In his first televised discussion of economic affairs, the current prime minister, Abdullah Ensour, (like his recent predecessors Awn Khasawneh, Marouf Bakhit and Fayez Tarawneh) hijacked the economic debate and narrowed its focus.
They made the prices of fuel derivatives the ultimate solution to making up for the shortfall caused by the Egyptian gas interruption.
What became of the real austerity budget suggested by the Samir Rifai Cabinet? There were cuts and studied reorganisation options that could have painlessly ameliorated the fiscal situation. Are they now taboo and red lines?
Sadly, we change direction with the changing of the guard. The economic dialogue in Jordan is, thus, not only lacking, but also harmful to the welfare of Jordanians for years to come.
Why should the government persist on raising the prices of fuel derivatives as the only option for reducing the budget deficit? Is it because it is the easiest option?
To the government maybe, but not to the hard-pressed 6.5 million Jordanians, which will make the decision difficult later.
Is it because it is the laziest thing to do?
Yes; a decision can be made and applied within hours and the government coffers will be reloaded with the hard-earned money from the private sector. And it is the most painful, for it will hit everyone: investors, consumers and producers.
But the government has other options that it should approach. Some were already studied and evaluated by the Rifai Cabinet, but my inspiration was a slew of decisions taken by the British government in 2009 to rescue government spending. Among them was the request that its officials use tap water instead of bottled water.
Let’s name a few similar reductions that could be adopted by Jordan: reduce the number of government staff that travel on missions; change all airline tickets of government officials from business and first class to economy and reduce per diems; light all government offices and streets with energy-saving lights and consider solar energy as an option; trade in all government vehicles for gasoline savers and impose strict controls on vehicle use; reduce salaries of top officials; transfer to the Treasury 90 per cent of all compensations received by government representatives on companies’ board of directors; start giving pensions to former ministers, prime ministers and members of Parliament only after they reach the age of 65, just like the rest of us; merge at least three regulatory commissions into one; reduce spending on the army and utilise its excess funds for budgetary shortfalls.
This would be an austerity budget whereby the government reduces its spending without harming the welfare of those it is supposed to serve. If it does not do so, the government will not appear acting as our agent, mindful of our welfare and well-being, and we would appear as if we were the agent/employee of the government that wishes to maintain the status quo, including its luxurious life style.
This should be the new debate, a debate that has been missing.
While the government does have other options, such as other expenditure items in the budget that could with little pain be reduced, such items have gone missing from the economic debate. Jordan Times 29/10/2012