Jordan’s fresh Cabinet axes new taxes
Government lineup includes seven women, no members of Mulki’s economic team
BEIRUT: Jordan’s new Cabinet agreed Thursday to withdraw a controversial tax bill that led to the toppling of the government after thousands took to the streets in protest.
The draft bill, brought to Parliament by then-Prime Minister Hani Mulki, sought to hike taxes and raise prices in line with IMF-backed austerity measures.
In the largest demonstrations witnessed in Jordan since 2011, protests in a number of cities called for the government to reject the bill and for Mulki to step down.
Aiming to defusing public anger, King Abdullah II dismissed Mulki and appointed Omar Razzaz, an exWorld Bank employee and a more popular figure among protesters.
At a meeting after the swearingin ceremony in Al-Husseinyah Palace, the new 28-member Cabinet agreed to withdraw the bill, local media said.
The Cabinet includes 11 new members, including former editorin-chief of Al-Ghad daily Jumana Ghunaimat, who will enter government for the first time as minister of state for media affairs, and Tariq Hammouri, previously a dean at the University of Jordan.
Razzaz’s Cabinet does not include any members of his predecessor’s economic team. Both Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Interior Minister Samir al-Mubaidin kept their posts in the new Cabinet.
“The challenges we face are the accumulation of decades, in fact … nearly two decades,” Razzaz said, according to local media, pledging to address Jordan’s sluggish economic growth and unemployment.
But for some protesters, the new Cabinet did not go far enough to bring in new faces and get rid of the established, corrupt political elite.
Banan Abu Zaineddine, who had joined the rallies, was unenthusiastic about the new lineup.
“It’s hardly reassuring when most of the lineup are former ministers of the old government,” she told The Daily Star from Amman via telephone. “It worries me a lot.”
Ali Ibrahim, who was also at the protests, felt that the Cabinet’s makeup was indicative of a pragmatic path Razzaz was taking.
“The new members are well-credited and known for being uncorrupt,” he said. “Razzaz had to make this balance because of Jordan’s deep state and its tribal issues.”
Some observers suggested that Razzaz may be pushing Cabinet ministers to sign formal term of reference agreements and adhere to more specific job descriptions or face the risk of replacement.
The new Cabinet includes seven women, up from three.
Mohammad al-Zwahareh, from Jordan’s branch of NGO the National Democratic Institute, welcomed the increase.
“For me this is a great move in terms of advancing the role of women [in Jordan]”
The widespread rallies were followed by a crisis meeting with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait that concluded with a pledge of $2.5 billion in aid.
Qatar also followed up with an offer of $500,000 and a promise to create 10,000 jobs for Jordanians.
Jordan has seen public debt spiral to nearly $40 billion, blamed on government overspending to secure jobs and raising public sector pay in the hope of avoiding a repeat of 2011 Arab Spring unrest.
In 2016 Jordan agreed to an ambitious three-year program of structural reforms, supported by the IMF, in the hope of bringing down the debt.
The government subsequently instituted a series of tax hikes and public sector job cuts, which has squeezed public spending and increased public unemployment.
King Abdullah II stands near Razzaz during the swearing-in ceremony. The Cabinet includes 11 new members.