AMMAN — Jordanian economic heavyweights abroad called on Tuesday for business councils of their own, the right to vote from abroad and easing repatriation of their capital.
These demands came in a closing communiqu of the third Jordanian Businessmen and Investors Conference launched on Monday and attended by several hundred Jordanian businesspeople living in the Kingdom and abroad.
Some participants living abroad went as far as calling for a ministry of their own as they voiced their concerns and aspirations during the second day's sessions.
"There are 80,000 Jordanians living in the United Arab Emirates alone, and we as expatriates need a body to serve our interests at home too, a ministry will do," Ahmad Issa, a participant living and working in Abu Dhabi, told the audience.
This request was made before Minister of Planning Bassem Awadallah, who briefed the attendants on the various economic developments witnessed in the past 10 years as well as plans for the future.
"We are working towards lowering our external debt from around 80 per cent where it stands now to less than 60 per cent of the GDP by 2005 and our internal debt to 80 per cent of the GDP," the minister said.
He also stressed the importance of the role of civil society as well as reforms in the educational, administrative, political and judicial sectors to attract investments to the Kingdom.
"How can the private sector deal with a public sector formed on basis of [nepotism]... if investors see that there is no respect for the rule of law — then we will never be able to attract them to invest here," he said.
Responding to a question on economic growth and why it has not been reflected on people's living standards, he charged that certain improvements of government services have indeed been felt by citizens, however, he agreed that more should be done to alleviate poverty and unemployment.
"No one can deny that services have improved but there is still a lot to be done in my opinion," Awadallah answered.
Education has progressed with the introduction of ICT and English at first grade, primary healthcare has witnessed unseen improvements and water projects are being started on a large scale, he continued.
Awadallah also blamed the explosive 2.8 per cent population growth of stifling a greater reflection of the 4.9 per cent economic growth on citizen's quality of life.
Other participants urged the government to concentrate on the Iraqi market and try and remedy damages done to Jordanian-Iraqi trade relations.
"Iraqis no longer trust Jordanian products due to bad practices by local exporters bringing in low quality materials to the Iraqi market," said Falah Jaber, a Jordanian living in Iraq and head of the Arab food industry union.
A number of high-profile economists took turns speaking to the audience, one such expert was Umayya Touqan, Central Bank of Jordan governor, who gave an overview of the role of Jordanian expatriate contribution to the economy.
He told his audience that expatriate remittances averaged JD16.6 billion during the period between 1976-2002 reaching JD1.513 billion in 2002 alone and constituting a major source of foreign currency.
These remittances, he said, played a major role in beefing up economic growth rate through increasing the GDP as well as reinforcing the Kingdom's foreign currency reserves and ultimately stabilising the dinar's exchange rate and improving the balance of payments.
"Jordanians returning home from Kuwait following the second Gulf War transferred some JD2.091 billion to savings accounts thus improving the payments balance," the governor said.
Jordanian expatriates have been spending an average of JD142 million since the early 1990s during their yearly visits to the Kingdom, Touqan added.
In total remittances constituted an average of 16.6 per cent of the GDP since 1976 up till 2001.
Presentations were also made by representatives from the healthcare and higher education sectors, as well as social Security and the Stock Exchange on investment opportunities in these fields.
Participants are expected to attend a presentation in Aqaba about the Special Economic Zone on Tuesday thus ending their three-day biennial meeting.