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Why do Jordanians complain?

Dec 11,2018 - Last updated at Dec 11,2018

The simple answer is most people do. We have been witnessing the demonstrations in France and Belgium against the economic measures taken by their governments, specifically rising petrol prices.

Jordanians share similar grievances. The main difference is that Jordanian protesters refrain from violence and rioting. Some elements, sometimes, exceed the normal limits of orderly and civilised expression, even if verbally. And as usual, there are exaggerations and magnification of the faults attributed to the authorities.

No one can claim that Jordan is a utopia, that our successive governments’ performance is always perfect or that our Cabinet ministers and officials are infallible angels.

Similarly, no one can claim that we, the people, are perfect either.

With some obvious variations, we, the government and the people, are not that different from other countries and other peoples worldwide.

Some popular grievances against governments, including ours, are no doubt legitimate.

Anywhere, anytime and everywhere, people are right to dislike government austerity measures, to oppose high prices, to complain about poor services, unemployment and, particularly, against taxes.

But protesting can only be right and justified if such government measures were caused by authorities’ malfunction, poor governance, corruption, administrative incompetence, unwise, or even wasteful, spending and shabby prioritising. In most democracies, protests, strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations are guaranteed by the law, provided that they remain within the limits of the law. However, when they turn violent and destructive, they become counterproductive and self-defeating.

Taxes are meant to finance the government that is there to serve the people, to organise their lives, to protect them and to provide them with all the services they need. Once that is done to the best satisfaction of the people, complaining ends. 

That is what citizens expect from their governments: I finance you on the condition that I know how wisely, honestly and correctly you spend the money I contribute towards your undertaking. If the money collected by governments reflects convincingly on people’s needs, welfare, security, education, services, health, dignity, fairness and orderly life, harmony prevails between the citizen and the governing authority. 

In functioning democracies, such an equation is guaranteed by a coordinated balance of various government institutions. The legislative supervises the executive to guarantee proper performance. The judiciary guarantees full application of the law and deals with violations and malfunction.

“No taxation without representation” is a slogan that was coined in the 13 American colonies more than two centuries ago. That early, the need to supervise governments’ handling of people’s money by elected representatives was rendered necessary.

Ideally, elected parliaments exercise the required checks and balances by keeping an eye on the work of the government. Practically though, such an arrangement has not proven to be foolproof, as large-scale exceptions exist.

In Jordan, it is quite unusual to believe that the current government, or any of its predecessors, would opt for imposing unpopular austerity measures, landing itself in so much trouble with the Jordanian citizens. Neither would one expect unawareness on the part of Jordanian ministers of the hardships most Jordanians are facing.

The harsh reality is that the country’s resources are extremely limited. For years, Jordan has been under virtual siege, with its borders with both Syria and Iraq closed for years, paralysing its trade with most of its traditional clients, and the usual foreign aid the country used to receive has been completely ended. Further aggravation has been caused by the impact of the wars and crises in neighbouring countries due to the influx of refugees and the resulting security challenges, and, indeed, the direct threats caused by the terrorist organisations' control of large areas in Iraq and Syria right along the 700km-long exposed borders with both countries. 

Despite massive challenges and scarcity of resources, Jordan has managed to keep the country safe and politically stable, unlike many other countries in the region. 

The services provided by the government are not that great, but in comparison to what we witness around us, they are not that bad either.

Comparing what is bad with what is worse is not the right way to judge a situation. Therefore, and despite the objective causes of the Jordanian difficulties, mainly economic, there is ample room for improvement. 

The government of Prime Minister Omar Razzaz is doing its utmost to resolve many of the accumulated hardships and admittedly past malfunctions. But there are no magic and instant solutions for many of the problems. 

There has always been a need for political reform, economic reform, control on government spending, crackdown on corruption and administrative flab, and there has been progress. The efforts of the top leadership, in the person of His Majesty King Abdullah, has been relentless in prodding every government and every official to mobilise every possible potential to deal with every deficiency. 

The country is in the middle of a transition from deep crisis towards radical solutions that are expected to formulate a long-term remedial strategy.

Higher income taxes are, therefore, needed to stimulate growth, improve the foreign investment climate, enhance the county’s credibility and standing, reduce national debt and enable a fairer future tax package. 

People are right to continue to lawfully put pressure on the authorities to guarantee commitment and hard work for progress. They are right to expose and criticise the authorities where appropriately due, once matters are clear and evidence exists. However, disruptive demonstrations, accusations, insults, exaggerations, rumours and strikes will neither facilitate the work of the government, nor the country’s interests. 

The worst that can spoil the modest resources we have, and should be proud of, is when protesting becomes aimless, irresponsible and indifferent to the country’s vital interests.

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