Jordan’s Economic Modernization Vision : Transformation or status quo?

Nasser Bin Nasser
Nasser bin Nasser is founder and CEO of Ambit Advisory.
The government’s long-awaited Economic Modernization Vision was launched last week with much fanfare and media visibility. The plan will reportedly be implemented in three phases over the next decade and includes hundreds of initiatives in various sectors that focus on sustainable economic growth and job creation. Its proponents say it has enormous potential to transform the country, even if it is only partially realized. Skeptics, on the other hand, say that it is un-implementable, just like previous efforts. This begs the question: how unique is this plan, and what are its prospects for success?اضافة اعلان

There are indeed several notable differences than there are similarities between this and previous efforts that are worth noting.

To begin, this effort comes at a unique time for Jordan, given the changing national, regional, and global developments forcing a change in the country’s otherwise change-averse outlook. On the regional and global fronts, the plan may be driven by the growing recognition — and concern — that financial assistance from regional and international partners will not be as forthcoming moving forward as it once was. This is because some of Jordan’s partners are being politically and economically challenged by competitors unprecedentedly, such that they may no longer be willing or able to extend the same level of support they once did.

Alternately, other partners appear to be moving away from the utility of financial assistance as a primary tool of their foreign policy, often referred to as checkbook diplomacy. These changes may be prompting decision-makers to seriously question the reliability of financial assistance in coming years and recognize the need for the Economic Modernization Vision. And one that evolves the state’s role instead of primarily redistributing foreign sources of income and, instead, develops and expands domestic sources of income.

On the national front, the plan may also be driven by a recognition from Jordan’s private sector that they can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while reaping profits, paying taxes, and criticizing from a distance. The role of the private sector in policymaking is changing everywhere. Private enterprises are increasingly shaping politics and governance, not only because they are vested stakeholders but also because they recognize that the current situation may be unsustainable or untenable, risking their well-being and pockets. Previous iterations of Jordan’s planning efforts never coincided with such significant changes in the country’s outlook. 

Another key difference between this effort compared to previous ones is that it is very much home-grown. Those involved in its development have a very strong sense of ownership over it. Previous national efforts (regional ones, too) tended to utilize foreign expertise, either due to capacity constraints, political motivations, or even downright laziness. This resulted in a mismatch of findings and realities on the one hand and a lack of ownership on the other.
Another key difference between this effort compared to previous ones is that it is very much home-grown. Those involved in its development have a very strong sense of ownership over it.
Consultants parachuted into our region to lead or assist in the development of national plans rarely hit the mark, and national stakeholders who are left with the responsibility to implement their plans understandably have no sense of ownership over them. Notwithstanding the misplaced criticisms that the Economic Modernization Vision was developed by Jordanian elites who might be out of touch with the broader population, the plan is definitely locally-driven, and there is a strong sense of ownership over it. Furthermore, it has involved an impressive range of experts from multidisciplinary backgrounds, led by the Jordan Strategy Forum, which has been a strong convener of Jordanian stakeholders.

For all its differences listed above, the Economic Modernization Vision is similar in one notable way to previous efforts. It excludes the security community. A common and regular feature of decision-making in the country has been the stove-piping between security and non-security communities and the exclusion of one or the other in charting a course for the country’s future. Yet, the country’s current and increasing cross-sectoral risks would require a whole government approach to address in the future and can only be mitigated through genuine partnerships between the two. At the end of the day, Jordan’s security communities will be left to bear some of the responsibility of implementing any development plan or at least dealing with some of its unexpected repercussions, so they probably should have been at the table during its formulation.

In terms of the prospects for success, a healthy dose of skepticism is always important for policymaking. It helps ensure that decision-making is at its best and that decision-makers can be held accountable by public scrutiny. On the other hand, the prevailing culture of defeatism that has been plaguing the discourse has been largely counterproductive to governance.

The plan is ambitious, yes. But, it also lacks critical details that the general public has yet to see. In either case, it should be given its best chance to succeed.

The writer is founder and CEO of Ambit Advisory.

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