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Unexplored ideas on the economy

Nov 29,2016 - Last updated at Nov 29,2016

A week ago I was invited to a dinner in honour of a prominent former prime minister. 

The small guest list included a few members of the new parliament, academics, former senior officials, representatives of the media and few others.

Most of the evening’s discussion focused on the economy and how the authorities could best steer the country away from the rough times we have been struggling through, without aggravating the existing critical economic crunch any further.

Samir Rifa’i, the guest of honour, was happy to share his wisdom and deep understanding of the issues, offering his much valued views, backed up with accurate up to date data, professional analysis and practical experience.

In addition, rather than levelling blame and offering an outpouring of criticism, Rifa’i introduced constructive ideas and suggested possible solutions. 

This was not the first time he addressed, with much patriotic passion, the country’s economic predicament. He has, in fact, been vocal for years and relentless in his appeal to the concerned authorities to rectify some obvious performance faults that can be practically and easily pursued. 

The various tributaries to the crisis are not difficult to identify: The rising debt, already exceeding the 93 per cent mark and rising, the rise in unemployment due the annual influx of thousands of fresh job-seeking university graduates on an already overflowing labour market, refugees, mounting security challenges resulting from the raging regional wars, imperfect and changing tax and investment legislations, the absence of long-term expert planning, education and energy.

The situation has been exacerbated by two pressing related concerns.

Our physical engagement in the global war on terror, a commitment held by our targeted country for decades, requires a parallel effort to combat extremist ideologies and trends at home.

How could any such effort succeed with generations demoralised by hopelessness and despair who, in the absence of any future to look forward to, become easy recruits for rogue behaviour and dangerous ideologies?

The other concern is the struggling economies of the Gulf states as a result of declining oil prices and rising expenses mainly on wars.

For Jordan, this decreases the chances of renewing the recently expired $5 billion Gulf states’ grant, which is hard enough, as well as reducing the remittances of the Jordanians working there, whose incomes will also be diminishing, assuming, of course, that they would not lose their jobs and return home to add to the grave unemployment problem.

The answer, Rifa’i insists, is to rely solely on ourselves and to manage the crisis on our own.

He was quite confident that with the resources we have, no matter how scarce, and with better management, we can pull up safely, though not without having to endure bearable difficulties. 

He suggested that the new Parliament could grant the government advance approval for any planning or legislation relating to the enhancement of the economy, whether concerning tax relief, tax exemption, tax increase or investment regulations, provided that both sides agree on a six-month review of the effectiveness and the productivity of the government planning.

If, upon review it proves positive and productive, it can proceed with additional support, but if it fails, it should be revised or abandoned.

He also suggested that demand by private businesses for preferential conditions, concessions or reductions should only be approved on condition that within an assigned period they create jobs, i.e., employ more Jordanians, and bring their businesses to progressive levels that reflect positively on the national economy.

When and if, within the given time, they fail, any granted facilities should be reversed.

All those present reacted favourably to the proposals. Indeed, everyone believed that we could do better, plan better, explore better and utilise the little available assets with much more prudence, careful management and skill.

But some measures could possibly be very unpopular by leaning further on the citizen’s pockets in order to rectify accumulated governments’ mishandling, and as such, may stir unrest.

It was suggested, therefore, that only His Majesty King Abdullah could call for a national conference to engage Jordanians in the national debate about the harsh economic realities, to apprise them of the urgency, and to remind them of their obligation as loyal citizens to cooperate, understand and be prepared for some additional difficulties until the crisis has passed.

Could that create panic?

Some indeed thought so. But does that mean that sweeping the problem under the carpet would make it disappear?

It certainly will not. It will only escalate and create a much bigger problem to tackle. 

As a matter of fact, we have already reached the critical stage that we currently struggle to confront because successive administrations replaced long-term economic planning and strategies with day-to-day improvisation.

There is no question that the refugee problems and the consequences of regional wars all around us have aggravated the situation considerably, but it also brought the problem right to our doorstep and we have no other option than to deal with it as our own.

Unresolved and pending problems have solidified and magnified with time. The result is what we have now.

Any further postponement and borrowing would lead to bankruptcy. We still have some time to act, but it is fast running out.

In this country, which remains an oasis of stability despite turmoil all around, we have managed to make significant achievements all along and we are right to be proud of them.

King Abdullah’s visionary leadership has constantly been at the top of all constructive initiatives.

 

The economic crisis deserves Royal action to mobilise all of us. Every time King Abdullah stepped in to deal with a critical difficulty, the entire country rallied around him and we succeeded. Why not this time?

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