Jordan king promises reforms (again)

King Abdullah of Jordan will shortly be issuing a series ofdiscussion papers "outlining his vision on the kingdom’s comprehensive reform process," a statement from the Royal Court announced this week. "These papers seek to facilitate national dialogue and encourage citizens’ participation in decision making," it said.

Last month, in the midst of an economic crisis, the government lifted fuel subsidies, causing riots and demonstrations in many parts of the country. Increases in electricity prices are also planned. Unaccountable government, rampant corruption and the influence of patronage networks added to public resentment at the austerity measures.

Given that the king has talked constantly about reform since coming to the throne almost 13 years ago – and with very little to show for it – his latest "vision" is unlikely to offer anything genuinely new. The discussion papers sound more like an attempt to appease the government's critics and delay the day of reckoning.

The Impatient Bedouin blog points out that the latest reform talk comes shortly before a parliamentary election (scheduled for January 23) held under "reformed" electoral rules that were designed to produce a parliament of government loyalists.

Meanwhile, a team from the International Monetary Fund who visited Jordan earlier this month, issued a sympathetic-soundingstatement about the economy:

“Jordan performed well under the program in 2012. The country has faced challenges during the year from the disruption of the flow of natural gas, the ongoing conflict in Syria, and an acceleration of influx of refugees. Combined with higher oil and food prices and a shortfall in grants, this has put further pressure on the country’s economy. Nonetheless, growth is expected to increase slightly to 3 percent compared with 2.6 percent in 2011, while average inflation is expected to be around 5 percent for the year.

“Despite this challenging environment, the authorities have been implementing sound macroeconomic policies aimed at reducing fiscal and external imbalances in a socially acceptable way. The removal of general subsidies on all fuel products except LPG on November 14 was an important step. It reduced costs and risks to the budget from fluctuations in oil prices. Introducing targeted transfers at the same time mitigated the impact of fuel price increases for a large part of the population.

“The authorities and the mission held very constructive discussions about the road ahead and how to overcome the challenges Jordan faces. The authorities have reaffirmed their commitment to continue their program of reforms to keep the fiscal and external balances on a sustainable path. Discussions will continue in early 2013 on designing a comprehensive program for 2013. This program will include specific policy measures that would help Jordan to reach its program objectives and address the key challenges it faces, including the large inflow of Syrian refugees. The IMF is looking forward to continue its dialogue with the authorities and support for the Jordan’s national program of economic reforms.”

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 29 December 2012.