Amman, optimism and puzzelment greet the 10-year reform plan
A 'vision' aimed at 'modernising' the country, relaunching the economy and guaranteeing employment (especially for young people). Under consideration are free market reforms and the fight against public debt. Fr. Rifat Bader: huge Saudi investment in the health sector of 400 million. The aim is to leave behind the dark period of the (economic) crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Milan (AsiaNews) - The Jordanian authorities have announced a ten-year development plan that, on the heels of the "visions" promoted in the recent past by the Gulf monarchies, from Saudi Arabia to the Emirates, intends to propose a new vision of the country in local and international terms. In this case, the goal of the Amman leadership is not so much to free itself from oil dependence, also considering the fact that the Hashemite kingdom is an energy importer, but rather to double down on growth figures and 'modernise' development plans.
With a special focus on young people an an ambition to create 'up to one million' new jobs and encourage green policies and environmental protection, in a nation that is already experiencing the effects of climate change and critical water resources. "A project in three phases and spread over 10 years," Fr. Rifat Bader, director of the Catholic Centre for Studies and Media (Ccsm), told AsiaNews, "between the optimism of the government and popular scepticism about its real feasibility.
Youth, reforms and the market
The plan published in recent days includes reforms personally desired by King Abdullah and presented a year ago, to help the country - an oil importer - reverse a decade of poor growth with values around 2% linked to the wars in Syria and Iraq; and which was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, with a collapse in the tourism sector. The plan aims to attract up to EUR 40 billion, which will be used to raise the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from the current 30.2 billion dinars (around EUR 40 billion) to 58.1 billion dinars (around EUR 78 billion) by 2033.
Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh has already announced his intention to introduce free-market-inspired reforms, which in the past have been scuttled by conservative administrations and the monarchy, which feared modernist turns. The reforms, the premier explains, also concern the public sector that is too often used as an electoral bargaining chip or to please citizens with state jobs in exchange for social stability. In the past, the lack of spending controls has contributed to the soaring public debt, which has reached almost EUR 40 billion or 90 per cent of GDP.
A key factor in the policy document is youth employment: the challenge is to absorb at least one million young people into the market within the next 10 years and make a radical turnaround in unemployment, which in recent years has reached peaks of 24% in a nation where one third of its 10 million inhabitants are under 14 years of age.
Sustainable development, experts warn, passes through opportunities for young people who represent the 'cornerstone' on which to build the future - economic, political and social - of the country. "We want a future," said King Abdullah himself, "in which we can regain leadership in the education sector, innovate in the economic field and increase capacity and effectiveness in the public sector, and make the private sector prosper" by overcoming the crises linked to wars and pandemics.
"One of the objectives," explains Fr. Bader, "is the development of the public sector, but the special feature of this ambitious plan is the announcement of a huge Saudi investment in the health sector, worth almost 400 million euro. On the overall project, he continues, 'there are several reasons for pessimism' and there is a strong doubt that promises will be followed by deeds 'because in the past, announcements have only remained on paper, and this is what makes people less optimistic.
However, there are also reasons for optimism because of the associated guarantees, involvement and cooperation between governments and other state institutions. In particular, the National Assembly, which will be entrusted with the fundamental amendments of a large body of legislation regulating the economic process'.
An initial positive reaction to the reform plan presented by Amman came from the top global financial bodies, from the World Bank to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The World Bank has approved a plan to finance industry to the tune of over EUR 80 million, to promote exports in the manufacturing sector through the operation of a new fund. The manufacturing industry, one of the main resources of the domestic economy, experienced severe cash shortages during the most critical phases of the global health emergency. To diversify and expand exports and generate more jobs, companies now have to shift from survival mode to a new level of competitiveness.
In addition, the fourth meeting of the IMF Executive Board is scheduled at the end of June to extend the allocation of almost EUR 1.3 billion as part of the Extended Fund Facility first approved in March 2020 and re-launched with additional graft of up to one billion. Ali Abbas, head of the IMF mission in the Hashemite kingdom, has already anticipated the possible allocation of further credit for over EUR 160 million, bringing the total for the current year to almost EUR 550 million.
"Moreover," the expert emphasised, "Jordan has been able to contain inflation better than many other nations," even though growth forecasts for 2022 have been lowered from the initial 2.7% to the current 2.4%. However, it 'must reach 3-4% if the country wants to make a breakthrough and reach a position of greater prosperity'.
Analysing the development plan and its many implications, the director of the Catholic Centre for Studies and Media states that 'as Churches living in the virtue of hope, we cannot but be optimistic despite the many challenges Jordan faces'. The priest hopes for a full exit 'from the dark tunnel' represented by the new coronavirus, which today is accompanied by 'the war in Ukraine' that negatively affects 'peace and stability in the rest of the world'.
Among the many dramas and critical issues, he warns, the Hashemite kingdom has yet to face decisively and definitively "that of refugees, especially from Syria and Iraq. A great challenge,' he concludes, 'to which we must look at trying to understand how to correct the situation in the future, which is added to that of resources and raw materials, starting with water, which are in danger of becoming scarce'.
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