(MENAFN - Alghad Newspaper)
AMMAN — His Majesty King Abdullah II, in an interview with the Jordan News Agency (Petra) on Wednesday, said that the government must ensure that the implementation of financial reforms would not affect middle- and low-income families and household. The protection and expansion of the middle class has to be the strategic goal and priority for government policies.
In the interview with Petra's Director-General, Faisal Shboul, His Majesty said that improving citizens' standard of living is the basis of all His directives.
He also called for the government to set timelines and indicators for the implementation of the Jordan Economic Growth Plan.
'No one will help us if we do not help ourselves the King said, 'We must depend on ourselves, first and foremost.
Meanwhile, the reopening of the Turaibil border crossing 'is an opportunity to bolster industry, trade, and finance sectors and increase exports, He said.
Domestically, the political 'Success in conducting fair and transparent local and parliamentary polls within a year has resulted in the largest elected popular representation in Jordan's history,
On another, no less important note, His Majesty highlighted that 'no one is above the law… no outlaw and no place is off-limits to our security agencies.
In the meantime, addressing the regional affair, the Monarch said that the 'Southwest Syria ceasefire is conducive to reaching a political solution.
However, 'developments in the Middle East must not overshadow other atrocities perpetrated against Muslims, such as what is taking place in Myanmar.
For Muslims and Arabs all around the world, 'Failure to make progress in the peace process will fuel the sense of frustration and anger among the region's peoples and serve the agenda of extremists
Following is the bulk of the Agency's interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II:
Petra: Your Majesty, we have seen various rapid developments locally, the latest of which have been the municipal and governorate council (decentralisation) elections. What is your assessment of the electoral process and its outcomes?
King Abdullah: Jordan has effectively embarked on its first steps towards implementing decentralisation, with the goal of giving local administrations greater power, and adopting a democratic approach based on bolstering citizens' engagement in setting development, service, and investment priorities and needs in their areas. This will contribute to a fairer distribution of resources among the governorates and will help shape local priorities to reflect positively on socioeconomic development.
The members of governorate councils elected by citizens are better aware of the needs of their areas, and are required to maintain direct and ongoing engagement with their communities to realise the desired development. This way, members of the House of Representatives will be able to dedicate themselves to their legislative and oversight duties without being consumed with following up on service-related demands for their areas.
What was most notable was the large number of candidates who ran for municipal and governorate council elections, as well as their young age, which reflects the enthusiasm of Jordanians and their readiness to take the initiative and engage in public service at the local level.
No doubt, state agencies' success in conducting fair and transparent local and parliamentary polls in less than a year has resulted in the largest elected popular representation in Jordan's history. This also asserts that Jordan is moving confidently ahead in its comprehensive reform process and in bolstering its democracy, despite the crises and instability plaguing the region.
Petra: Indeed, Jordan seems to be engaged in an ongoing reform workshop. Was the legislative package to reform the judiciary and enhance the rule of law within that context, and are you satisfied with the outcomes?
King Abdullah: As you know, Faisal, satisfaction with reform achievements is an incentive to achieve more, not to settle for what has been already done.
Out of our belief in the importance of comprehensive reform, the Royal Committee for Developing the Judiciary and Enhancing the Rule of Law was formed as a result of the Sixth Discussion Paper. The committee submitted recommendations on developing and enhancing the efficiency of the judiciary, as well as expediting litigation procedures to ensure justice and guarantee citizens' rights in a timely manner.
Everyone knows that the committee's recommendations have been translated into a legislative package to enhance the judiciary that was endorsed recently by Parliament. This reflects a positive partnership between the legislative and executive authorities, and we have always stressed the importance of this relationship. These laws will have a positive effect on the work of the judiciary and public trust in justice and the rule of law, as well as investors' confidence in Jordan.
The recommendations also called for utilising modern technology in all judicial procedures and establishing a special courtroom to look into commercial cases of economic significance, which would create an investment-friendly climate.
There have also been other measures to enhance integrity in public service and administration, complementing these laws, as part of an ongoing process to build on what has been achieved.
The government has endorsed the National Strategy for Integrity and Anti-Corruption 2017-2025, aimed at creating an anti-graft environment and criminalising wasta and favouritism, whereby no one is above the law. I would like to stress that combating corruption requires the cooperation of all state institutions and components, and most importantly citizens themselves. Wasta, in particular, cannot be rooted out without first being categorically rejected and spurned by citizens.
At the Royal Hashemite Court, we have taken the initiative by adopting a Professional Code of Conduct for senior employees, with the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army and the General Intelligence Department following suit. The goal is to cement a legal, ethical environment that governs professional performance, bolsters transparency and accountability in public service, and protects institutions and officials.
The fact remains that reform in Jordan is an ongoing, gradual process with Jordanians' best interests at its heart, in order to empower citizens to actively engage in advancing the country. But our journey does not end here. We aspire to present an inspiring regional model for ongoing reform, despite economic challenges and turmoil in neighbouring countries.
Petra: But, Your Majesty, some practices that challenge and violate the rule of law continue to take place.
King Abdullah: Here, we must stress that the rule of law is the basis for protecting public and private rights, and bolstering justice and equality. It is an integral part of the drive to build and advance the nation. One cannot have a modern civil state that is not founded on the rule of law, in parallel with social values and morals. Upholding the law is our collective responsibility.
We have indeed witnessed some attempts to undermine the state and violate the law, but our people's awareness and the efficiency of our institutions continue to stand firm in the face of such attempts. No one is above the law, and there will be no leniency in upholding it. Our security agencies will stand in the face of those who seek to disturb the security of the people and the nation. No outlaw and no place is off-limits to our security agencies. There are no red lines, for the law is above all.
As I have mentioned, the rule of law cannot be entrenched without an efficient, effective judiciary characterised by integrity. The Jordanian judiciary's record of efficiency and integrity speaks for itself, and we are working on enhancing judicial capacities and capabilities.
Petra: Your Majesty, the difficult economic conditions represent a concern for Jordanians. How can these conditions be overcome in light of the challenges facing the region? King Abdullah: It is my top concern, and what keeps me and Jordanians up at night, as the Jordanian economy continues to suffer from the consequences of regional turmoil, the closure of export markets, and the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis. All of this combined has caused a slowdown in economic growth over the past years.
Jordan has become one of the largest refugee-hosting countries, by hosting 1.3 million Syrians. This has increased Jordan's population by 20 per cent and drains a quarter of the budget.
The rise in unemployment, particularly among youth, and the low economic participation of women represent the largest concern and the top priority for us. This requires programmes and projects that would offer more job opportunities for youth and guarantee better living conditions, while also increasing women's participation.
It is important to emphasise that building a resilient and strong economy is the way to overcome the challenges and to face the difficult regional conditions that are beyond our control. This is what we are working seriously to achieve through economic reform programmes that target growth rates capable of providing a decent life for our citizens and ensuring fiscal and monetary stability. This would ultimately boost investors' confidence in Jordan as a stable, safe country that has all the elements of an investment-friendly environment to create more jobs for our youth.
I am aware of the hardships facing citizens due to economic challenges, and I am also aware of the burdens our country is shouldering. But the reality everyone has to understand is that no one is going to help us if we do not help ourselves, first. We have to rely on ourselves, first and foremost.
Citizens and improving their standard of living have always been the basis of my directives to all governments, which should have the protection and expansion of the middle class as the strategic objective of their policies; so that the middle class would represent the widest segment in our society, providing a pillar of stability and a driving force for productivity, innovation, and excellence.
Therefore, our main goal is to increase growth rates to improve the income of citizens and their living standards through the implementation of the Jordan Economic Growth Plan (2018-2022), which the government has endorsed and committed to implement. We count on this plan to put Jordan on the track of sustainable development, and to reach a resilient and strong economy. The plan also goes hand-in-hand with the financial reforms we are implementing, based on controlling current expenditure; combating tax evasion; and gradually reducing our reliance on assistance by expanding economic, investment, and development opportunities, and creating enough jobs for our youth. We will also invest in the development of our human resources, in addition to improving government institutions to offer public services with higher efficiency.
Here, I must emphasise that the difficult conditions and challenges our economy has encountered over the past years has taken a heavy toll on the middle class, and increased unemployment and poverty. Accordingly, I directed the government to ensure that its measures would not affect middle- and low-income families, but to protect and support them throughout the implementation of financial reforms in order to be able to overcome the challenges that face us.
The government must set timelines and indicators for the implementation of the Jordan Economic Growth Plan as soon as possible for citizens to feel their impact through increasing employment rates and job opportunities as part of social protection measures, enhancing the quality of public services, and creating an environment conducive to investments.
I stress here the importance of the support and cooperation of all stakeholders to ensure the plan's success. This is being closely monitored and followed up on with the government. There is no room for taking it lightly.
Petra: Are you optimistic about the Iraqi market or tapping into new markets? King Abdullah: The re-opening of Turaibil border crossing, a vital artery between Jordan and Iraq, is an important step to boost trade and investment between the two countries. It also represents an opportunity to stimulate the growth of industrial, commercial, and financial sectors and to increase the volume of overall exports.
We are hopeful that the pace and volume of the flow of goods and exports will increase and return to previous levels of bilateral trade, or even exceed them to higher levels, as we move forward with the implementation of the oil pipeline between the two countries, which will elevate cooperation and economic ties to a strategic level.
In parallel to our efforts to regain traditional markets, we are working in full force to tap into new and untraditional markets for our national goods, especially in East Africa, and to enhance investment opportunities with India and China, which both offer promising opportunities that we are keen to effectively capitalise on. Jordan enjoys wide regional and international ties, and has reached free trade agreements with most Arab countries and the United States, as well as special trade arrangements with the European Union. These are only some examples of what gives us a strong competitive edge in attracting investments.
We have promising innovative youth with great potential. We seek to build on this, especially in the ICT sector, as we work continuously to attract international companies to invest in Jordan, in order to maximise opportunities for our youth and to enable them to benefit from the expertise and capabilities of such companies. We also work on highlighting Jordan as a hub in the field of high quality software, and we have succeeded in attracting international and US companies. Another point of strength is the great potential and regional reputation of our start-ups.
Petra: After Turaibil, is the reopening of border crossings into Syria a possibility, especially considering Jordan's success in securing a ceasefire agreement with Russia and the US to create a de-escalation zone in southern Syria? Or do terrorist and armed groups still pose a threat to the Kingdom's northern border? King Abdullah: We are deeply concerned with the developments in southern Syria, and our top priority is to safeguard our northern border against terrorist groups and foreign militias. Jordan will continue to play an active role within the global coalition against terrorism.
There has been substantial progress in the fight against Daesh, which could push it south towards Jordan, and we are fully ready and capable of decisively dealing with them and with any escalation that could threaten us, be it by Daesh, any foreign group fighting in Syria, or operations that target civilians near our border and cause new waves of refugees.
The ceasefire agreement in southwest Syria, secured recently by Jordan, Russia, and the United States, achieves common interests. It can be replicated elsewhere in Syria, thus creating an environment conducive to reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis through the Geneva process.
After seven years of destruction, killing, and displacement, it is high time that a political solution accepted by all parties in Syria was reached to end the crisis, guaranteeing the country's territorial integrity and the safety of its citizens, and securing a future of peace and decent living for all Syrians.
This has been and remains our firm position since the beginning of the crisis. It is possible to pursue the reopening of border crossings when the right developments and security conditions materialise on the ground.
Petra: In light of these positive developments in the fight against terrorism, are we close to eliminating terror groups and proceeding into the post-Daesh era? King Abdullah: I have often stressed that the fight against extremism and terrorism is a global, long-term fight. We are watching the movements of terrorists and khawarej within and outside the region; and the recent positive developments in the war on terrorism have been the result of improved multilateral coordination.
Terrorism extends across borders, and it has struck several countries and continents. It poses a threat to global security and stability, especially as it is being choked in Iraq and Syria. Therefore, work must continue within a holistic approach because terrorism does not merely threaten the Middle East; rather, it threatens all humanity.
The areas liberated from the Daesh terrorist group in Iraq and Syria are not the endgame. Daesh may resurface if we do not provide fundamental solutions to the various crises that some Arab countries are currently going through. We must also give hope to the peoples of the region, who have been weighed down by the ongoing cycle of war and violence. It is time we opened horizons of hope for present and future generations.
Moreover, we must not let the developments in the Middle East overshadow other forms of killing, violence, and displacement perpetrated against Muslims, such as what is taking place in Myanmar. We must stress our utter condemnation of the crimes and brutal massacres committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar's Rakhine State, which have killed and displaced tens of thousands of innocent Muslims. The international community must assume its moral and legal responsibilities and pressure the government of Myanmar into putting an end to these atrocious and heinous acts, and safeguarding the rights of minorities and religious freedoms for all.
Petra: Your Majesty, in the context of Iraq's recovery, will Jordan play a role in bringing the various factions closer and bringing Iraq back to the Arab fold, particularly in light of Jordan's excellent relations with the Iraqi government and the respect it has earned among the various components of the Iraqi community? King Abdullah: Jordan is unwavering in its support for the Iraqi government's efforts in the fight against Daesh, and we are optimistic about the progress achieved by the Iraqi army in cooperation with the global coalition.
Over the past decades, we in Jordan have suffered from the repercussions of crises in brotherly Iraq, and we have always remained close to the people of Iraq, because we maintained a consistent approach towards all segments of the Iraqi society, with whom we share historical and social ties. We in Jordan have no agendas in Iraq. We only want what is best for its people, its security, and stability. I would also like to note that we see a strong, stable, prosperous, and united Iraq as a pillar of support for its Arab neighbourhood and a necessity for the region. The unity, stability, prosperity, and security of Iraq is a higher national interest for Jordan.
It is natural for all Iraqis to work together towards national reconciliation and unity. Achievements in security must be matched by an inclusive political process that engages all components of the Iraqi people to stand in the way of terrorism and extremism.
Jordan, as chair of the Arab Summit, will continue to provide all possible and required support to enable Iraq to achieve security, stability, and prosperity.
Petra: Your Majesty, when it comes to the Palestinian issue, have there been genuine international efforts to bring the Palestinians and the Israelis back to the negotiating table? King Abdullah: In my interactions with US President Trump and his administration, I have sensed a commitment to bolstering efforts aimed at reaching a solution that guarantees peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which is positive and encouraging. I expect that we will see this commitment translated into action in the near future, based on the two-state solution, which is the only way to end the conflict.
Regional issues are interconnected. Reaching just and comprehensive peace that guarantees the emergence of an independent state for the Palestinians on their national soil with East Jerusalem as its capital will, in turn, achieve security and stability for the region and its peoples. In the same vein, failure to make progress in the peace process will fuel frustration and anger among the region's peoples and serve the agenda of extremists, who exploit the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians and the frequent violations against Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. We have witnessed this during the recent crisis in Jerusalem.
Let me reiterate that we, in embodiment of the Hashemite Custodianship, will continue to safeguard Jerusalem's holy sites and utilise all our resources to counter any attempts seeking the temporal and spatial division of the holy city.
We are also in constant communication and coordination with the leadership of the Palestinian National Authority and across all levels to resume the peace process.
Petra: Your Majesty, we are approaching the UN General Assembly meetings in New York, what are the top issues on the royal agenda? King Abdullah: The Crown Prince and I will take part in the UN General Assembly meetings, which will be held next week. Crown Prince Al Hussein will be delivering Jordan's address at the General Assembly. I will also hold a number of meetings with heads of state to discuss the peace process, efforts to fight terrorism, and regional issues, as well as bilateral and economic concerns.
Petra: Thank you, Your Majesty.