(Jordan Times ) – The Lower House of Parliament on Tuesday endorsed a draft law on the establishment of a Special Economic Zone in Aqaba, which the government says is instrumental in improving Jordan's economy.
But House Speaker Abdul Hadi Majali was compelled to adjourn the meeting until later in the afternoon due to lack of quorum.
The afternoon meeting also barely mustered a quorum.
The government will determine the borders of the SEZ, according to the draft.
But it is also entitled to modify the borders in accordance with "the general interest," and the scope of activities in the area, which will be administered by the SEZ authority.
Previously, several deputies said they were concerned that creating a special zone would undermine Jordan's sovereignty over this area.
However, both His Majesty King Abdullah and Prime Minister Ali Abul Ragheb assured lawmakers, on different occasions, that Aqaba would remain an indivisible part of the Kingdom.
The project aims to attract both local and foreign investment by abolishing customs and lowering taxes to 5 percent on income and 7 percent on services and retail taxes.
According to the law, the SEZ authority will become the legal heir of both the Aqaba Region Authority and the Aqaba Municipality, and therefore, all the employees in the two bodies will automatically be transferred to work at the SEZ authority.
The authorities' tasks include developing the area for investments, increasing job opportunities and giving the priority to Jordanians, and preventing monopoly of economic activities.
In order to achieve those objectives, the authority will have command over affairs including financial regulations within the region, labor issues, health inspection, environmental protection, licensing projects as well as municipal affairs.
The authority will be headed by a six-member Authorized Council, which will be appointed directly by the Prime Ministry for a renewable term of four years.
A council member, according to the draft, should be Jordanian, qualified, competent and should not have been convicted of a crime or misdemeanor.
But none of the council members, or their spouses or sons, should have any "interest," of any kind in the SEZ authority, nor should they have any "commercial ties," with companies or investors in the SEZ.
The authority will have an independent budget, which will be set by the Authorized Council and endorsed by the government, and any budget surplus will be transferred to the national treasury.
In order to benefit from the financial incentives, companies should register at the SEZ authority, in which case they do not have to register with the Companies Comptroller at the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
Deputy Mahmoud Kharabsheh - who is a member of the joint Legal Affairs, and Economic and Finance committees who recommended endorsing the draft - charged that the project would "jeopardize the safety of the country." In a written statement presented to the House, Kharabsheh claimed that the SEZ would become "a stage for Zionist and foreign investments, [which will be established] under different names." He also warned that according to the law Israelis will be able to buy land in Aqaba, and that Israel would dump its "environmental waste" in the area.
By Dima Hamdan
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )