Jordan went through an exceptional week. On Nov 13th the Prime Minister Abdullah Nsour, a veteran public bureaucrat and a former deputy has shocked Jordanians with a controversial decision to cut all subsidies on oil derivatives. This has resulted in a rapid and strong public outcry where thousands of protestors took to the streets of almost every Jordanian city and governorate venting their anger and demanding a reversal of the decision. Cutting oil subsidies is presumably one of the major conditions the IMF is imposing in Jordan to provide it with a life-line loan to save its budget deficit resulting from external factors (stopping natural gas imports from Egypt and the need to buy oil from international markets) and internal (overspending and corruption).
To show the Government’s seriousness in implementing austerity measures and to balance the painful economic decision that has been coupled to an existentialist political crisis, the PM decided also to lead a massive “restructuring of public institutions” that resulted in a very surprising decision to dissolve the 10 years old Ministry of Environment and delegate its authority and function the Ministry of Municipalities.
The decision that has been presented in the form of a proposed law to be discussed by the next Parliament due to be elected on January 23rd, has shocked the environmental community in Jordan and cast a huge cloud of desperation on the staff of the Ministry. During the past few days there have been some movement by environmental activists including former Minister of Environment Khalid Irani and a coalition of national NGOs to convince the government to reverse its decision. This article is a modest contribution to this justified effort and explains why dissolving the Ministry of Environment is a bad decision:
1- Against the course of history: this decision brings the clock 18 years back, when Environment was managed by a small, disappointed and marginalized department at the Ministry of Municipalities. After the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 the whole international environmental governance system was improved and all countries started to enhance their institutional set up. Jordan decided to create a special entity called the “General Corporation of Environmental protection GCEP” which was reporting again to the Minister of Municipalities. In almost most cases environmental was marginalized and the political power of the GCEP was eroded. In the early years of 21st century the idea of evolving into a Ministry of Environment appeared and gained momentum until the Ministry was created in 2003. Since then almost all Arab countries and maybe the majority of the world created independent ministries for environment. The last 10 years witnessed a slow but steady build up of the legal and institutional framework for environmental protection in the country and it would be such a shame to let all this effort vanish in thin air.
2- A negative political message: By dissolving the Ministry of Environment Jordan sends a very negative message to its own people and to the international community. Lack of political commitment in environmental protection means opening up the nation to all kinds of environmental violations and pollution, neglect of environmental laws and principles and threatening the quality of life of the current and future generations. In addition, this will put Jordan in an awkward position in its international environmental governance network and risks failing to attract any global partnerships and resources to achieve sustainability.
3- Loss and not a gain for national economy: The current budget of the Ministry of Environment is 3.4 Million JDs from the treasury in running and capital costs. It is currently implementing projects worth around 200.0 Million USD including the massive environmental claims programmes (integrated ecosystem restoration of the badia worth 160.0 Million JDs). By dissolving the Ministry Jordan will only save the salary of a Minister but will most probably lose millions of USD of international aid that contribute to sustainable development and improving human resources and technical infrastructure of environmental management in the country. Almost all donors in Jordan are working directly with the Ministry in implementing environmental projects and programmes linked to national priorities and international obligations and they will all be drastically impacted if the Ministry of downgraded with almost no sustainability of existing projects and low probability of securing new projects.
4- Breakdown in institutional and legal frameworks: The current Environmental protection law and the various bylaws that have resulted from it are forming a strong and organized legal framework that requires further improvement and not deep weakening. The legal basis for many environmental activities (Environmental impact assessments, environmental licensing, establishment of protected areas, management of wastes, monitoring of air and water quality, policies for sustainable development, regulation of investments, etc…) are all embedded within the current environmental law and will all be lost or subjected to legal gaps once the Ministry is dissolved.
5- Not adapting to threats and opportunities of future: the ever-increasing complexity of national, local and international environmental pressures need a stronger Ministry with a wider mandate and enhanced legal, institutional and technical resources. The potential impacts of Climate Change and other related pressures require the presence of a strong Ministry with a mandate to respond to Climate Change risks and benefit from opportunities opened up by the international climate management regime. Jordan will certainly lose its current competitive advantage in resource mobilization once the Ministry if lost and will get exposed to the risks while unable to benefit from resources.
The Jordanian environmental community needs the help of all its supporters and friends, including international organizations and donors to save the Ministry and continue with the path of partnership that has been effective throughout the past decade. If any certain agency (i.e Ministry of Environment) is in need to enhance its performance it should be supported and not face the death penalty justified by an austerity measure that will not save any money to the treasury and will result in the loss of international aid and a severe deterioration and erosion of its natural resources.