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.

Libyan navy says more than 300 migrants rescued

Updated 21 min 30 sec ago

Libyan navy says more than 300 migrants rescued

  • 128 Sudanese were in the boats, in addition to migrants from Chad, Egypt, Niger, Benin and Eritrea
  • It came days after Libyan navy patrols “rescued 278 migrants on board four inflatable boats

TRIPOLI: The Libyan navy said Sunday 335 migrants had been rescued and one body recovered in separate operations off the coast, as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
Nine children were among 57 migrants in a wooden boat rescued Saturday about 40 nautical miles from the town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, navy spokesman General Ayoub Kacem told AFP.
He said they were from Ethiopia and Egypt.
It came days after Libyan navy patrols on Tuesday “rescued 278 migrants on board four inflatable boats northwest and northeast of Tripoli,” Kacem added.
The operations took place off the coasts of the cities of Khoms, 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Tripoli, and Sabratha, located 70 kilometers west of the capital.
According to the statement, 128 Sudanese were in the boats, in addition to migrants from Chad, Egypt, Niger, Benin and Eritrea, including 35 women and 11 children.
One body was also recovered by the coast guard.
Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, has long been a major transit route for migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa.
In general, migrants rescued at sea are first met by humanitarian agencies that provide medical care and food.
They are then taken into the charge of the body working to combat immigration at the interior ministry of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord.
On August 9, the Libyan navy accused the authorities of failing to manage migrants rescued at sea, claiming that it could be forced to let people go free once brought back to land.
Despite the risks, migrants continue to attempt to reach Europe by sea, preferring to take their chances than stay in Libya, where they are subject to abuse, extortion and torture, according to humanitarian organizations.