The Government’s Mind

By Jumana Ghunaimat

تم نشره في Wed 8 November / Nov 2017. 12:00 AM
  • Jumana Ghunaimat

Noteworthy is the fact that the 2018 Budget Bill is being prepared under exceptional domestic and regional conditions, shrouding almost every aspect of the future with ambiguity.

It is not easy to tell what lies ahead in light of the current discrepancies, and we have no idea how our economy is going to respond to the rapid changes around us.

Budgeting, after all, is about planning, which —in this case— is all about estimation.

Obviously, we cannot build concrete estimates on information we do not have, nor can we project public revenues based on historical data, since the historical conditions of it do not apply.

Much of it, in fact, depends on how the regional variables we have so little control over!

Now, based on what we do know, optimism may not be the way to deal with such a bleak, volatile, fluctuating reality.

Naturally, volatile situations may require possibly equally volatile measures!

Soon, the government will present parliament with the 2018 General Budget Bill, which will tell us much that we do not know about our next economic destination.

The fact is that the government has not been sharing much with us lately, the citizens. The bill, however, may speak the government’s mind, as to what their plan really is.

Ministers are not saying much at this point.

If at all, they are saying anything, it has only added to the confusion and the sense of abandonment. Especially the technical officials and ministers hiding away from the media, trying hard to save face.

As a result, we, the public, know next to nothing about the bill that more or less decides our future for the next two years or more.

It is ironic really; that the ministers may be too afraid to face the people, especially since the prime minister claimed the government does not care about popularity or approval.

If truly they do not care, why are they holding back!

So far, all we know is that the Tax Amendments were preliminarily reviewed by the Council of Ministers.

However, we do not know whether the government intends to honour its pledges to not expand the taxable income base or lower the tax exemptions extended to Jordanians, in order to retain what’s left of the Middle Class.

In fact, the government promised to focus on advancing collection and anti-evasion mechanisms, for that very purpose, as opposed to eroding it!

The other thing we know is that the cabinet is a-split, between those supporting the premier’s pledges, including the prime minister himself, and those pushing to lower exemptions to make a measly fifty million in revenues annually!

Chief among the hottest issues up for discussion too in Parliament is bread subsidies.

Leaks indicate the government is pushing for direct cashing subsidies as an alternative.

From what little know, it seems like the government is close to a decision as they have already made all the arrangements and put together all the data required to go ahead with it.

Official sources say that the government already set up three criteria for the direct distribution of bread subsidies and sales tax exemptions. They confirm that 60 to 70 per cent of Jordanians are eligible to receive these cash subsidies, if they want to apply, that is!

Employees and retirees in the public sector, civil and military, as well as those registered in the Social Security and National Welfare databases will receive subsidies in cash on top of their salaries.

Anyone who is eligible, but does not fit in the above criteria, can also apply for the cash subsidies.

Like I said, it seems the government’s mind is already made on the bread subsidies issue, unlike the question of taxation.

In fact, the government has already decided to allocate around JOD150 million for the direct cash subsidies in the Budget Bill.

Once the decision is made, though, the prices of everything else will surely rise, baked products and pastries primarily, among other products and services.

This would require far tighter monitory instruments, which are doubtfully in place, to combat greed and exploitation.

Meanwhile, the other and possibly greater shock is bound to be the surprising surge in commodity prices, either due to the increase in sales taxes or the shrinkage in tax exemptions.

Either way, next year is not going to be easy, as it is packed with so many uncertainties, surprises and imprecise calculation.

We all must prepare for the worse, hopefully not the worst of all the possible scenarios.

Nothing says there’s hope in the horizon for things to shore up any time soon; the region is in turmoil and it is getting more complicated by the day, domestically.

Naturally, the budget isn’t going come through any better than it is, given the overall circumstances.

Our only hope is that this actually pays off.

In order for the people to swallow these tough decisions, however, they need to result in more than just a dent in our economic standing; the results need to be more than just figures.

People need to feel and see tangible, real change in their lives. The sooner the better too.

Otherwise, how are they any different from all the other tough decisions Jordanians had to put up with to no viable end whatsoever!

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

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