At the Opening Session of the Jordan IT Forum
Dead Sea, Jordan
24 March 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for coming here to the Dead Sea and being a part of what we are trying to do here in Jordan and the vision that we all share for a brighter future, and for those who have come from great distances we appreciate the effort that you have made to come and see us here in Jordan.We have identified over the past year a lot of problems that we need to deal with. The number one issue from day one for me has been the economy.
We looked at restructuring the economy, getting ourselves on our feet, and when you look at interesting growth sectors in Jordan, we have traditional ones such as mining, and downstream industries, tourism, etc. However, the number one thing that we can do in Jordan – and that was easily identified early on – was IT.
The momentum of the past year allowed us to concentrate on IT with an initiative by both the public and private sectors to focus on this issue. All the hard work that we have done over the past six or seven months in trying to get this industry moving in the right direction has culminated in the conference that we have today.
I have not started as a politician or as an economist, but I learned a long time ago that if you have a problem you just have to cut straight through to the chase and solve the problem as you see fit.
We talk about IT, not because it is a fancy slogan that we want to see in Jordan because it sounds good or because that is what the rest of the world is doing. We talk about IT because it is the future, not only for our country but also for the whole world.
I was in Davos a few months ago. I was pleasantly surprised by the way the IT field is going in the whole world. I was also very scared when I came back because if we don't get our act together – and I am not talking about just Jordan but about the international community and IT – we are going to miss this boat. I believe many have figured out the way IT is going and what it is going to do for countries.
When it comes to our vision here, it is very simple: we want to succeed because we want to be on that boat.
We know that this is the future. We know that this is the goal for our country. So whatever fancy slogans you hear and whatever people will tell you that we want to do about IT in Jordan, we are serious because this is our number one chance to get Jordan to be a very special country in this part of the world, and I believe we can do it.
So when you look at me and you look at the government and you look at the private sector here in Jordan, we are serious to make this succeed, and the sooner the better.
One of my biggest faults is that my patience is extremely limited, I like seeing things done yesterday as opposed to today or tomorrow, and the prime minister is shaking his head: he knows exactly what I mean about that. But we are determined to make this succeed and we are going to make things happen this year, and I hope that all of you who are here in Jordan will be part of this vision and part of the future that Jordan has in mind.
When you come to Jordan, you are really looking at three main subjects. I will simplify these things and not take too much of your time, as you have to listen to some people this morning and will continue to listen to others for the rest of the day, so I do not want to take what they have to say. But basically there are three issues that you need to look at:
One is infrastructure. That comes down to Jordan Telecommunications and France Telecom. They have talked to you earlier and will continue to talk to you today and tomorrow about their need to accelerate plans for a data network infrastructure and to guarantee the right speeds and competitive rates. Now they have been at the job for two months and I realise that, but they are committed to providing the infrastructure that will meet all of your needs as quickly as possible, and I have their guarantee that it will be in place by the end of the year, and I added a clause, if not sooner.
If JTC has one major problem or one major obstacle it is going to be me, because I will make sure that they will deliver what I want and what you need for infrastructure here in Jordan.
Somebody said earlier this morning that you cannot have enough bandwidth, you cannot have enough infrastructure, and we understand that at the leadership level.
Dr. Ammari [JTC director] has been at this for two months, we have had many discussions, and he is on board.
They want to be honest and straightforward with everybody. We want to have the infrastructure as quickly as possible. One thing that I do not want to see here in Jordan is for JTC to say we are going to do this by June, but when we come to June it is not done. So let us be transparent, honest and straightforward with each other. That's the policy that I have had with the JTC and that's the policy that they have had with me.
So when they say by the end of the year, I will hold them to that and add the clause, if sooner, that's even better.
We have had a lot of interesting inputs from people today and I think that Dr. Ammari will add some comments on some of the requests and some of the ideas that you have had to improve the sector. This is the whole point of today: for you to get to know the Jordanians and for us to get to know you.
You, the private sector, are the prime movers in this area. You know the way the world is going better than we do. We need to hear from you what sort of infrastructure, what sort of capabilities we need in Jordan, to be able to make this work. We are committed to making this work but we can't do it without the input not only from our private sector, which has been outstanding this year, but also the international private sector because, you know the trend, so we will get down and be transparent, honest and straightforward with each other and the IT sector will succeed in Jordan.
As for the government, they have been extremely supportive in the past year in trying to move the sector forward. If we look at the track record of the government over the past several months when it comes to the economy, we became members of the World Trade Organisation in 11 months. Everybody said it could not be done. We did it.
The IMF and the World Bank gave us top marks for what we have been able to do in the past year. We can't just wait or stop now, applaud ourselves and pat each other on the back for the hard work we did this year.
We have to concentrate on the year 2000, so that in 2001 Jordan is the place to be. And the government will provide all the support needed to put in place the right legislation and the infrastructure to make this sector work.
I will be working very closely with the government to make sure that happens, so you have full government support for this.
And as has been announced today, for example, we have just passed a by-law for a hundred percent ownership in the IT sector.
The third equation is the private sector. For the first time, I think in any Arab country, we have a working relationship between the private and public sectors. We work together. It is a recent initiative when they both sat together to make today possible. Today is only part of the equation; the private and public sectors understand that, they will continue to move forward so that all of you will decide that Jordan is the place you want to be.
In Jordan we have one advantage that everybody else does not have. There are IT plants popping up all over the world and I think there is so much work out there that needs to be done, there is enough for everybody. However, we have one thing that everybody else does not have. We have competitive talent here in Jordan, that is the number one selling point that Jordan can provide to all our friends who came to visit us today.
We have studied several venture capital funds, I believe that this is something that gives local businesses the chance to be able to develop and this is something that we will be giving support to.
For the hardware people, one of the options is what we call qualified industrial zones that allow free trade, without any quotas or taxation, into the United States. We have similar agreements with the European Union. When it comes to hardware, I really think that you need to look at Jordan for three points: One is to be able to hit the United States and the EU; the other is to be able to use Jordan as the window into the region; and finally, to use the talents that we have in Jordan. And I think with those three choices you can only have success when you look at our country.
Our future is working together as a team, this is not the first time we have been here, and we had an economic retreat six months ago where we brought people from the public and the private sectors together. We had two-day meetings similar to the one we have today. We came up with a charter of what we need to do in Jordan to get ourselves to be a competitive country in the international arena. We came up with a very strong 13-page document that outlined where we need to go in the next couple of years. From that document we created a 20-man executive council that will be working to implement our vision and our outlook. Out of the 20 people, 16 are from the private sector. I mention that so that people realise that we are driven by the private sector. You are the ones that will make us move in the right direction and are going to show us the way. I point that out because I want all of you who have come in from outside to realise how serious and how unique we are in Jordan in the way we are doing business and in the way we are going to continue to do business.
We talked about administrative reform with the government and we will continue to do that. We talked about legislative reforms and we will continue in that sector. On educational reforms, one of the things that came out of the previous Dead Sea retreat is that we must get all our boys and girls from grade one to be taught English, and starting from grade two they should learn computer skills.
That program is a two-year program. We will have everybody English- and computer- literate. Every single school will be wired to be able to do that, simply because this is the type of quality and talent that we want in our work force.
We use English as our computer skill, however everybody else in the area tends to use Arabic. Jordan is the centre of Arabising English software and can Arabise other software that is out there. I hope that you will keep that in mind when you look at Jordan.
Lastly, we are looking at judicial reforms. This is I think the most important thing for the economy in general and maybe the IT sector in particular. We are preparing new judges, that are going to be commercial judges who will be able to make a far more efficient judicial system, who will be able to tackle the issues of the economy and the private sector.
Basically, we are here to make this thing work and make this work with all of you. Jordan is on the move and Jordan will be that place where you want to be, and your companies can take advantage of what Jordan has to offer. At the end of the day I need to hear, the government needs to hear what can we do to make this successful. This is a responsibility that we want to share. So I am asking all of you to take advantage of today, tell us how the world is moving: we want to be a part of that flow and a part of that incentive. So take advantage of what we have in getting to know each other.
I will be here throughout the afternoon, we will have an informal dinner tonight with the chance to meet more of you and we will have a working breakfast tomorrow morning.
I am very confident and very proud of our private sector making the right contacts with all of you and making it work.
The sky's the limit. One thing I hate is saying that this cannot be done. I think it can be done in Jordan, and I think through co-operation with the international community, Jordan will be successful in the IT field.
I would just like to add to all of this, a dear friend of mine His Royal Highness Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain, who is far more knowledgeable in IT than I am, is here today. I hope that the Jordanian companies and other companies will take advantage of his visit here. This is part of the changes that we are looking at in the Middle East, we have young leaders that understand IT and understand the way the industries are going. When countries such as Bahrain and Jordan can look at the IT field, I think there is tremendous capability and potential for our countries to be linked together and to be part of this great experience.