, Jordanian governments have been good at nothing but tax levying and price hikes. Successive governments, and the current one is no exception, have, in dealing with challenges, always sought the easier way out: delving into people's pockets.

"The citizen's pocket" and the "milking cow" are two metaphors that have become more frequent and dominant than others in describing the relationship between the government and the governed in Jordan.

People rightly ask: are there no other solutions? The government cannot find among the more than 9 million Jordanians one or two or three individuals who could propose other solutions, think outside the box, come up with creative ideas?

Who thinks economically for the government?

Is economic reform in Jordan based only on price hikes and tax levying? Is the only source of income for the Jordanian state the individuals’ pockets and the “cow” milk?

Had the proposed income tax law come as part of a whole reform package with fresh, creative ideas and projects, perhaps people would have understood and accepted. The problem is that for years, people feel they have not seen the government seriously pursuing other options and solutions.

Furthermore, a lot of people complain against what they perceive as callousness and meanness on part of the government. It, they argue, sits alone within closed doors, formulates unpleasant ideas and decisions, and surprises people with them, without any consultation or explanation.

So, the decision or the idea is one thing; but also the spirit within which ideas and decisions are made is another. A lot of people feel that the government has stopped "caring" about them, and that it is going to do what it has got to do, regardless of how they feel or what is going to happen to them on a daily basis.

This is not a nice feeling.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, the ball is in the government's court to try to remedy the situation.

Perhaps the best way is for the government to withdraw the proposal, and start working on a new one, consulting with all concerned. 

This is the best way, because when the various stakeholders are consulted, they feel part of the process and of the decision making, and they own whatever is proposed and back it.

However, if the government's "dignity" or pride prevents it from doing so, then it has to deal with a messy situation, and make a lot of compromises.

Lessons can still be learned by this government and others: communication with and involvement of the people in decision making are key — as well as some ideas outside the box once in a while.

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