NGOs, gov’t, and politicians spar over influence of foreign aid

Ministry of Finance
(File photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
AMMAN — Controversy over Jordan’s growing dependence on foreign aid has risen to the surface again after Islamist MP Saleh Al-Armouti voiced his concern about the negative influence of foreign aid on Jordan’s political and social systems. Speaking during the Lower House general budget debate on Thursday, Armouti claimed that non-profit organizations (NGOs) use foreign funds to change policies and advocate issues that contradict religion and local traditions. اضافة اعلان

“Foreign aid is dangerous to society. Some of the NGOs’ goals go against our [political] system; a lot of these NGOs hurt our country and write reports to foreign parties, which they use to pressure us such as the case with the CEDAW agreement,” Armouti said.

Economic and investment expert Wajdi Makharmeh told Jordan News that he agrees that some of these NGOs influence the sociopolitical sphere. “The current constitutional reforms came after pressure from foreign organizations. Therefore aid does influence some of the policies and social traditions in a way that we were not used to,” Makharmeh said.

However, he explained that Jordan has been relying on foreign aid throughout its history to fund the budget and the deficit. In recent years Jordan has become primarily dependent on American and European assistance in the form of grants and soft loans. This support helps Jordan cover a part of its capital and current expenditures since the government’s budget increased noticeably during the past few years due to the expansion of the public sector, Makharmeh said.

“Lack of foreign aid can create issues that would force the government to increase taxes or borrow more money. So it is an important factor in mitigating budget deficit, but this support comes at a political price,” Makharmeh added.

Veteran journalist Daoud Kuttab told Jordan News that Jordan is a developing country and a strategic one as well, which is supported by many countries around the world. He explained that foreign aid is significant for the stability and continuity of Jordan.

“There is no free lunch, it [foreign aid] has influence and no country in the world is immune from foreign influence. It depends on how you deal with it, how much you give away to the influence, and how much it forces you to deviate from your own goals and priorities,” Kuttab said. “But as long as you can make them [the donors] understand what your priorities are and they respect them, then that it is fine. The problem would happen if aid has strings attached that forces you to deviate from national goals,” he added.

He explained that three entities enjoy foreign support; the government, international agencies like the UN, and independent NGOs. However, he added that Jordan had lost significant donors because of imposed restrictions on NGOs by the government. Moreover, he believes that these NGOs do not have the influence as Armouti had pointed.

Former Minister for State of Economic Affairs Yusuf Mansur told Jordan News that there is no escape from being dependent on foreign aid. However, he advocates a departure from this habit.

“We have to advocate that we become less dependent on foreign aid. It does very little to improve the productivity of Jordanians, so it doesn’t help us graduate from our dependency. As long as the aid is spent the way it is, it is not going to help us escape the vicious aid cycle,” Mansur said.

He explained that aid is sometimes tied to what donor countries want or support and sometimes it is also affected by our policies. “We have to put the donor’s interest first and foremost, and that had affected our vision in the past,” Mansur added.

He said that for Jordan to become less dependent on foreign aid, it has to have a solid private sector and a thriving economy that is filled with innovation and creativity. In addition, we need to have the patience to achieve such goals since they are long term plans that could take up to 30 years to become tangible, he added.

“I know that for many countries it took 30 years or more to achieve economic breakthroughs, and Jordan cannot be the exception. Do we have governments that are willing to work on something whose fruits will take 30 years to mature?” he asked.

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