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The unseen consequences of abolishing bread subsidies
Daoud Kuttab
2015/05/20

Heated debate surrounds the idea of the government abolishing bread subsidies while providing alternative materials to citizens so that they do not incur any losses as a result.

 

Prime Minister Abdullah al-Nasour presented this idea in a press conference for visualizing Jordan’s future over the next decade by saying that Jordanians will not pay an extra penny to buy bread because a smart card will be made available to compensate back to them the difference between the new bread price, corresponding to the market price, and the current subsidized price.

 

Most of the debate has focused on the lack of trust among citizens and the lack of faith in the credibility of the government to deal without price manipulation immediately or after a short period.

 

Apart from discussing the principle of subsidies in economic terms, the debate has not addressed the impact of the cancelation decision on those who do not hold national numbers, such as Gazan refugees, spouses and children of Jordanian women, communities of different nationalities, and refugees from neighboring countries such as Syrians, Iraqis and others.

 

It might be said that the government and the Jordanian tax payer are not obligated to provide bread at subsidized prices for all foreigners who are residing in Jordan. In theory this is true, but does the government really want to increase the divide between those who reside within the boundaries of the Kingdom–between citizens carrying national numbers and the others.

 

There is no doubt that a controversial topic such as providing support cards for Jordanians without providing them to others will create a black market, buying and selling subsidized bread in a way that only increases the feelings of discrimination rather than mitigating them. It is necessary to stay away from actions that are likely to increase the chances of discrimination and raise the level of incitement and hate speech directed at non-Jordanians through various media platforms.

 

When the discussion opened up to include the elimination of subsidies for fuel and electricity bills it was an easy reference to the owners of villas and foreign embassies who take advantage of electricity to support things which may entertain them but which are not necessary for them. However, if the talk is about removing subsidies on bread for all non-Jordanians, the affected are the million or more guests in Jordan who had their ways of life interrupted due to the political situation in their countries, and who came to Jordan to escape war and violence, in search of shelter, safety and basic needs. Is it a priority for Jordan or of those in charge of the International Monetary Fund to harm the poor and needy refugees, ordinary workers and others.

 

A different take here is that the idea of providing support for all Jordanians while canceling it for the rest, without paying attention to the financial situation of the parties involved, may be a hoax to persuade citizens to accept the temporary cancellation and with time gradually provide support to the poor without paying attention to how this would upset some and thus widen the gap between the government and its citizenship.

 

I cannot imagine that the abolition of bread subsidies is in line with Jordanian policy, which welcomed and still welcomes Arab refugees, especially when taking into account that it compensates the treasury with funds from donors, both governmental and non-governmental, from all over the world.

 

There are major challenges facing Jordan, but an attempt to place disparity between citizens and Non-Jordanians will increase sensitivity and create new problems we have no need of.

 

Daoud Kuttab: Director General of the Community Media Network. Founder of a number of television and radio stations in Palestine, Jordan and the Arab world.

 

*The Arabic version of this op-ed article appeared on May 16, 2015. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of AmmanNet.

Translation by Julia Norris

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