Interivew: Azzam Sleit
What can be done to further encourage the ICT sector to contribute to economic growth?
AZZAM SLEIT: The ICT sector has the capacity to serve as a catalyst for wider socio-economic growth within Jordan, while at the same time making the country more regionally competitive. Growth levels must be sustained and ultimately increased across telecommunications, information technology and postal services, while ensuring the maintenance of affordable pricing solutions. Accordingly, we are in the process of identifying certain objectives to implement our national strategy for strengthening telecommunications, information technology and the postal service.
To what extent could Jordan attract more foreign investment into start-ups with better “branding”?
SLEIT: We need to focus on attracting funds from abroad, and this starts with enhancing our image around the globe, particularly through promoting human capital. It would also be wise for start-ups to work closely with the Investment Commission and The ICT Association of Jordan (int@j) to foster higher growth.
The government has introduced generous investment promotion laws that accompany a sound tax and legal framework, although more should be done to promote and secure intellectual property rights. The rewards are already being felt all throughout the economy: for example, IT export revenues reached approximately $300m in 2012, up 30% on the previous year.
How is the government encouraging the adoption of a fully integrated general ICT platform?
SLEIT: The government has focused its business development policies on small and medium-sized enterprises, for instance by explaining how IT can help build and revolutionise businesses, by achieving increases in efficiency with multiplier effects for the economy as a whole. A greater number of private funds, both foreign and domestic, are aiming to build capacity, but there have also been initiatives undertaken by the central bank to make IT equipment more affordable through low-interest financing programmes.
Jordan’s regulatory framework is very advanced compared to the rest of the region. How has this affected prospects for economic growth?
SLEIT: Advancing our general legal and regulatory frameworks in 1995 enabled us to catapult ahead of our neighbours in many respects. The frameworks were re-worked through phases, which provided for a gradual change. Ultimately we began to see higher levels of foreign direct investment, but a flagging start-up culture also began to take root again.
Start-ups are turning heads, and not just in Jordan. We have seen a great many of our brightest minds expanding their ideas throughout the region. I am optimistic that given the correct environment, we shall remain at the forefront of innovation in the region.
In what ways is policy being developed to encourage greater external funding?
SLEIT: The government is working with the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of ICT, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Investment Commission and the Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation in order to facilitate greater funding within the sector. The government regularly reviews, and if necessary is also able to adjust, the tax burdens that are imposed on the IT sector, as well as IT-enabled services. We try to identify promising IT business ventures in Jordan and will support the development of such ventures by garnering private funding for them as is appropriate.
The government will continue to promote foreign direct investment by supporting the establishment of call centres, IT support centres, IT-enabled business process outsourcing, content development for mobile phones – especially in Arabic, including gaming, education services, health services, banking services – and the enhancement and customisation of IT services and applications that are suitable for the MENA region.
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