By Fares Braizat – February 10, 2019
Since His Majesty King Abdullah ascended to the throne in 1999, Jordan’s GDP has grown from less than $10 billion to around $40 billion today. This growth has come about despite all regional troubles Jordan had to endure, especially since the financial crisis and later the eventful Arab Spring. This growth has come with a cost of nearly as much national debt. Today, the country is gripped by slow growth, nearly 19 per cent unemployment, pockets of geographic economic marginalisation and a changing generational undercurrent, coupled with deep public disbelief in the government’s ability to deliver the goods.
Against this background, I propose an action plan that may contribute to national revival. It is made up of four pillars: economic with eight national projects; political with two game-changing projects, administrative with one project to merge ministries on a sectoral basis and educational with two projects.
On the economy, build growth-generating mega projects through heavily-incentivised foreign direct investment. This can be achieved through the following projects:
The first projects is the national rail network connecting Syria to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt, as well as cities, towns and villages along the way from Ramtha to Aqaba. Second, 10 logistic hubs should be built along the rail to serve industrial and development zones; Al Hassan Industrial Zone in Irbid, Mafraq Development Zone, Dhlail, Muwaqqar, Sahab, Qastal, Queen Alia International Airport, Qatranah, Hasa, Maan Development Zone and Aqaba. Rail and/or bus hubs linking to all cities around the rail line should also be built.
Third, a medical and an entertainment city should be built by the airport to reduce traffic in Amman and cater for regional markets, especially Arab Gulf family tourism in summer. In addition, three residential/commercial cities should be built in Ruwayshid for strategic and security reasons, Madounah/Muwaqqar for the purposes of reducing prices in Amman and Zarqa, where over 60 per cent of the population lives and is stressed by the staggeringly high cost of owning a home and in Qatranah to develop the south.
Fourth, with the production cost of solar power production becoming $0.024 per kilowatt hour (kWh) and storage technology is getting more efficient, the energy sector must be revamped to reduce the cost to $0.14 per kWh for all consumers and subsidise the poor not the electricity. This will revive the economy, as the cost of energy is driving the cost production to an uncompetitive level and the outcome is that investors flee the country, which becomes unable to attract new investors.
Fifth, water desalination, including the Red Sea and brackish water in the Jordan Valley, is now within reach to overcome water shortages because the cost of energy, which is the most important component of water desalination, has come down and there is no reason not to capitalise on this opportunity to make life easier for people and businesses. Also, building a new carrier from Aqaba to Amman via Wadi Araba to utilise the water in power generation benefitting from gravity (Wadi Araba to Dead Dea).
Sixth, the mining industry has been overlooked and underinvested. Jordan falls within the Arabian Nubian shield, which is loaded with minerals. Since it is not properly explored, exploration companies ought to be invited to explore.
Seventh, the Baptism Site should be revived as a Christian pilgrimage destination to receive at least 1 million Christian pilgrims annually by building infrastructure and nurturing the global marketing for it, especially from new emerging markets such as China.
On political reform, building a completive political process and fixing the national identity issue via two steps: First, reforming the regulations of political parties’ financial support to be built around a reward, rather than welfare, system that is based on key performance indicators. This system would reward parties in linear manner; the more a party scores on participation in elections, number of members, including women and youth, geographic representation, seats in elected bodies, coalition building, outreach and recruitment activities, the more public, and possibly private, funding it will get. This model will encourage parties to merge or dissolve as the environment becomes more competitive. Second, reaching an agreement with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to grant all Palestinians in Jordan a Palestinian nationality, excluding Jordanians of Palestinian origin, where they should have a choice over this. This will help Jordan and the PNA internally and in dealing with Israel’s transfer plans.
On administrative reform: Reorganising the government on a sectoral basis can be achieved via the following five measures: Firstly, creating one body for national economy to include trade, industry and investment. Hence, central planning no longer exists, the function of international cooperation should be annexed to the Ministry of Finance and dissolve the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation. Second, merging the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Labour into a new body, “development and labor”, to focus on poverty alleviation through job creation, not poverty perpetuation through handouts. Third, creating one body for education with schools, higher education and youth under one umbrella. Fourth, creating one body for culture, archeology and tourism to unify and integrate cultural events (i.e. Jerash festival with tourism). Fifth, creating one body for local governance and environment to include municipalities, decentralisation and environment to reduce unproductive competition and focus on delivery of local services efficiently.
On education, it is imperative to create IT oriented education, and this can be achieved in the following two measures: Firstly, introducing compulsory KG in all government schools with IT, English and Chinese introduced at KG-1 and in all higher grades, should resources allow preferably all at once, to catch up with the rest of the competitive world. Schools in less developed and resource-deprived areas, especially in the south, should be focused on nurturing a technology-driven generation from preschool to high school. Second, building on the initial success achieved by the Queen Rania Teacher Academy to expand teachers’ education and bring teachers’ skills up to date with global trends to overcome the deterioration we have accumulated over the past few years in international indices.
The writer is the Chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, H.E. Dr. Fares Braizat.
This article was originally published in Jordan Times on February 10, 2019. For the original article source, click here.