Our Daily Bread

By Jumana Ghunaimat

تم نشره في Sat 21 October / Oct 2017. 12:00 AM - آخر تعديل في Sun 22 October / Oct 2017. 03:55 AM
  • Jumana Ghunaimat

Generally, Jordanians have had bad experiences with cash subsidies, for a variety of good reasons.

Firstly, the idea of lining up to collect cash subsidies is degrading, and makes citizens feel manipulated.

Secondly, Jordanians are uncomfortable with the idea is that they are not easily obtainable. It is far easier to get the subsidies to citizens in the public sector than to employees in the private sector employees or the unemployed.

Before receiving any cash subsidies, Jordanians outside of the public sector need to first apply for them. In order to receive the subsidies, applicants would have to go through a lengthy process of paperwork and applications, in addition to long queues, and for what? For a bread crumb’s equivalent of money!

We all remember how the previous cash subsidy experiment, under Marouf Bakhit’s incumbency, concluded. The government provided the subsidies once or twice and then stopped - Yet another reason why Jordanians do not trust the idea of cash subsidies.

Later it became clear that these subsidies were merely an attempt to sugar coat the passing of a number of harsh fiscal measures.

It is only natural that the public will find this a hard pill to swallow for a third time.

The option of introducing cash subsidies was first raised when the government decided to float fuel prices. The intention was to mitigate the effect of the float, however morally and practically, the implementation left a lasting negative impression.

Less than a year later the government had to reintroduce subsidies as a result of rising oil prices.

It burdened the budget for years until Abdullah Ensour took office in 2012. He also floated fuel prices and with them the budget, which was sinking under the load of JOD800 million in fuel subsidies. This is not taking into consideration other, far larger expenses and uncontrolled growth in spending.

Again, the government attempted to mitigate the effects of releasing fuel prices by reintroducing cash subsidies. This lasted for less than a year and then stopped.

If anything, this indicates to the people that the government is willing to suspend one subsidy or another altogether, sooner rather than later.

It is therefore no surprise that these subsidies have become such an ominous topic for Jordanians. People cannot help but assume the worst whenever the topic of cash subsidies appears in the public discourse. To most, it feels like the government is preparing to sweep the rug out from under their feet while trying to soften the blow.

We’re through that phase, thanks to the people’s great patience and appreciation of the stability and security they enjoy. Once again, however, fuel prices have been floated, and this time the government didn’t bother offering subsidies.

Our government has left the people to fend for themselves against the ravaging price hikes and increasing costs. On top of this, the government is insult to injury - this time it is the bread subsidies that are at stake.

Here are the facts: The government contends that ‘waste’ does not exceed JOD60 million out of the JOD200 million it allocates to subsidise bread. How much of that is truly waste, when that which is categorised as ‘waste’ includes that bread that goes to expatriates. How much of this ‘waste’ really ends up as refuse?

Attempting to control this so-called waste is not worth risking the consequences of floating bread prices.

Bread is not some secondary component of a Jordanian’s diet. It cannot be compared to tuna or corned beef. It is a staple - a necessity and provides a full mean to so many households who can barely afford it. In less pessimistic cases it is a significant component of everyday meals.

Bread goes beyond being just a commodity. It is the embodiment of dignity.

In Jordan, bread may very well be the cornerstone of populist Jordanian politics.

If estimates are to be believed, the government is planning to allocate JOD15 to every citizen. How will households manage this ‘generous’ endowment?

It is worth noting that approximately 50% of Jordanian households earn less than JOD600 a month, with an average of 5.2 people per household. How will these families cope?

Many Jordanian families already suffer massive shortfalls between their income and expenditures - they barely make ends meet as it is.

How many of these families will suffer further once bread subsidies are suspended? How many more will lose the ‘luxury’ of daily bread?

It is irrelevant whether the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and their experts think bread subsidies are counterproductive and a strain on the budget. The reality is that suspending them will not improve things.

In fact, it will surely make things worse!

The JOD60 million the IMF and the government, primarily the former, are so fixated on is but a drop in the bucket relative to Jordan’s GDP. It does not compare to the catastrophe that is our unchecked public expenditure. To put things in perspective, government spending has reached some JOD10 billion.(JOD60 million totals 0.6% of government spending.)

We should not be meddling with the bread of the impoverished!

The question of bread is far more dangerous than any foreign expert is capable of understanding, let alone an official who may not have any idea of what subsidised bread means to those that need it!

This article is an edited translation of the Arabic version, published by AlGhad.

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