I’ve probably never seen a subject matter kept so hush-hush in Jordan as this controversial statement that was very recently released. No one is reporting about it. No one is writing about it. Many are talking about it. Because of course, many have access to Al-Jazeera, which seems to be the only one saying anything about it. The “statement” is written and signed by a group of ex-politicians, including a past prime minister and head of the GID, Ahmad Obeidat, and essentially it strongly criticizes the government for its liberal economic policies, the way it is being managed, and more specifically, the forever-controversial topic of land sales.
On Al-Jazeera it is being framed as a battle between the old and new guard, and even the advocates and defenders that come on TV to argue for and against the statement are part of those two categories. Had this statement been drawn up by anyone else (and it’s not the first time something like this has emerged) it may not have been so effective, but it appears the high-level political signatories, including ex-ministers and well-established politicians (and probably the fact that they met to discuss and draw up this article) are the main problem.
I have not read the statement but based on what I know of it thus far there are a few things to note here:
First, as usual, it does not offer any solutions and only criticisms. However, the topics it covers such as land sales, rising prices, the gap between rich and poor, et cetera, seem to address the major concerns of the average Jordanian.
Second, the statement appears to label privatization as part of some American agenda, and heavily criticizes the selling of public institutions lately that may (or may not) include the medical city.
Third, the statement personifies the growing gap of discontent between the old and new guard, whereby ex-politicians, many of whom follow conservative economic and political policies, are officially marginalized and have resorted to high-level criticisms; a break with tradition that used to unofficially suggest that those who are no longer in power cannot target those that are.
To emphasize the second point. Land sales. It seems to be the focus of this statement, and the muse for it.
I haven’t really talked about this issue before, but I think that I, along with most people, do have certain criticisms regarding the selling of public and national assets. The old guard seems surprised that these institutions, like Jordan Telecom, are now making money and even suggest that had they been kept by the government we could have been making money as well. This is a bit illogical as privatization has always seen public institutions doing a lot better in the hands of the private sector both financially and service-wise. Meanwhile, the new guard seems bent on selling just about anything, even at prices I feel may be unreasonable. In my opinion there have always been ways of bringing in the private sector (share or contract-wise) to manage certain public institutions for a set period of time (perhaps a decade) without having to resort to selling those national assets and all the while benefiting (mutually) from the upgraded services they provide. This has been an economic experience seen world wide.
Nevertheless, the way in which these deals go down is what gets everyone talking. There is no public debate. There are no discussions. They seem to come flying in out of blue. There are denials. More denials. Then more denials. Followed by the obvious and inevitable sale. There is absolutely no transparency in the process. No one even knows who the stakeholders are.
As for everything else. Yes, current economic policies need to be adjusted as not all are working for the short or long term benefit of the average Jordanian; and when I say the average Jordanian I mean the majority of the population, which just happens to have gotten poorer. Inflation. Subsidies.
And there are no alternatives. For instance, in the face of rising gas prices, you would typically see people utilizing public transportation more, but in Jordan that infrastructure is missing so people take the hit.
In any case, when it comes to economic policies of this magnitude, you cannot have a small group of people conducting their way through it. Others need to be brought to the table, especially the voices of dissent. If everyone gets out of this “old guard” and “new guard” shell, and acknowledges the fact that we all want what is best for the country and its people, policies could be more comprehensive and less burdensome on the average Jo.
That’s my two piasters.
UPDATE: You can read the list of signatories on Ammon