Thousands of Jordanians strike against IMF-driven tax rises

Thousands of Jordanians take to the streets of Amman on May 30, 2018 to protest against a new income tax draft law which was approved by the government recently and sent to parliament for endorsement. (AFP)
Updated 31 May 2018

Thousands of Jordanians strike against IMF-driven tax rises

  • Protesters in the capital Amman carried placards criticizing the government
  • They also accused politicians of corruption and squandering public funds

AMMAN: Thousands of Jordanians went on strike on Wednesday to protest against planned tax increases demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

The draft amendments would double the income-tax base, putting more financial strain on people already suffering from an earlier tax increase and increased prices.

The increases are a condition of a three-year IMF economic program that aims to generate more state revenue to reduce public debt.

The head of Jordan’s income tax department, Hussam Abu Ali, told Arab News that the government is set on pushing the law through Parliament, which is now out of session.

“The government is very determined to have this law presented before the people’s representatives,” he said.

Jordanian political experts believe that the Parliament is unlikely to turn down a draft law coming from government even if it is not popular.

The new law lowers the minimum taxable income to 8,000 Jordanian dinars ($11,000) for an individual, 16,000 dinars for a family. It imposes a gradual increasing income tax on salaries above that.

Currently, income tax constitutes only 12 percent of the revenues of the government of Jordan. Just more than 4 percent of Jordanians are paying income tax, Abu Ali told Radio Al-Balad.

“This law will help improve the balance and will eventually allow the government to lower the 16 percent sales tax,” he said.

But the unions, which represent tens of thousands of private and public sector workers, are furious that the law will add to the pressures already being faced by their members. They accuse the government of caving in to IMF demands.

Ahmad Zoubi, head of the Jordan Engineers Association, said that the government had pushed the professional unions to a dead end.

A last-minute attempt to avert the strike failed on Tuesday when union heads refused any talks until the government withdraws the draft law.

The most affected sector was hospital workers, who went on strike in all sectors except the emergency units. 

Protesters outside the Professional Associations Union in Amman called on government to respect the wishes of Jordanians.

“I can hardly afford anything with my salary. We are taxed for the air we breathe and now they are also looking to rip off our salaries. Everyone knows the law is unjust and it has to be withdrawn,” Hatem Samara, an engineer, told Reuters.

The IMF economic program aims to bring down public debt to 77 percent of GDP by 2021 at a time when economic growth has been stagnant.

Jordan earlier this year raised taxes on hundreds of food and consumer items by unifying rates of sales tax at 16 percent and removing exemptions on many basic goods, Reuters reported.

In January the government also scrapped subsidies on bread, which doubled some prices.

The unions have called for another protest next Wednesday, saying that they will call for the fall of the government if it continues with the law.

Two police officers killed after terror suspect blows himself up near Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo

Updated 39 min 53 sec ago

Two police officers killed after terror suspect blows himself up near Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo

  • The blast also killed the bomber and injured three other policemen
  • Egypt’s tourism industry has been struggling to recover from attacks and domestic instability

CAIRO: Two police officers were killed when a terror suspect blew himself up after he was surrounded by police near Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo on Monday.

The blast in the crowded Darb Al-Ahmar district also killed the bomber and injured three other policemen, the interior ministry said.

“As security surrounded the man and was set to arrest and control him, an explosive device in his possession went off,” the ministry said in a press statement.

The explosion took place after police chased the suspect who they believe had planted a bomb near a security staff close to a mosque in Giza on Friday, the statement said. Security officers had been able to defuse that device.

Monday’s explosion that took place near Al Azhar mosque at the heart of ancient Islamic Cairo damaged several shops.

“My shop’s front and windows were destroyed,” said Kareem Sayed Awad, a barbershop owner. “Not only that, but people have died. This is a tourist area and such incidents affect it.”

Egypt’s tourism industry has been struggling to recover from attacks and domestic instability that has hit the country in the years following a 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

In December three Vietnamese tourists and their Egyptian guide died when a homemade bomb exploded on their bus on the outskirts of Cairo, near the famed pyramids in Giza.

Authorities have been seeking to lure tourists back by touting new archaeological discoveries and bolstering security around archaeological sites and in airports.

Tourism has slowly started picking up. The official statistics agency says tourist arrivals in Egypt in 2017 reached 8.3 million, up from 5.3 million the year before.

But that figure was still far short of the record influx in 2010 when over 14 million visitors flocked to the country.

Egypt has also for years been battling an Islamist insurgency, which deepened following military’s ousting of Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013.

The attacks have been mainly concentrated in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula but have also spread to the mainland.

In February 2018, security forces launched a major anti-militant operation focused on the Sinai Peninsula, aimed at wiping out a local affiliate of the Daesh group.

On Saturday, an attack on an Egyptian army checkpoint in north Sinai left 15 soldiers dead or wounded and seven of the suspected jihadist assailants killed, according to the military.

(With AFP)