A fascinating and attractive slogan is used extensively these days by government officials and business leaders. It is a call for public-private sectors partnership.
The slogan sounds positive. It implies that there is a key for solving all problems and challenges facing the Jordanian economy, the key being simply a form of partnership between the two sectors.
The slogan has multiple meanings and can be invoked in various settings. Actually, it is used to pave the way for various objectives.
One of those meanings is embedded in the draft law carrying the same name. It was prepared to replace the Privatisation Law, which outlived its purposes and in effect expired several years ago when the privatisation programme was completed.
The objective is to encourage the private sector to establish projects, provided that the government either undertakes the risk and makes a commitment to cover any losses or agrees to buy the produced goods or services at pre-determined prices that guarantees net profits for the investors.
In other words, the law requires the government to play the role of a fool, with profits belonging to the private sector and risks belonging to the public sector.
What a partnership!
The second possible meaning of the above-mentioned slogan is to have joint private investors, government ownership of projects.
The government would be a major investor contributing to the paid-up capital with all the tax exemptions and pricing privileges, on the understanding that the government has to protect the interest of its own investments and do the needful to make them profitable.
The third and perhaps the most sensitive meaning of the slogan was expressed by the head of the Jordanian Chamber of Commerce in a statement given to a daily newspaper.
His understanding of the slogan is not related to new projects, it means the establishment of a mixed council consisting of officials and private sector leaders “to make decisions, face crises and challenges and achieve the required stability of the economic environment”.
In this respect, one can understand the possibility of the prime minister having to establish a group of economic experts that he would call for meetings at least once a month, presenting them with current issues facing the government and listening to their non-binding comments and suggestions in order for the PM to know his options and make the necessary decision under his full constitutional responsibility.
This is what used to happen regularly. The last group of economic consultants was formed by ex-prime minister Abdur-Ra’uf S. Rawabdeh.
He did not call for a meeting and abandoned the whole idea when he knew that the King formed a similar group at the Royal Court. He did not like to compete with or repeat the same experiment.
I claim above that the third meaning of partnership between the public and private sectors is not without serious consequences.
The head of the Chamber of Commerce explained the idea. He stated that the joint council representing the two sectors will have three functions: decide on economic policies, thus sharing, if not replacing, the authority of the government; formulate and enact laws related to the private sector, sharing if not replacing the authority of Parliament; formulate a strategic plan to deal with crises, sharing if not replacing the authority of the Ministry of Planning and other specialised governmental institutions.
In a way, big business wants to assume the basic role of the government in running the national economy.
It is time to disengage the two sectors and let each mind its own business.
The government should govern and serve the public interest, and the private sector should work for profit.
Business and policy do not mix.
By Fahed Fanek