A promising step, but time is of the essence

Khalid Dalal
Khalid Dalal (Photo: Jordan News)
Almost all pundits agree that luring direct foreign investment into the country is the answer to our economic woes, especially unemployment, which, according to a recent IMF report, stands at 55 percent among youth. Additionally, one in every four economically active Jordanians is unemployed, thanks to the repercussions of COVID-19, which further complicated an already ailing economy.اضافة اعلان

Almost everyone agrees, and officials confirm, that the state of chaos in investment-related legislation is one major hurdle facing efforts to attract investments to Jordan, where opportunities are abundant for investors to make money. Investment laws, bylaws, and instructions are overlapping, inter-mingling, and clashing, and thus are lacking competitive advantages.

However, there is good news, as the government seems to acknowledge this situation and has plans to address it, according to the Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Nasser Al-Shraideh, who announced as much during a recent press conference.

The statement put everything in perspective. The planning minister said that work is underway to merge 44 laws, 1,000 bylaws, and 800 sets of instructions, involving 52 ministries and other public agencies concerned with the investment environment. The project will be executed with the help of a renowned international institution with expertise and an impressive track record in the field.

This makes a lot of sense, but it cannot be done overnight. In fact, according to the official, it needs at least until mid-next year to be ready and forwarded to Parliament to deliberate and approve before it goes into effect. This makes us wonder why so late, especially since the problem has been lingering for a long time now.

We should have been ready now, as the country is recovering from the pandemic and is competing with sharks for investments, because we are not alone in the quagmire into which COVID has pushed us all. Time is a luxury that we do not have, and the clock is ticking.

Putting the blame game aside, quitting is not on the table, but let's agree on some principles to make sure that we do it right. The first is that the public sector should adhere to its regulatory and supervisory role, and leave the private sector to handle productivity and job generation, free from harassment and vague interpretations of the rules.

Minister Shraideh was reassuring when he said that the next stage is mostly about e-services, with minimal human interference, a step that is prone, as we see it, to curb corruption and move the process forward smoothly and effectively.

However, the investment promotion challenge is not only about unifying the laws and regulations under one legislative umbrella. There are other major aspects of the issue, including energy costs, finding qualified Jordanians for emerging jobs, tax exemptions and awareness among host communities of the need to be as friendly and hospitable as we can to investors and their projects. These are just some examples.

The new plan should also be seen as part of a larger package, including the government's JD480 million economic priorities program for 2021–2023, out of which JD280 million is from the budget and JD200 from foreign assistance. A total of 53 priorities are distributed along three tracks, all related to promoting investment to varying degrees: improving the investment environment, boosting the competitiveness of the private sector, and supporting top-priority sectors.

All good, but it must be emphasized that we need to make tangible achievements on the ground, because only that will ignite hope among the public and all stakeholders and build an attractive environment for investors.

Officials have to keep in mind that actions speak louder than words. And for investors, this is what counts at the end of the day.

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