Jordan PM reshuffles cabinet months after government’s formation

Officials appointed include successors to interior and justice ministers after both resigned last week following a COVID-related breach.

Jordan is witnessing a nearly two-month surge of infections of coronavirus amid rising discontent over worsening economic conditions [File: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP]

Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh has reshuffled his cabinet, in a shake-up that comes less than five months after the formation of his government.

The decision was announced via a decree issued by the royal court in a statement on Sunday.

Among the 10 new ministers appointed by al-Khasawneh were Brigadier General Mazen al-Faraya, who was named interior minister, and Ahmed Ziyadat, who was tasked with heading the justice ministry.

The pair’s predecessors were both asked to step down last week after reports they had attended a dinner party at a restaurant in the capital, Amman, that violated the coronavirus restrictions their own ministries are supposed to enforce.

Foreign minister Ayman Safadi has not been replaced while ministers responsible for key economic portfolios also largely remained in their posts, apart from the ministers for transport and agriculture.

IMF reforms

Al-Khasawneh, a veteran former diplomat and palace aide, was appointed in October last year by King Abdullah to restore public trust over the handling of the coronavirus health crisis and defuse anger over successive governments’ failure to deliver on pledges of prosperity and curbing corruption.

Jordan is witnessing a nearly two-month surge in infections driven by a more contagious variant of the virus amid rising discontent over worsening economic conditions and curbs on public freedoms under emergency laws.

The reshuffle is meant to accelerate International Monetary Fund-guided reforms seen as crucial to the country’s economic recovery from the blow of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, Parliament passed a 9.9 billion dinar ($14bn) budget which finance minister Mohamad al-Ississ said was aimed at maintaining fiscal prudence to help ensure financial stability and rein in a record $45bn in public debt. Al-Ississ has negotiated a four-year IMF programme worth $1.3bn, signalling confidence in Jordan’s reform agenda.

The economy saw its worst contraction – 3 percent – in decades last year, hit by lockdowns, border closures and a sharp fall in tourism during the pandemic. However, the government and the IMF both predict a bounce of similar magnitude this year.

Officials say Jordan’s commitment to IMF reforms and investor confidence in the improved outlook helped the country maintain stable sovereign ratings at a time when other emerging markets were being downgraded.

Meanwhile, Oraib Rantawi, director of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman, said the reshuffle raised eyebrows.

“I think the time has come, as the nation’s centenary approaches, to reconsider the way governments are formed in Jordan … otherwise Jordan will remain the world record holder for the number of former ministers,” he was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies