By Jumana Ghunaimat
Whether implicitly or explicitly, the Prime Minister reiterated the idea of raising the price of bread.
Dr. Abdullah Ensour, during a press conference held on the sidelines of the launch of the “Jordan 2025” document, last Monday, gave a detailed account of the bread subsidies, estimated at 180 million dinars annually. It is said that the majority of those benefiting from the subsidies are high-income earners and of non-Jordanians.
The government’s intention to raise the price of bread is not new, but the topic had disappeared for a while. This postponement was just aiming at calming the public, after the reactions that the country witnessed after the liberalization of fuel prices.
The government is toying with the idea with great caution for fear of the public’s reaction, knowing fully well how sensitive the issue is to Jordanians; by virtue of its moral rather than financial value that the government considers a setback. Bread is the symbol of life and living. So, too, Jordanian’s fear of a rise in bread’s prices is historical.
In another issue that is not less sensitive than bread, the government is whispering about the high high cost of electricity subsidies on the Treasury. They spin and hover looking for a way to reduce this bill, as much as possible.
What the government forgets, however, and refuses to recognize is that the data and the motives that were “justified” removing the subsidies on bread and electricity, may differ greatly after the decline in oil prices (and food worldwide), and so that the power company has today achieved good financial results, even profits, which the government is trying to hide from the public.
What is also unacceptable is the lack of transparency and the absence of the truth about the positive implications of lower oil prices on the local scene. The government adheres to, through all its officials, the same language traditionally used when the crisis was at its peak, about the default of the electricity company, and thus the suffering of the Treasury as a result.
Not “recognizing the blessing” is the last-attempt by the government of Dr. Ensour to pass yet another tough decision; on the subsidies of bread and electricity, ending a flawed plan for reform; economic reforms for this government seem to be limited to making difficult living decisions, while ignoring the distorted legislative environment and to keeping waste and spending intact.
If the government was able to pass these resolutions, they will enter history as the Jordanian government that set a record in terms of taking harsh socioeconomic decisions that drew consecutive blows to the middle class, which is the basis of community cohesion, before burning the limited-income class.
Bread and electricity, and their reform, are the way the government can prolong its life. It is mentioning the prices to warn its successor of what awaits. And then, Most likely, the government will remain, because the program is not yet over, and the further implementation is needed; depleting what remains in the pockets of Jordanians!
The government’s courage to fight in these two cases probably comes from the erroneous figures it is providing about the increase in real per capita income by 7.5%; what damage would the increase in bread and electricity prices have, says the Minister of Finance Dr. Umayya Toukan? But this sudden percentage need to be explained.
Today, the government says it will not raise the prices, but will get rid of the direct support of the goods, to ease the financial distortions and reduce the deficit. It is right in doing so, and there is no objection to the principle. But the objection comes on the timing. Here if the government may we advise not to rush. It has to make easier the lives of Jordanians, as well as millions of Arabs guests, latest in the wave is Syrian refugees, who the government says cost up to $3 billion; what can the modest value of bread subsidies do in front of these numbers?
It is true that the subsidies are considered a distorted, but the people are suffering bad conditions, including those whose incomes range between 800-1000 dinars per month, so they cannot afford to more tough decisions. The idea of cash support lost its luster, after the government stopped giving it out after the fall in oil prices worldwide. Take it easy on the people, the poor, and the children of thy people, government! Postpone the subsidies until better times are here.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic edition