Jordan cuts social security contributions amid coronavirus chaos

A Jordanian taxi driver wears a face mask amid concerns over coronavirus as Greater Amman Municipality employees sanitizes public transport at a station in Jordan, March 17, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 March 2020

Jordan cuts social security contributions amid coronavirus chaos

  • Razzaz told Jordanians from the Crisis Management Center that he is suspending the 2014 act
  • Razzaz said that a crisis committee was established on Jan. 24 and has taken 131 decisions to protect Jordanians from the coronavirus

AMMAN: Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz on Thursday suspended some clauses of the Social Security Act. It was his first order as military ruler following martial law being enacted on March 18.
Razzaz, who praised personal and institutional initiatives, told Jordanians from the Crisis Management Center that he is suspending the 2014 act.
“As a result of the extraordinary situation and to support the private sector and to provide for living needs of our people, we are issuing military order number one suspending certain clauses of the social security regulations.”
Musa Subihi, the spokesman of the Social Security Authority, told Arab News that the new order will allow companies to reduce the mandatory commitment of paying 21.75 percent on each staff member to 5.4 percent. This will take place for the months of March, April and May.
Dr. Natheer Obeidat, head of the Jordanian Health Ministry’s epidemic section, told Arab News that as of midnight on Wednesday the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Jordan stands at 69. “Newly updated results will be issued at about 10 p.m. every evening based on lab results.”
Saad Mouasher, chair of the board of Al Ahli Bank,told Arab News that two years ago it was the first bank to give customers the ability to reschedule loan payments twice a year. “From today, all loan payments have been rescheduled entirely unless otherwise requested by our customer.”
Razzaz said that a crisis committee was established on Jan. 24 and has taken 131 decisions to protect Jordanians from the coronavirus, including the decision to fly Jordanians and other Arabs from Wuhan and to place returning Jordanians in hotels. Amjad Adaileh, minister for media affairs, told the press that 4,892 people returning from abroad are under mandatory 14-day quarantine in 34 hotels in Amman and the Dead Sea.
Adnan Abu Odeh, adviser to the late King Hussein and King Abdullah II, told Arab News that the leadership of Jordan is handling the crisis well. “Razzaz has done the logical work that should be done in such a circumstance. He and his team have followed the World Health Organization protocols very closely.”
The prime minister reiterated the need to limit travel and movement to essential services. “The military has been deployed to prevent anyone except for medical and other essential services from traveling across city limits.”
Mohammad Abu Safieh, anchor of the popular Taxi Fm program on Radio Al-Balad, told Arab News that the government has been sending mixed messages, especially to licensed taxis companies and drivers. “Initially they stopped buses and allowed taxis and application companies to work, but on Wednesday night and without prior warning taxis were stopped and impounded. By midnight,180 were stopped and the drivers were arrested only to be released later on orders of the minister of transportation,” he told Arab News.
On Thursday morning, Salah Lowzi, head of the transport regulatory committee, told the press that licensed yellow taxis and taxis working on licensed applications — such as Uber and Carrim — can continue to work for essential medical needs.
In his address to Jordanians, the prime minister said that “if the government errs, we will have the courage to make the needed corrections.”


Russian jets deployment in Libya sparks fears of Ankara-Moscow clash

Updated 59 min 54 sec ago

Russian jets deployment in Libya sparks fears of Ankara-Moscow clash

  • US AFRICOM: US Africa Command assesses that Moscow recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors
  • Turkey supports Syrian rebels and Libya’s Government of National Accord, while Russia backs Syria’s President Bashar Assad and the Libyan forces of Haftar

JEDDAH: Russia’s deployment of fighter aircraft to Libya to support mercenaries backing eastern strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar on Thursday ratcheted up the threat of a confrontation between Ankara and Moscow, experts warned.

In a statement, the US military’s Africa Command said: “US Africa Command assesses that Moscow recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors operating on the ground there.”

The warplanes had been painted “to camouflage their Russian origin,” the statement added.

Despite Moscow’s dismissal of claims about its role in the presence of Russian mercenaries in Libya, University of Oxford researcher Samuel Ramani said that new revelations about Russia deploying MiG-29 fighter jets to Libya could create tensions with Turkey.

“Russian jets are being deployed in order to stem the tide of Turkey’s military offensive, which has combined the use of ground force proxies and air force personnel in a hybrid warfare-style fashion. There is also the heightened risk of an accidental aerial conflict between Russia and Turkey,” he told Arab News.

The UN said on Wednesday it was following the developments “with great concern” and highlighted the possible “devastating consequences” of any breaches of an arms embargo imposed on Libya.

Turkey supports Syrian rebels and Libya’s Government of National Accord, while Russia backs Syria’s President Bashar Assad and the Libyan forces of Haftar.

In recent months, there have been steps for rapprochement between Assad and Haftar whose common enemy is still Turkey. Haftar decided to reopen the Libyan Embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus which had been closed for eight years, while flights resumed recently between Damascus and the Libyan city of Benghazi under Haftar’s domain.

However, Ramani pointed out that the long-term impact on Russia-Turkey relations was more unclear.

“Russia is reportedly scaling back its Wagner Group mercenary presence in Libya and replacing those forces with fighter jets, and it is unclear whether this will do more than stall Turkey’s advance, while Moscow pushes for a diplomatic settlement,” he said.

He noted the timing of the reports, which had come on the same day of a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Libya’s House of Representatives’ (HOR) head Aguila Saleh.

Ramani added that Turkey was unlikely to change its conduct in Libya much, in response to Russia’s new developments, but would be more vigilant if Russia’s air war expanded, and the Russian S-400 defense system deal would likely remain in place.

“The only way the S-400 deal could collapse is if the US were to intervene in a material fashion that benefits Turkey and hurts Russia, which is a near-impossibility at present, due to (the coronavirus disease) COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Turkey was set to activate the S-400 missile defense system in April and risked harsh sanctions from Washington for the move. However, the target date was postponed officially due to the COVID-19 outbreak that changed national priorities.

But Turkish rulers still insist on using the Russian system, although it is unclear how the diverging moves in Libya recently would impact on their resolve.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 on May 25, Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said although Turkey had delayed the activation of the system due to the pandemic, the government was still planning to operate it.

Kalin also hinted that if the US were willing to send Patriot missiles to Turkey, Erdogan would be ready to listen to the offer.

Seth Frantzman, Middle East security analyst and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said the Russian move meant to balance Ankara’s role in Libya and to make up for the losses in the Russian-made Pantsir air defense system and show Russia’s strength.

“It’s a bargaining chip related to Syria. Russia wants to show a strong hand in Libya to drive concessions in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, likely through a new regime offensive to illustrate that Russia is not abandoning its partners in Libya and that it is willing to symbolically commit air force assets very publicly,” he told Arab News.

Frantzman pointed out that while both Turkey and Russia worked together, they were also jockeying for popularity and influence in the region.

The UN said on Wednesday it was “following with great concern” claims that Russia sent jets to Libya.

The UN secretary-general’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said that, if proven, it would “constitute a flagrant violation of the arms embargo” imposed on Libya in 2011.

Without mentioning Russia, Dujarric said: “Reports of violations have increased significantly in the past few weeks, with reported near-daily transfers by air, land and sea.

“This increase in the violations of the arms embargo will only lead to the intensification of the fighting, which will result in devastating consequences for the Libyan people.”