Public fury in Jordan following claims of privatizing its only sea port

Aqaba Sea Port

By Iqbal Tamimi

Voices of criticism were raised in the
Jordanian political and national circles, demanding an explanation for
privatizing the only sea port in Jordan.

The Jordanian cyber sphere reflected
calls by citizens demanding an explanation from the government regarding its
decision to sell 3200 acres of Aqaba port to Almaabar, an Emirati owned company,
at the ridiculous price of 500 million Jordanian Dinars (£437 million), even
though the market value of the land is more than 4 billion JD (£3.5 billion).

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At a strategic location between the
continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa, the Port of Aqaba plays a vital role in
Jordan’s economy. According to World Port Source, it is the country’s only
seaport, handling 78% of Jordan’s exports and 65% of its imports.

Popular protests in Jordan reached their peak
last Friday, under the slogan “The Friday of recovering the port of
Aqaba,” where Jordanians called for the nationalization of the port, reclaiming
the container’s port to the assets of the state, demanding an investigation and
opening all other similar files of corruption executed under claims of
privatization.

The Parliamentary Commission Inquiry visited
Aqaba lately and raised important questions regarding the feasibility of the privatization
process and its consequences, such as the costs of relocating the railway lines
which transfer the phosphates to the southern region, estimated to cost over
two billion Jordanian Dinars. In addition to other new costs the Jordanian
government will be forced to pay in fees to the Emirate Company of ‘Almaabar’ as
soon as the port is handed over to the UAE investors in 2013, in return of
using some services.

Among the Jordanians unanswered questions; is
the government going to provide over 500 megawatts of the electricity needed for
the UAE company, while the cost of delivering one megawatt is one million
dollars, and whether the Jordanian treasury is going to provide the UAE company,
‘Almaabar,’ with the needed $ 500 million worth of electricity free of charge, when
the cost for creating the infrastructure has already been paid from the tax
payers money.

Some Jordanian officials justified privatizing the port by claiming
it will provide thousands of jobs to the unemployed, since the investments
hoped for are estimated to reach 10 billion JD claimed to transform Aqaba city
to an international tourism magnet. Unfortunately, those same claims were used
in 2003 to justify creating the Aqaba Free Zone, and the 1994 decision to open the
Wadi Araba Crossing, connecting the Israeli
resort of Eilat with the Jordanian city of Aqaba. Both of which failed to meet
the official’s promises and local people’s expectations regarding improving their
local businesses, income, living standards, boosting employment rates or promises
regarding improving the economy.

Other experts believe that the privatization
and selling the port’s facilities is a bad strategy that will lead to a
catastrophic economic  outcome,
especially considering the hidden financial costs that will be incurred by the
Treasury, including the costs of relocating 
the remaining part of the port to the southern region, which is estimated
to cost more than $300 million, in addition to other complications related to
area sovereignty, services and marine Guidance duties assigned to a private
company, not to mention the loss of state beaches and the containers’ port which
generates millions of dollars in revenues.

.Part of Aqaba Sea Port

 The
national opposition is believed to be an important factor that will determine the
outcome regarding nationalizing the remaining state institutions expected to be
privatized under different claims of rescuing the economy.

Almaabar, UAE Company, has already been
working on the first stage of building Marsa Zayed, a 3.2 million sqm project
on the Aqaba coast, estimated to be complete by 2014. It is claimed to be the
biggest real estate and tourism project to take place in the history of Jordan.
It will include high-rise residential towers, retail, recreational,
entertainment, business and financial districts and several branded hotels, and
marinas, which are claimed to transform Aqaba into a premier yachting
destination, in addition to a state-of-the-art cruise ship terminal.

The privatization of Aqaba port has started
almost a decade ago. The champions of the claimed economic reform were three men;
Imad Fakhoury, Nader alDahabi, and Ali Abu Al-Ragheb, all of whom, Jordanians are
demanding investigating and trying them for corruption.

Fakhoury, A Harvard alumnus engineer who appeared
out of the blue as a chairman of the Aqaba Development Corporation, the central
development arm of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, charged with
implementing the 2001–20 master plans for Aqaba region, has pushed during the
mid-2003 for a public-private partnership to run the port, arguing that this
would be “strategically very important to Jordan, its economy, and its
in-transit trade.”

Jordanian News Agency, Rum, has published an
article by Dr. Hossam Abdallat entitled ‘Who can open Imad Fakhoury’s files
…?’ in which he questions the fast steps of Fakhoury’s progression on the
career ladder. Fakhoury who had nothing to do with diplomacy, was appointed
after graduation from USA at the Embassy of Jordan in Israel, then he was
chosen to become the Commissioner of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone and
progressed very fast, until he became the Director of the Office of the King of
Jordan, and in charge of the country’s economy, a post too big for his age and
experience.

Dr. Abdallat claims the first chapter of
Fakhoury’s corruption files which must be investigated, goes back to when he
was the Commissioner of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone, during  which he leased a (22,680 square meters) of
Aqaba shores, which was part of the plot number (707) at the Yemenia costal
area, marked as panel (9) of Aqaba shores, to a company investing in tourism
called Branis, through its representative and Chairman of the Board of
Directors, Bashar Eid Zawaida, for a period of (25) years at a rent value of 10
Jordanian dinars almost(£9) a year, which does not buy a cup of coffee in a
decent resort. The Jordanian online news website published a scanned copy of
the contract in question.

Aqaba MP, Ahmed Hararah, has criticized the
lease, and according to Jordanian media he considered this lease a form of
corruption, since in reality, the lease of such land worth millions. Dr
Abdallat accused the MP of not fulfilling his national duties by not mentioning
the name of Imad Fakhoury explicitly as the godfather of this deal. Dr Abdallat
claims that MP Hararah might have been reluctant to shame Mr Fakhoury openly
because of Fakhoury’s connections as the Director for the Office of the King. Dr
Abdallat called upon the Aqaba MP to practice his legal powers and demand an
interrogation of Fakhoury and to interrogate members of his family about some
encroachments
they were involved in
while he
was working as a Commissioner at the Investment authority of Aqaba Special
Economic Zone.A scanned copy of payment made to non existing media company

The second champion of the privatization plan
is Nader al-Dahabi, who used to be the chief commissioner of the Aqaba Special
Economic Zone Authority from 2004–07, who supported Fakhory’s plan, and now
accused of corruption.

On 21 March 2012, the Jordanian ‘Jfra News’
website published an article and a scanned copy showing that Nader al-Dahabi
has made a transfer of over one million Jordanian Dinars to a non-existing media
company. The Jfra News claims his secretary, Aida, has executed the transfer
herself. The (internal electronic memorandum) document scanned and published, shows
that it was issued by Omar Rousan, and dated on 31 August 2008, and was addressed
to the Director of the Finances of the Aqaba Authority, demanding of him to pay
the claim for 1,036,560 Jordanian Dinars (almost one million sterling pounds),
in return of a claimed media promotional campaign’s costs, carrying the slogan (Let’s
sow the gold on the sand).

The electronic memorandum in question was
received by the Director of Financing himself, who issued the payment order.
Jfra News claims this is only one example of many monthly payments orders
issued by him and paid by the Aqaba Authority Directorate to this claimed
monopolizing company, that according to the records of the Ministry of Industry
and Trade of Jordan, it does not exist.

Some personalities close to Aida, the
secretary of the former Director Nader al-Dahabi, said that this company is
owned by his son, who signed a monopolizing agreement that led to the collapse
of local advertising and calligraphy businesses in Aqaba since it prevented
them from exercising their legitimate right to sell billboards to the merchants
of Aqaba.

Jfra News claims, there were over 30 million
pounds worth of payments issued, claimed as expenses for promotional campaigns
on television channels  that no one has
ever heard of, such as a claimed television satellite called ‘Fashion’. It has
been revealed that the person who executed those agreements with the son of
al-Dahabi was the ex-Director of al-Dahabi’s Office.

The third partner who pushed for the
privatization was Ali Abu Al-Ragheb, twice minister of trade and industry
(1991–93 and 1995) and prime minister of Jordan (2000-2003), who oversaw a
series of laws, among them the Privatization Law 25/2000, which allowed port
ownership to be transferred to a neutral party (the Aqaba Development
Corporation).

Abu Al-Ragheb was accused of corruption as
well. Former TV journalist Toujan al-Faisal, a human rights activist, who was
Jordan’s first female Member of Parliament, published an open letter addressed
to King Abullah II on the website of the Houston-based newspaper Arab Times,
accusing Prime Minister Abu Al-Ragheb of corruption. She claimed that the
doubling of the cost of government-mandated automobile insurance implemented was
intended to benefit the major insurance companies in Jordan, several of which
were owned or partly owned by the Prime Minister himself. Ten days later she
was arrested. she was convicted by the State Security Court on charges of
“tarnishing the Jordanian state”, defamation of the judiciary,
“uttering words” before another deemed to be “detrimental to his
religious feeling”, “publishing and broadcasting false information
abroad which could be detrimental to the reputation of the state”, and
inciting “disturbances and killings.” She was sentenced to 18 months
imprisonment, the maximum sentence allowed on such charges.

 

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