Jordan PM rejects demands to scrap tax law

Tax bill sent to parliament for approval; protesters call for premier’s sacking

Amman: Jordanian Prime Minister Hani Mulki refused to scrap an IMF-backed tax reform bill on Saturday that has sparked protests over price hikes, saying it was up to parliament to decide its fate.

Several thousand protesters staged vigils outside the cabinet office for two consecutive nights this week over the draft legislation, chanting anti-government slogans and urging King Abdullah to sack the prime minister.

“Sending the draft law does not mean parliament will agree to it or even agree on its articles. Parliament is its own master,” Mulki told reporters after meeting trade union leaders and lawmakers.

Unions say the tax bill, which is part of broader austerity measures recommended by the International Monetary Fund, will worsen a decline in living standards.

Earlier this year, a general sales tax was hiked and a subsidy on bread was scrapped as part of a three-year plan that aims to cut the Arab nation’s $37 billion debt — equivalent to 95 per cent of gross domestic product.

The government says it needs the funds for public services and argues that tax reforms reduce social disparities by placing a heavier burden on high earners and leaving lower-paid state workers relatively unscathed.

Mulki said the IMF had completed its latest mission to the country on Thursday and hoped the kingdom would conclude by mid-2019 most of the reforms crucial to getting the economy “back on track”.

But critics say the measures will hurt the poor and accuse politicians of squandering public funds and corruption.

Parliament speaker Atef Tarawneh said more than 80 deputies, a majority of the 130-member assembly, wanted the government to withdraw the tax bill.

“We won’t submit to the dictates of the IMF,” Tarawneh said after meeting Mulki, local media reported.

Unions representing state and private sector employees said the government had caved in to IMF demands and was widening the gap between rich and poor in the nation of 8 million people that hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria’s conflict.

The Professional Unions Association, which had threatened new strikes before meeting with Mulki on Saturday said it would be meeting soon to decide on the next steps.

“We came with a request to withdraw the law and we heard something else,” Ali Al Abous, the head of the association, said.

Jordan’s economy has struggled to grow under chronic deficits as private foreign capital and aid flows have slipped. There have been scattered protests in provincial towns, prompting police in some places to use tear gas. In Maan, a town in the south, protesters burnt tyres to block highways and some scuffled with police, witnesses said.


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