Did the MPs Just Let It Slide?

By Jumana Ghunaimat

تم نشره في Wed 3 January / Jan 2018. 01:00 AM
  • Jumana Ghunaimat

The government finally managed to pass the 2018 Budget Bill with the blessings of the House of Representatives.

In this bill there is a bundle of difficult decisions, entailing de-subsidisations and tax revamps on a variety of commodities and services.

Everybody colluded to get this bill passed, each in their own way.

Those MPs close to the government made a public statement out of the voting session, which is acceptable.

However, the National Reforms Coalition, representing the Muslim Brotherhood, who are supposedly opposed to the bill, contrived to see the bill passed in another way.

The only surprise is that they boycotted the vote to avoid being forced to vote no, resulting in a majority against the bill, which would strain their relationship with the state. Nor did they vote yes, which would have cost them their constituencies’ support. How they plan to convince their continuants that they just “somehow” missed the vote in Parliament, on such a key matter, leaving the House in quorum, is their battle.

That aside, everything went just as we all expected.

With the House of Representatives out of the way, pending the approval of the House of Appointed Senate, the 2018 Budget Bill will have made it through phase one of the process. Phase two is preparing the list of beneficiaries of the de-subsidisation support programme. Phase three is distribution before the decisions come into effect.

However, because the government never suffices with anything, always looking to make more money out of its citizenry, they’re now looking into tax revamps.

Suddenly, the government decides to hike taxes.

I mean it will only make it harder for the citizens, but who cares about that? Why not? And really, how hard is it? All they need is an obedient Parliament and a button to press for the tax employee to just do the rest!

The fact is that this an easy objective.

Meanwhile, the government is trying beautify these revamps by claiming it as an endeavour to counter tax evasion. The government is claiming that its intentions are to go after the tax evaders and avoiders, box them in, and contain the drainage of revenue. This is all good, but entirely unrealistic.

Also, another goal is to expand the taxable basis for individuals and households in accordance to the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is no secret that the IMF seems to think that Jordanians do not pay enough taxes. This is besides the massive revenue from taxation, annually, which stands at around JOD7.7 billion.

The information we have indicates that the Ministry of Finance is still looking into preparing a suggested bill for this particular reason. When that bill is ready, the Ministry will forward it to the Legislation and Opinion Bureau. That bill will not be ready before April, but still!

Between the time the Ministry decides prepare the bill and the time it hands it over to the Bureau, there are a few months.

During that time, the government should invest in an expanded national dialogue to prioritise correctly and make any such amendments useful. This is exceptionally important now, as the government has already passed a bundle of extremely harsh decisions that will come into effect in just a few months and will surely take toll on people’s lives fast enough. This is on top of these past few years, as they have not been any easier.

Opening the door for the amendment of the tax law means, by default that people’s incomes are at stake and the government just did want to get it through Parliament. The questions here are: Will Jordanians take more harsh decisions.

Is it really worth enraging the people and frustrating them even further? Especially since every decision the government has made so far entails taking money out the people’s own pockets while not even daring to explore uncharted territories. What effect will it have on the investment environment?

All these questions must be answered before even considering any such amendments.

However, let us all agree on a number of basics.

First, it is crucial to revamp the taxation system. Second, it is equally crucial that the government combats both tax evasion and administrative corruption.

The one last resort, ever, in Jordan’s case, and especially at this time, is resorting to raising taxes for individuals and households!

So long as the government is following this particular logic, we are safe to assume that we are on the path to real reforms.

Otherwise, we are not: the government would just be reinforcing its image as a reinterring state, prying on people’s incomes, especially those living on fixed incomes.

Passing the Budget Bill may not have been a difficult thing in Jordan, of all places. Everybody is in on it.

However, if the government thinks they can get such a decision through the people, instead of getting through to them; convincingly, then we have an even bigger problem!

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