By Mohammed Abu Dalhoum – Jul 06, 2022

Following the Arab Spring, governments in the region became keen on producing long-term national development plans. Such top-down visions, regardless of the extent of citizen input, have been designed by experts to address key concerns, achieve economic growth, and enhance productivity. 

With the exception of some well-designed plans, most have three main shortcomings: the small extent to which they take into consideration executive and legislative decisions and discussions; lack of contingency plans and risk mitigation elements; they were designed and launched in a reactionary fashion, mostly to appease public dissent. 

These three limitations are present in Jordan’s Economic Modernization Vision 2033. Adding to these, less than two days after the vision was launched, the government announced another increase in fuel prices. The government then indicated its intention to introduce a toll system on some busy roads. The Central Bank of Jordan also raised the interest rate on monetary policy instruments by 50 basis points. All this has not only caused confusion among citizens and potential investors, it also diminished any prospect for a much-needed optimism in Jordan.

Furthermore, the vision lacks any comprehensive contingency plan, much needed in view of the post-pandemic realities, the looming global economic and financial crises, and the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine. 

The vision presented some unrealistic targets, like increasing outputs in most sectors by a sustainable average of more than 4 percentage points for the next decade, which is highly unattainable even in the most advanced economies. 

It is clear that this vision was launched, possibly prematurely, to appease public dissent that has been surfacing for months. 

A deeper look at the situation suggests a troubling regional trend. For the past 30 years, government policies in response to citizens’ economic concerns have been centered on political reforms, mostly in the form of elections. This reactive approach has rendered elections undesirable, with turnout rates decreasing year after year. 

Adopting the same approach in the context of strategic planning is intrinsically troublesome. In doing so, decision makers risk diminishing public confidence in experts. The most recent data by the World Values Survey reveals an average rating of 2.5 out of 4 across the countries surveyed in the Arab world when individuals were asked whether having experts, not the government, make decisions according to what they think is best for the country. 

This rating falls exactly between “fairly good” and “fairly bad”. Meaning, utilizing experts to come up with strategic planning in a blundering and rushed fashion risks lowering their public approval ratings. 

Considering the dwindling public confidence in governments, parliaments, political parties, and democratic and authoritarian rule alike, citizens may be made to believe that there are no legitimate traditional institutions or groups, including experts, capable of addressing their issues and meeting their demands. 

In such case, citizens can also find themselves an easy target of the devious reach of destabilizing groups and their agendas, groups that generally compete with legitimate institutions for public confidence. Such groups could find a propitious environment to spread their rhetoric and cause domestic instability, which is unequivocally not needed. 

Strategic planning across the Arab world is becoming an invisible and indivisible component of governments’ go-to sedatives, merely to buy time and shift public discussion away from their inability to address citizen concerns. 

The all-time low unemployment rates across many countries in the region do necessitate immediate responses. With job-creation rates stagnant for years, governments must think creatively and strategically. While strategic planning is indeed a textbook response, ignoring both current decisions and preceding strategies and plans when devising a plan, and oblique monitoring and accountability measures, limit its efficacy. 

Jordan launched its National Employment Strategy 2011–2020 in 2011; Jordan 2025 A National Vision and Strategy in 2014; the National Strategy for Human Resources Development in 2016; and Jordan National Social Protection Strategy 2019–2025. None of these achieved the targets, at least not at the desired level. 

Rather than learning from their shortcomings or their extrapolated lessons, this new vision opted to offer a fresh start at a time when citizens are not willing to accept a clean slate and the national economic conditions are not conduciveto that either. 

Strategic planning that sets unattainable targets, that is tone deaf to the economy’s limited production capacities, merely to paint an optimistic image for citizens is destined to fail. It may lead to the abrupt launch, in a few years’ time, of a new vision with unrealistic figures, catchy titles, and flashy colors in hopes that the depressed citizens might turn a blind eye. 

Mohammed Abu Dalhoum is Deputy CEO and Senior Research Analyst at NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions.

This article was originally published in Arab News on July 06, 2022. For the original article source, click here