Interview: Muhannad Shehadeh
What would you identify as the main priorities in attracting investment in the year to come?
MUHANNAD SHEHADEH: Attracting high value-added investments that create jobs and enhance local communities’ development across the kingdom is a central priority and a main concern for me personally. We want to establish Jordan as a regional hub for investments as well as a platform that can provide access to 1bn consumers through its trade agreements.
To do so, the first priority is to further increase the ease of doing business and build on the 15-place rise that Jordan achieved in the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2018” report through regulatory adjustments and improved administrative processes. For example, the Jordan Economic Growth Plan 2018-22 aims to set up a specialised chamber for economic cases and adopt electronic notifications to streamline adjudication. We also need to strengthen a base of core competencies that provides the necessary inputs to ensure that investments are productive across the economy. Priority actions include achieving sustainable human development based on equal opportunity in education and ensuring harmony between educational output and the needs of the labour market. Lastly, we seek to target long-term high-performance investments that meet with specific economic opportunities and social priorities, ensuring net gains to our national economy.
What are the most pressing challenges in terms of attracting higher levels of foreign investment?
SHEHADEH: The business environment has been a key focus for the Jordan Investment Commission (JIC), especially in terms of the efficiency of registration, business processes and bureaucracy. That is why we reduced the time needed for registering investment facilities to four days. We also revoked 13 out of 26 bodies that used to review investors’ documents and 99 out of 186 licensing procedures. Additionally, affordable energy is essential to maintaining competitive operational costs. However, Jordan’s dependency on imported energy resources leaves it susceptible to unexpected price hikes. This is why the government is studying the benefits of shale oil and renewables, particularly solar and wind energy. Lastly, access to credit is one of the main challenges for small businesses, but the Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ) and the government are working together on a financial inclusion strategy in order to tackle this issue.
What role will the private sector play in aiding Jordan’s economic development?
SHEHADEH: Several measures seek to enhance the participation of the private sector, which provided 64% of net job creation during the first half of 2017. For instance, the CBJ encourages large banks to on-lend their excess liquidity to less liquid entities to stimulate credit, which then helps to revive credit to the private sector. The number of public-private partnerships has also increased in recent years, which will help shift some capital expenditure away from the budget and accelerate private-led projects. Lastly, a number of laws and by-laws are in the process of being introduced, with bankruptcy and insolvency being one area.
How is the new investment map of governorates contributing to the JIC’s strategy of promoting foreign investment and local economic growth?
SHEHADEH: The three main objectives of the investment map are to first, support local economic development by bringing wealth, jobs and infrastructure to the governorates. Second, our project menu has been designed according to the competitive advantages of each governorate in specific sectors, for example in tourism, in order to maximise growth and develop the skills of the local workforce. Third, this map proposes a clear, scientific and feasibility-tested product to investors seeking business opportunities. Overall, this map is made up of 120 projects at a value of around JD300m ($423.2m), creating over 4000 jobs for Jordanians.
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