Economists press Jordan's new parliament to prioritise the economy

Published January 31st, 2013 - 11:16 GMT
It is becoming more pressing to make laws capable of boosting the economy
It is becoming more pressing to make laws capable of boosting the economy

Economy and business-related legislation should top Lower House priorities, economists and private sector representatives told The Jordan Times on Wednesday.

They called on lawmakers to push through certain bills to help revive the economy.

Expressing cautious optimism regarding the expected performance of the 17th Parliament that was elected last Wednesday, the experts stressed in separate interviews with The Jordan Times the need for cooperation between the House, private sector and economists to deal with the “severe economic situation” that is confronting the Kingdom and to draft legislations that seek to stimulate the economy and improve the business environment in the Kingdom.

Qasem Hamouri, a professor of economics at Yarmouk University, said the newly elected House should focus on laws that would generate more revenues to the Treasury in order to narrow the deficit gap in the state budget.

Hamouri placed the issue of amending income and sales tax temporary law at the top of several other legislations that are badly needed to improve state finances.

He emphasised the importance of adopting a progressive tax system that imposes higher percentage rate on the wealthy than the less wealthy and to tax large corporations according to their income, saying that the Jordanian economy was seriously damaged without a comprehensive tax system in place.

Citing the Social Security Law as another priority for the House, Hamouri also called for drafting a legislation that seeks to protect the assets of the Social Security Corporation (SSC) as these assets belong to the Jordanian people.

According to Hamouri, unfeasible investments carried out by the corporation in addition to high salaries are among the flaws that could drain SSC funds in about 20 years.

The Lower House must activate its monitoring role on public funds and government spending, he stressed, indicating that lawmakers should reform the investment law to be more attractive for Arab and foreign capitals.

Economist Khaled Wazani gave additional weight to the importance of implementing the progressive tax regime as stipulated in the Constitution, saying reforming the tax system in the Kingdom should aim at achieving social justice among Jordanians and generating higher state revenues from the wealthy and profitable large firms.

For this Parliament, Wazani said that discussing the JD7.4 billion state budget draft law for this year would be the House’s top priority, noting that budget deliberations are expected to take a long time.

Amending the Landlords and Tenants Law, which according to Wazani affects over 30 per cent of the population, should also be included in the agendas of the Lower House, he added, emphasising the need to make the legislation acceptable to most stakeholders.

Wazani urged MPs and authorities to draft an investment law that could be able to attract more capital inflows into the Kingdom, stressing the importance of cooperation between lawmakers and experts to exit the economic slowdown that has been hitting the country for more than four years.

Commenting on the expected performance of the House, Hamouri expessed scepticism as its makeup is largely dominated by wealthy and businesspeople, who, according to him, should not put their own interests before the country’s.

But Wazani seemed to be more optimistic as he based his expectation on the assumption that newly elected MPs will not risk their reputation by letting down their supporters.

Wazani explained that the private sector represents over 60 per cent of the Jordanian economy and that the intense presence of deputies coming from the private sector could be an advantage for the economy.

“Of course these businesspeople will have a role in lobbying for the interests of their sectors in the Parliament, which can stimulate the economic cycle in the country,” he noted.

For private sector representatives, there are several laws the House should focus on, such as laws concerning tax reforms, landlords and tenants and investment.

Issa Murad, deputy chairman of the Jordan Chamber of Commerce remarked it is about time the Lower House come up with a law to regulate the relation between the government and the private sector by reviewing and endorsing the public-private partnership legislation.

Commenting on the fact that there are several MPs who are businesspeople, Murad said that the presence of such a segment of the society can give a sense of tranquility to business sectors.

The merchant expressed optimism in the performance of the Parliament, calling on lawmakers to consult and coordinate with the private sector when discussing laws that concern them.

Nazzal Armouti, deputy chairman of the Jordan Chamber of Industry, however, said the top priority of MPs should be amending the election law, noting that a modern law would result in making voters elect efficient deputies who have real economic and political programmes.

The one-person one-vote electoral system restricts voters selection means and prevents competent and efficient people to run for the Parliament, many people have complained.

Other priorities to be addressed by the House, Armouti mentioned tax reforms, investment, renewable energy, rent and social security laws.

“It is becoming more pressing to make laws capable of boosting the economy,” the industrialist said, adding that legislations should be based on objective studies and not personal impressions and considerations.

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