Jor­dan’s fresh Cab­i­net axes new taxes

Govern­ment lineup in­cludes seven women, no mem­bers of Mulki’s eco­nomic team

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION - By Gemma Fox

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.

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