Jordanian MPs pass kingdom’s ‘most difficult budget’

Jordanian MPs pass kingdom’s ‘most difficult budget’
Jordan's budget is designed to stop the economy shrinking and help the kingdom recover from the pandemic. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 22 February 2021

Jordanian MPs pass kingdom’s ‘most difficult budget’

Jordanian MPs pass kingdom’s ‘most difficult budget’
  • MPs back bill designed to stop further shrinking of Jordan's economy
  • Finance Minister Mohamad Al-Ississ renews the government’s pledge not to impose any new taxes during 2021

AMMAN: Jordan’s lower house of parliament on Sunday approved what has been described as the most difficult budget in the kingdom’s history.

The draft budget law for 2021 and the budgets for independent public institutions were backed by a majority of MPs as the country attempts to rebuild its economy from the coronavirus pandemic.

The government submitted the law to MPs last month with an estimated post-foreign aid deficit of 2.06 billion Jordanian dinars ($2.89 billion), or 6.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), compared with 2.16 billion dinars in 2020.

Domestic revenues are estimated at around 7.8 billion dinars before foreign grants, which are expected to reach 577 million dinars, down from the 851 million dinars for 2020.

The value of total expenditure in the 2021 budget is expected to reach 9.93 billion dinars or 31.2 percent of GDP, compared with 9.37 billion dinars or 30.6 percent of GDP in 2020.

A total of 111 MPs of the 130-strong chamber took their turn to present their comments and concerns about the bill.

In response, Finance Minister Mohamad Al-Ississ renewed the government’s pledge not to impose any new taxes during 2021. But he warned that increasing public revenues as demanded by some MPs “requires some sacrifices, including imposing more taxes and termination of public employees.”

The minister told MPs that their demands for development and infrastructure projects in their constituencies were unrealistic considering the size of the budget.

He said the 2021 state budget is capable of addressing the challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic and would prevent further shrinking of the economy.

The minister said inflation rates were projected to rise to “reasonable” this year, at 1.3 percent and that he expected a 6.5 percent growth in national exports with the world’s gradual recovery from the pandemic.

Al-Ississ had previously described the budget as “the most difficult for Jordan ever.”

Jordan imposed a nationwide lockdown from March 17 to May 30 last year in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, before gradually reopening some sectors. 

Other areas of the economy remain closed until now with the possibility of imposing more coronavirus-containment restrictions with the rise in the number of infections.

Jordan registered around 4,000 infections on Sunday, the highest in more than two months

The unemployment rate in Jordan reached 23.9 percent in the third quarter of 2020, up by 4.8 percent compared with the same period of 2019, according to official figures.

Jordan’s economy is expected to grow by 1.8 percent in 2021 and 2 percent in 2022, according to a World Bank report.


Syrian regime used chemical weapons in 2018 attack on Saraqib

Syrian regime used chemical weapons in 2018 attack on Saraqib
Updated 7 min 16 sec ago

Syrian regime used chemical weapons in 2018 attack on Saraqib

Syrian regime used chemical weapons in 2018 attack on Saraqib
  • Syrian Arab Air Force used the chemical weapon chlorine in an attack on the town of Saraqib in 2018
  • OPCW previously reported that Assad’s air force used the nerve agent sarin and chlorine in two attacks on the village of Lataminah in March 2017

THE HAGUE: The Syrian regime’s air force used the chemical weapon chlorine in an attack on the town of Saraqib in 2018, the global toxic arms watchdog said on Monday after an investigation.
The report is the second by an investigations team set up by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which has the new power to apportion blame for attacks.
The OPCW said in a statement that the Investigations and Identification Team “concludes that units of the Syrian Arab Air Force used chemical weapons in Saraqib on 4 February 2018.”
“The report reached the conclusion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that, at approximately 21:22 on 4 February 2018, a military helicopter of the Syrian Arab Air Force under the control of the Tiger Forces hit eastern Saraqib by dropping at least one cylinder,” the OPCW report said.
“The cylinder ruptured and released chlorine over a large area, affecting 12 named individuals.”
The team issued its first report a year ago, in which it said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air force used the nerve agent sarin and chlorine in two attacks on the village of Lataminah in March 2017.


34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM

34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM
Updated 54 min 35 sec ago

34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM

34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM
  • Survivors reported that the boat capsized in rough seas at around 4:00 am after leaving Yemen with around 60 passengers on board

DJIBOUTI: Thirty-four migrants drowned on Monday after their boat capsized off the coast of Djibouti, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, the second such accident in just over a month.
Survivors reported that the boat capsized in rough seas at around 4:00 am (0100 GMT) after leaving Yemen with around 60 passengers on board, an IOM official in Djibouti told AFP, asking not to be named.
"The migrants were being transported by people smugglers," Mohammed Abdiker, the IOM's regional director for East Africa and the Horn of Africa, added on Twitter.
"Apprehending and prosecuting people traffickers and smugglers who exploit the vulnerabilities of migrants must become a priority. Too many lives needlessly lost."
There were "many children" among the bodies found, the first official said, adding that survivors were receiving treatment from the IOM and local authorities.
The boat capsized in seas north of the Djibouti port town of Obock, a major transit point for thousands of African migrants in the region trying to reach the Gulf.
It follows a similar accident on March 4 when 20 people drowned after smugglers threw dozens of migrants overboard during a journey between Djibouti and Yemen across the Gulf of Aden.
At least 200 migrants were packed aboard that vessel when it left Djibouti. But about 30 minutes into the voyage the smugglers panicked about the weight on board, and threw 80 people into the sea before turning back towards land.
Two similar incidents in October claimed the lives of at least 50 migrants.
Every year thousands of migrants make perilous boat journeys from the Horn of Africa to war-torn Yemen, many with the aim of travelling overland to Gulf nations in search of work.
It is believed thousands of migrants are stranded in Yemen, where a years-long conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions in what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The strait which separates Djibouti from Yemen is unusual in that it sees migrants and refugees passing in both directions -- boatloads of Yemenis fleeing to Africa to escape war, while others head in the opposite direction carrying African migrants to the Arabian Peninsula in search of better opportunities.


Israel’s Netanyahu says Iran is greatest threat in Middle East

Israel’s Netanyahu says Iran is greatest threat in Middle East
Updated 3 min 41 sec ago

Israel’s Netanyahu says Iran is greatest threat in Middle East

Israel’s Netanyahu says Iran is greatest threat in Middle East

DUBAI: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed not to allow Iran to obtain nuclear capability and that Tel Aviv would continue to “defend itself” against what he called “Iranian aggression.”

The prime minister also described Iran as “the greatest threat in the Middle East.”

Iran blamed Israel for Sunday's incident at the Natanz nuclear site and will take its revenge, state TV quoted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying on Monday.
Iranian authorities described the incident a day earlier as an act of "nuclear terrorism" and said Tehran reserves the right to take action against the perpetrators.
Iran and world powers held what they described as "constructive" talks last week aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran that Washington abandoned three years ago.
"The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions ... they have publicly said that they will not allow this. But we will take our revenge from the Zionists," Zarif was quoted as saying.

On Monday, Iran had identified the person who disrupted flow of power at the Natanz nuclear facility that led to electricity outage in the site, Iran’s Nournews website quoted intelligence sources as saying.
“The person has been identified ... Necessary measures are being taken to arrest this person who caused the electricity outage in one of the halls at the Natanz site,” the website reported. It gave no details about the person.


Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international

Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international
Updated 12 April 2021

Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international

Dubai’s local campaign to provide food goes international
  • The program is an expansion of last year’s local ‘10 Million Meals’
  • Donations can be made across the globe to the campaign through www.100millionmeals.ae

DUBAI: The ‘100 Million Meals’ campaign, launched by Dubai’s ruler, will provide food parcels for the needy across 20 countries during Ramadan.
The program is an expansion of last year’s local ‘10 Million Meals,’ which distributed food in communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic across the country.
Individuals and companies across the globe can make donations to the campaign through www.100millionmeals.ae, which will then distribute food in countries such as Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Angola, Uganda and Egypt.
“Providing food during the holy month of Ramadan is the best we can give from the UAE to humanity,” Dubai’s Ruler Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum said.
The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI) will work with the UN World Food Program, Food Banking Regional Network and local humanitarian organizations in receiving countries to distribute food for those in need.
“We will work with humanitarian organizations, companies, entities and humanitarians to join us in securing 100 million meals to bring a sense of safety to underserved homes across the world,” Al-Maktoum said.  
The campaign also supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to end hunger by 2030.


‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya

‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya
Agriculture remains a marginal sector in Libya, where the economy is dominated by hydrocarbons, the country boasting the most abundant oil reserves in Africa. (AFP)
Updated 12 April 2021

‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya

‘Green Paradise’ brings hydroponics to Libya

TRIPOLI: Under a yellow tarpaulin stretched over an arched metal frame, Siraj Bechiya and his partner inspect their hydroponically grown lettuce, pioneers of the method in mostly desert Libya where conventional agriculture struggles.
Zip ties, punctured plastic cups as pots and PVC tubing bought in DIY shops hold the precious crops at “Green Paradise” — so dubbed by the two young Libyan entrepreneurs spearheading the project.
But the ad hoc nature of the materials hasn’t stopped the plants from thriving, their long white roots nourished by water rich with nutrients and oxygen.
Bechiya and his partner, Mounir, have been working tirelessly on their project for months in the small town of Qouwea, 40 km east of the capital Tripoli, erecting a tunnel-shaped greenhouse surrounded by breeze-block walls on a semi-arid site.
Their hope is to demystify hydroponic farming, which “guarantees a good yield in small spaces,” uses little water and doesn’t need pesticides, 20-year-old Bechiya told AFP.
Soilless farming has gained ground in many countries but is still in its infancy in Libya.
But in a country whose territory is 90 percent arid desert, the method could offer a path toward more food self-sufficiency, Bechiya believes.
Agriculture remains a marginal sector in Libya, where the economy is dominated by hydrocarbons, the country boasting the most abundant oil reserves in Africa.
Arable land barely makes up three percent of Libya’s territory and is under threat, as rapid urbanization eats up the fertile strip along the Mediterranean coast.
Another major challenge to farming in Libya is the lack of water where agriculture needs it most.
The Great Man-Made River — a pharaonic project realized by former ruler Muammar Qaddafi more than 30 years ago — carries drinking water pumped from groundwater tables in the south to the northern cities where most Libyans live.
But this resource is not infinite, and the GMMR’s network has been heavily damaged in the decade of conflict that has ravaged Libya since Qaddafi’s ouster in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.
In the face of these challenges, Bechiya and Mounir set out to train in hydroponics two years ago in neighboring Tunisia.
“When we came back, it was imperative that we move from theory to practice,” Bechiya said.
“We started with some vegetables in the house and we were surprised by people’s enthusiasm.”
In theory, hydroponics can guarantee higher yields and profits than conventional farming, which is at risk from weather, water shortages and pollution from unregulated pesticide use.
“With more space in the greenhouse, the idea was able to take off. We will continue to develop it ... and improve quality,” said Bechiya, as he measured the acidity of the water feeding his young lettuce.
“Libyan consumers don’t want produce full of pesticides anymore, but organic produce,” he added.