The regional head of the World Bank says his organization stands ready to help Jordan meet its potential.
As well as Jordan, Merza Hussain Hasan oversees World Bank projects in Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, the Maldives, Oman, Qatar, the West Bank and Gaza, the UAE, and Yemen.
Despite very real and substantial challenges, not least the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, he still believes Jordan’s economy is moving in the right direction.
What are your focus areas at the moment?
We are looking at the water sector and a desalination mega project. We are also working on a couple of industrial zones that the private sector will operate and manage. Among our innovative projects we are working on with the government of Jordan is a border-crossing project that will hopefully be managed and run by the private sector, just like Queen Alia International Airport. Our priority is to progress faster in terms of creating those industrial zones and growing the manufacturing industry, while keeping in mind the upcoming role Jordan is to play in Iraq and Syria. I believe Jordan will turn into the biggest workshop serving these two countries.
How is Jordan handling the Syrian refugee crisis?
Given Jordan’s limited resources and the huge pressure it has been facing as a result of the inflow of hundreds of thousands of refugees—Palestinians, Lebanese, Iraqis, and, most recently, Syrians—the Kingdom’s economy and infrastructure have been severely impacted throughout the past decades. However, the smart thing that Jordan did—as opposed to other states in a similar situation—was to make the best out of the prevailing status quo. Jordan managed to stabilize itself and maintain a high level of security. The business environment is also improving after a slight deterioration due to the events of the Arab Spring. Additional policy and regulatory reforms should render it more conducive and enabling. The country has also been successful in promoting essential sectors such as renewable energy and information technologies despite the regional challenges. Jordan is creating new industrial zones and signing international agreements with Europe and the United States to make it in reality a workshop and springboard for the reconstruction of Syria and Iraq. All the above steps are extremely vital for Jordan’s future. The challenges Jordanians face when it comes to refugees are beyond their control and they cannot do much about them on their own. The World Bank always call on the international community and the international financial institutions to shoulder some of the burdens that Jordan is bearing as a result of the refugee crisis, especially towards contributing to the financial needs.
What needs to be done?
Going forward, Jordan has a lot of potential. They have strong human capital and good infrastructure. Nevertheless, we must think together of how we can unleash this potential, whether in terms of education, energy, business processing outsourcing, ICT or agribusiness. As for Iraq and Syria, both countries need solutions to their problems, and I cannot imagine any more suitable country than Jordan that could provide them with such solutions. However, for that to happen, we need to move the axis. Jordan has to further improve its doing business environment. Investors are demanding more consistency and predictability of the regulatory system in the Kingdom. If Jordan fixes this particular issue, benefits will be numerous and the country will grow faster. Many people in the country remain worried about security, however, balancing between security and economic development is indeed very essential, and Jordan needs to think innovatively of how to strike this balance so that they don’t lose lucrative business opportunities. In this context, I think Jordan can benefit from the experience of other places such as Dubai. Hence, the Kingdom cannot afford to lose its security, but it should not be the country’s main concern. The World Bank together with Jordanian authorities is looking closely at how to improve the regulatory environment, licensing processes, and overall access to finance.
Young Jordanians still consider the public sector as the employer of choice. How can international organizations like the World Bank help strengthen the Kingdom’s private sector to change this view?
If you want to fight poverty, you fight it through jobs. Dignity and shared prosperity is only achievable through provision of jobs. If my economy is unable to create jobs, then the only employer is the public sector. We realized lately that this is not the way forward. Therefore, we are working on encouraging the private sector by creating a better environment and importing capital to Jordan. The World Bank has a terminology called “cascade;” any project we will do, such as in infrastructure, will not be financed by public money but from the private sector, thereby shrinking the public sector. And for this to happen, we need to put down different mechanisms and guarantees for private capital. The World Bank operations will include boosting the business environment and structuring smart projects packaged for the private sector. The President of the World Bank always mentions the example of Queen Alia Airport as an interesting model of private sector engagement. Can we replicate such a project? Yes, we can.