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    17-Aug-2022

Investment bill assumes that Jordan is a water-rich country - By Drought season, Jordan News

 

 

The writer has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.
 
Nothing is more disheartening than the Lower House of Parliament passing a law that allows the government to grant local and foreign investors unnecessary discounts on the water consumption at their facilities, as if Jordan were a water-rich country.
 
Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed the draft law regulating the investment environment for the year 2022, leaving in two articles that enable the government to give investors of all nationalities a slew of incentives, including discounted water tariffs, albeit at the discretion of a special Cabinet-formed committee (which will not necessarily include the water minister).
 
Article 18 of the new investment bill states that the Cabinet has the power to form an “incentives committee” from among its ranks. The bill stresses, however, that the committee should include the investment minister, and the ministers of finance, planning,  and industry.
 
While the Cabinet can add other ministers to the committee, as it sees fit, the bill, which has now been referred to the Senate, does not make it mandatory for the water minister to sit on the incentives committee.
 
In a water-thirsty country like Jordan, leaving the Water Ministry out of the loop, especially on decisions pertaining to mega-investment projects that may demand a lot of water, is a big mistake.
 
Besides, it does not make sense for the Lower House — that is perfectly aware of Jordan’s water woes — to pass a clause in Article 19 of the bill granting the incentives committee the power to “subsidize energy and water costs” in addition to costs pertaining to renewable energy.
 
While it makes sense to incentivize projects outfitted with renewable-energy solutions, granting discounted water tariffs to investors in a water-poor country can admittedly sound a bit surreal.
 
Although Article 32 mentions “protection of the environment and water resources” in broad terms, the investment bill does not explicitly oblige future investors to employ water-conserving methods, such as treatment, reuse and recycling of water, in their facilities.
 
The water conservation and recycling angle is also alarmingly missing from the Environment Protection Law for the year 2017, which only requires industrial facilities to treat wastewater stemming from their facilities (Article 9), but without asking them to reuse the treated water.
 
Jordanian households are the first to pay the price of water shortages due to decades of mismanagement and shortsighted policies (mostly sponsored by the World Bank). Granting investors, including foreign, deductions on their water bills will reflect directly on the Jordanian households, which are seldom, if ever, offered benefits on a par with those enjoyed by the mainstream economic sectors.
 
This summer, the Ministry of Water asked households to build ground-level wells to help the weaker-than-usual water flow reach the roofs of their homes and residential buildings. Meanwhile, the ministry made no mention of water pumped to tourism and industrial facilities, as if they belonged to another planet.
 
Seeing how no news reports were published about complaints from the tourism and industrial sectors with regards to water, it seems obvious that the two main sectors that are left to deal with the repercussions of Jordan’s worsening water crisis are the households and the farming sector. This said, factories that produce agri-food products do not seem to be as directly affected as the actual farms that get hit by the effects of drought on a much more immediate level.
 
These inequities between corporate and private-sector entities, and households and farms illustrate the serious flaws in Jordan’s water policies, which seem to look at all sectors through a fragmented lens.
 
Jordanian families and farmers, many of whom do apply water conservation methods in their dwellings and farms, should not be the first to feel the sting of water shortages in a country that wants to rebuild its eroding middle class and improve the quality of life of all of its citizens.
 
Another public sector body that should have been included in Article 18 of the new investment bill is the Ministry of Agriculture, whose input is essential to approving future foreign investments in the agri-food sector. In a Cabinet characterized by its “bubble mentality”, this is the only way to guarantee the resilience and (partial) self-sufficiency of Jordan’s food-security efforts, in line with the country’s agricultural strategy.
Without policy-making experience, the Parliament will most likely continue to pass shortsighted laws that come at the expense of Jordan’s middle- to low-income households.
Recent meetings held by the investment minister with foreign business groups entailed discussions on attracting non-Jordanian businesses, including European, to the agricultural sector.
 
Although Jordan’s official statements with regards to food security have centered on a combination of self-reliance and encouraging joint Arab cooperation to achieve that security at a regional level, it is quite surprising that the Ministry of Investment has been discussing agricultural investments with non-regional actors, and in the absence of the Ministry of Agriculture.
 
Many observers believe that lack of consultation and coordination among ministries is a damaging government tradition that is firmly entrenched in the public sector’s modus operandi. To achieve true “modernization” of the public sector, fixing this chronic condition must become a priority.
 
The government is wrong to give incentives that sacrifice a scarce natural resource like water, but the Parliament’s job is to correct the intentional and unintentional shortsightedness in the Cabinet-proposed laws.
 
The true problem here is that the elected MPs seldom come with policy-making know how, and are mostly unable to see draft laws from a bird’s eye view. Moreover, the House of Representatives seems to be increasingly dependent on public opinion to take action. In many cases, it has nothing substantial to add other than an echoing of its populist jargon.
 
If for some reason opinion writers fail to shed light on certain shortcomings in a proposed legislation, it is highly unlikely that the MPs spot the problems and inconsistencies in the draft laws.
 
It is yet to be seen whether the new Political Parties Law will help fix this problem. Without policy-making experience, the Parliament will most likely continue to pass shortsighted laws that come at the expense of Jordan’s middle- to low-income households.
 
 
Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.
 
 

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