Letter to Ali Abul Ragheb on the social economic transformation programme

From King Abdallah II of Jordan
To Ali Abul Ragheb
RE: The Social Economic Transformation Programme
25 October 2001
Translated from Arabic

In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Compassionate,

Your Excellency Prime Minister Ali Abul Ragheb,

May God bless you,

I extend my greetings and respects to you; you have my trust and high regard.

Since we assumed supreme sovereignty, we have firmly believed that our country could achieve economic success if we provided prosperity for our people. We had no doubt whatsoever that through the people's determination and their sincere efforts and sense of fellow-feeling, Jordan, in the 21st century, could be a model of justice, freedom, and a dignified life. This belief encouraged us to put the improvement of the lives of the Jordanian people, by providing them with a dignified standard of living, at the top of the list of our priorities, as did the late King Hussein, may God rest his soul. An objective observer contemplating Jordan's liberal progress would recognise its achievements, too many to recount, which have become a source of pride for all Jordanians.

Although we are satisfied with our achievements in the last century, from the time of the establishment of Jordan through its consolidation as a modern nation for which we feel such pride, we cannot minimise the challenges still before us, especially that the performance of some institutions vis-à-vis others has not met the desired standard. As a result of different circumstances, some of which are beyond the control of Jordan, the economic situation became more complex in the last decade of the 20th century. The dearth of natural resources played a role in this, as did the uncertainty of the future of the economy and the slump in production of the public sector. The economy witnessed a noticeable slow down on average, leading to a drop in the individual's share of the national product. Moreover, foreign debts still burden Jordan, and thousands of young women and men are looking for job opportunities. The problems of poverty and unemployment from which Jordan suffers have been and remain our greatest concern. We have devoted ourselves untiringly to promoting economic activity, producing job opportunities in order to attain social well-being and abundance. Many plans and programmes have already been initiated to achieve this. We recently spoke to Jordanian men and women about these specifics and our pleasure with the positive indications concerning the growth achieved over the past couple of years and the lowering of the burden of public debt.

Many steps and initiatives have been taken in this respect in the past. These include joining the free trade agreement among Arab nations and the World Trade Organisation; reaching a free trade agreement with the United States; the ratification of the European Union Agreement; the establishment of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone; as well as the formation of the Economic Consultative Council, which plays an important role in strengthening the partnership between the private and public sectors and in researching and initiating a number of undertakings that in themselves promote the economy and increase job opportunities.

Forthright and loyal, you have always lived up to our high expectations, Your Excellency. You shouldered the responsibility ably on both political and economic levels. You and those true Jordanians who worked with you have perfected numerous achievements that are evident to every impartial observer. You also adopted several bold initiatives and decisions to handle major outstanding issues and took on, under our guidance, a number of undertakings with positive effects in promoting Jordan's progress.

Although we view the achievements with satisfaction and respect, the road ahead is still long, and we are yet in need of the dedicated and forthright efforts of you and those whom you choose to work with from among your fellow Jordanians in order to arrive at the future we envisage for Jordan. In that vision, Jordan will remain strong and invincible, prosperous and secure. We have known you as a true soldier, working assiduously for the glory of the nation. As we renew our confidence in you yet again, we are certain that you are worthy of this responsibility with which we charge you today.

During the past few years, Jordanians have unanimously defined the main components of the Economic and Social Change Programme, particularly during the first and second economic meetings. These are represented in human resource development — through education, training, and culture — and in the necessity of reforms in finance, administration, education, and the judiciary. They also mean acknowledging the private sector as the driving force of economic growth by encouraging both large and small project investments and accelerating privatisation with its value to the nation in importing technology, increasing job opportunities, and improving performance levels. In addition, we must include the handling of urgent strategic matters in agriculture and development of the governorates.

We thank the Almighty that our progress continues and, in the light of the regional and international economic changes, I address you and our institutions in both the public and private sectors, as well as every man and woman in our dear country, to stress that we have decided that the time has come to implement the Social and Economic Transformation Programme upon which the nation has unanimously agreed. We must advance with bold, comprehensive, and coordinated steps to invest in the future, in the social services and structural reforms, and in the pace of attracting foreign and local investments. In this way, we can actually achieve tangible results in improving the income of the individual during 2002. It is necessary to introduce this into the general fiscal law and into future fiscal plans, within a clear strategy, both long and short term. This can be done through a considered change concentrating on financial reforms and launching the implementation of a comprehensive national programme.

Our insistence on the necessity of beginning this forward-looking programme immediately comes in response to our sympathy with the concerns of the people, to confirm our belief that the positive results, which reflect improvement in the Jordanian economy, should yield wealth and well-being to the individual. We also see that we now stand on solid ground, which will give us the chance to speed up the privatisation programme and attract necessary investments. This will help to implement major national projects such as water and electricity, the development of Aqaba, and others, contributing to economic growth and the expansion of the job market.

Since economic and social development cannot be achieved in the absence of initiative and creativity or in the presence of the fear of change, or by neglecting the spirit of the age, I charge you with the responsibility of implementing the reforms agreed upon. These should be included in next year's general budgetary plans and agendas so that the measures which guarantee the quickened pace of the implementation are proportional with the magnitude of the challenges and goals.

This requires a radical reconsideration of the methods of governmental decision-making, which should be institutionalised through national programmes and policies. In this way, their implementation can be based on a considered time-line that responds to changes, so that governmental decisions do not deter the implementation of these projects, investments, and initiatives.

While awaiting the cabinet's comprehensive plan and detailed agenda according to a timeline that defines the executive competencies and the necessary means for this, we offer our ideas and recommendations concerning this forward-looking national programme, to form the general framework of your working plan. We emphasise that general investment priorities should be especially concerned with the development of human resources, of basic government services, and of the governorates; the acceleration of the pace of structural, financial, administrative, and judicial reforms in order to attracting private investments and set up major national projects. We expect that next year, the specifics of this programme and the working plan to form a sphere of our long-term national development strategy. Following are our principal ideas and recommendations:

Human resources development

It is necessary that we invest in the education and training of the people, for the individual is our guarantee of the future. Should we wish to prepare an intellectually vigorous generation, able to think and analyse, aware of its rights and duties, and attached to its Arab and Islamic identity, then we need to develop the educational curriculum, the methods of teaching, and the training of teachers. This should proceed according to a clear strategy that considers all the factors involved in educational instruction. Likewise, universities, professors, students and researchers at the higher education level should take into account the needs of the job market and the expansion of our national economy.

As for vocational training, the cabinet should support the National Council of Vocational Training and establish institutes for specialised training similar to those in developed nations. This presupposes ensuring a suitable climate so that the private sector can play its central role in this field, particularly in harmonising the requirements of the job market and the resources of the training operation.

With respect to youth and sports, we would like to see a national policy that prioritises youth issues, allows private investment in sports clubs, and encourages professionals. We also hope to see the Olympic Committee as the authority in charge of sports, and the Council of Youth replacing the ministry.

Principal government services

To ensure the dignity of the Jordanian and his well-being remains our overarching goal. We know that a stratum of the Jordanian society has been so hard hit by difficult circumstances as to be forced to ask for financial aid, and we are aware that they want job opportunities in order to be productive and to participate in the nation's development.

Although stopgaps and emergency aid cannot offer a permanent solution, they can at least protect the individual's human dignity. These measures can continue until the effects of economic and social expansion are felt, God willing. Therefore, we call for a comprehensive review of all legislation related to social development and to waging a war against poverty.

The healthcare of a Jordanian is the government's responsibility. This to us does not only mean availability of medication, but the availability of healthcare services at a reasonable price. Accordingly, health insurance and developing primary health care centres, as well as raising the standards of care and services both of hospitals and those who run them should be a major topic for discussion by the cabinet.

In the field of infrastructure and public services, it is necessary to observe that the comprehensive infrastructure perfected during the reign of King Hussein, God rest his soul, is one of the most important assets of modern Jordan and should be improved. The government should do its best to provide resources and at once remedy any difference between the quality of infrastructure in all the regions of the kingdom.

We mentioned earlier that our mission is incomplete unless Jordanians feel the effects of economic expansion and its positive influence on their lives. Accordingly, the development of the governorates was one of the six key issues agreed upon at the second economic meeting. At that time, general guidelines for a comprehensive strategy for the development of the governorates were defined.

We stress that the desired economic expansion will not transpire unless it is based on an economy that is marked by excellence and based on knowledge, technology and modern science. We also recommend that a forward-looking programme for the development of small projects be launched in the kingdom's governorates, through allotting certain sums for loans and projects, and offering technical aid and advice necessary for establishing small projects and guaranteeing their success.

Structural reforms

Our investment in the individual and his well-being requires an investment in essential structural reforms as well as determined financial reforms. We stress the necessity to promptly exempt industrial products from customs taxes, restructure the tax code, and lower tax rates in support of the individual and private sector institutions.

The time has come for us to give the retirement issue the attention it requires. All indicators suggest that during the coming decade, retirement will weigh heavily on the budget. Therefore, we believe this issue must be dealt with according to systematic study in order to preserve for Jordanians their full retirement rights. Retirees have fulfilled their duties towards the nation, and we should safeguard their rights and their retirement savings.

This can become a reality only if there is a suitable legal climate. The major functions of the cabinet are to facilitate the mission of the judiciary through innovation, development, and speedy improvements so it can carry out its full duties. The Royal Committee for the Improvement of the Judiciary has made concerted efforts to raise the quality of judicial functions, and many steps have been taken to facilitate litigation procedures. Accordingly, we look forward to speeding up the application of the plan to promote the judiciary, in particular by supporting it with the necessary expertise. We also look forward to a speedier pace in qualifying and training judges to deal with modern innovations and the challenges they present.

As for administrative reforms, there is no doubt that a change in the view of governmental functions should be effected. This means that a division between drafting and executing policies should be put in place, and the role of management should be strengthened so that evaluating the implementation is clearly related to goals and priorities. Since three-fourths of all Jordanians are members of the younger generation whom we hope to see as active participants in national growth, it is necessary to give them the chance to be creative and to serve and support the nation with their talents. Preparing technical and administrative institutions is an investment in the nation and should be taken quite seriously and protected to ensure continuity. The right of the individual to freedom, justice and a better life can only be reached through comprehensive improvement of the standard of living, social well-being, and supporting the nation's revenues. Thus, we believe that the true meaning of a union between public and private sectors is not only limited to a contribution to decision-making and advice, but is based on the sharing of gain and loss.

Economic prosperity, achieving well-being, and raising both the standard of living and incomes will benefit the nation's revenues and treasury, as well as the nation in general.

Speeding up investments

One of the cornerstones of the working plan agreed upon is that investment should be the driving force of economic expansion and employment. Accordingly, we look to promote a vast expansion in private investment.

Information forms the basis for achieving the suitable climate we require. Broadcast and printed information is a resource no one has the right to monopolise. It is not the government's information but the nation's information, expressing the conscience of the people and their identity. We must proceed according to a working plan in which we review our points of strength and weakness, in addition to the role of the institutions concerned with investments. It is necessary to step up decision-making in order to begin implementing our major national projects: water and electricity, gas, expanding Aqaba, and others. This also includes encouraging national capital to invest in them and completing the privatisation programme that has already begun to benefit Jordanian economy.

In this context, we should give media institutions freedom. They should be administered in such a way as to fulfil the reason for their existence. These institutions should function at a high level to ensure competition in the information market. This requires a vision and philosophy in keeping with the age. We believe that necessary measures to create a higher council for media should be taken. It would replace the Ministry of Information and represent the activities of civil society and experts and specialists.

We have already mentioned what we see as our priorities next year and in the near future. We should repeat our unwavering principles: all Jordanians are equal, enjoying equal opportunities; no one has special privileges. The government must ensure Jordanians' right to be effective members in a civil society where their safety and political freedom are safeguarded, and development and economic opportunities are accessible to all. Jordan is a nation of institutions, where law reigns. It grants and respects freedom of expression and speech, and democracy and plurality are ingrained in it. It is a secure and safe nation, wherein there is no place for corruption or favouritism, or for those who are tempted to help themselves to public funds.

Jordan is part and parcel of an Arab and Islamic nation. This is reflected in its identity and colours, in our responsibilities and duties. It is a second home for our brothers in Palestine that offers them support until they gain their rights and establish a Palestinian state on Palestinian soil, with the holy city of Jerusalem as its capital. Jordan believes in a just and lasting peace and is conscious of its humanitarian role based on its Islamic, Arab, and Hashemite heritage.

The working arrangement with which we believed fit to charge the cabinet is part of our vision of the future. It is an expression of a firm belief in our abilities. Achieving the goals we mentioned is inevitable, though some will take longer than others. This may require the cooperation of new expertise in the government, to help draw up the programmes and take the responsibility of implementing them. We give you our full support to take the measures you believe to be necessary to ensure their realisation.

We mentioned earlier the foundational principles of the administration’s management. We instruct you to apply these principles in selecting your colleagues, the ministers, while devoting yourself to reviewing the ministerial team and the higher management in different ministries and departments. We also recommend that the evaluation of your colleagues and other responsible officials should be based on the performance and implementation of the national programme to which we have referred. Thus, each individual who falls short of attaining the goals that fall within his responsibility should surrender his position to another colleague.

Your Excellency, from the position of responsibility and leadership, we urge initiative and a comprehensive and objective view of the future. We also support boldness in work and the confidence in a bright future for the whole nation, and draw guidelines and definitions for this. Yet, at the same time, we highlight the need to bring to bear all the nation's energy. We encourage those who are fearful, we reach out to sceptics, and we take the hand of those who need support in order to build a model nation.

We thank you and your colleagues, the ministers, for your loyalty, uncompromising patriotism and generous efforts, and look forward to seeing you take all necessary measures, including preparing a working plan based on our above-mentioned views. We hope that the detailed plan will be ready in three weeks.

I ask God to protect our beloved Jordan and may He grant us all the ability to attain the goals of our people, development, and well-being. He is the best help in time of need.

Peace, God's mercy and His blessings upon you,

Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein
Amman, 25 October 2001