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Razzaz is rightly wrong

Sep 24,2018 - Last updated at Sep 24,2018

Prime Minister Omar Razzaz is an honest straight-shooter politician, never mind the oxymoron. In his frequent lectures and interview on 60 Minutes on Jordan TV, he put on simply-stated arguments, which were understood by the majority of the people. The exception includes people who are too intelligent to take anything at face value.

The premises on which the prime minister’s logic rested upon is the problem with many Jordanians, and it is not necessarily the conclusions which are extrapolated from those premises.

Many Jordanians, myself included, adamantly refuse the fact that the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) agreed reform pitch is unchangeable. It is negotiable and changeable. So, to say that the cost of not adhering to it is downgrading our credit worthiness by Moody and others is only acceptable if the IMF plan is a fixed exogenous and unavoidable fate.

We also disagree with the premise that the current amended draft income tax law will increase the government’s revenue by $280 million, or $80 million, as the government resources are contradictorily quoted. It would bring nothing and in the light of the rate of bankruptcies and threat of them among the SMEs, it is highly unlikely that such revenues would materialise. So why is this ado over nothing?

Razzaz, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State Rajai Muasher and other ministers have revealed a great deal of courage in facing angry audiences all over the governorates. If this had been meant as a collective therapy, it was worth it. Yet, we all deplore the fact that no meaningful results have come out of this strenuous and fatiguing exercise.

No one can accuse the government of not respecting the Jordanian people, or taking them for granted. On the contrary, it is mostly the audience who deliberately tried to put the government members down and demonise them, and unfairly.

The prime minister is also wavering over a Cabinet reshuffle. In general, we should appreciate the PM’s fairness. Yet, in the ambiguous world of politics, keeping 16 ministers of a previous Cabinet casts a shadow of doubt, especially when that government had to resign under public pressure. I am not evaluating the Cabinet, most of whom were my colleagues, but the message which the PM had sent to the people was the wrong one. It is as if he is saying “despite of your displeasure, the majority of the Cabinet will stay”. In a way he is telling the people they were wrong, or that the only wrong thing with the resigning government was its PM and some of its ministers.

The best evolving result of this chaotic debate over the proposed amended income tax law is that it invoked a series of basic questions. Why are we so much in debt? Why is there so much taxation? Why do we have a Parliament with a skewed representation? What is being done with the tax money? Why is the distribution of income and wealth so bad and getting worse? Are we being subjected to economic and financial pressures to succumb to the “deal of the century” or something like it?

These questions deserve convincing answers. People are not convinced by the size of efforts exerted, they want results. They are moving from mercantilism and empiricism to pragmatism. The philosophy of the government is still mercantilistic wearing the guise of modernity.

A small step for Jordan that the prime minister can take is to stop this noble but futile effort to pass a new income tax law. This is not the proper threshold for the new democratic Jordan he had promised to work for.

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