Local Government History
Historically, as a result of low and limited Jordanian government revenues, a centralized decision-making process has controlled the distribution of allocations, leaving local governments relatively weak. Local government expenditures comprise 6% of total government expenditures for the nation (the expenditure decentralization ratio). The fifth national development plan (1986-1990) responded to declining money flows from grants and workers’ remittances by decentralizing government to increase civic participation and diversify revenues. Nevertheless, the Jordanian government remains one of the most centralized in the Arab region.
The Jordanian government includes three levels of sub-national government under the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Environment (MMRAE). These are the local councils, which include 214 municipal councils (population at least 2,500 people); 142 village councils of 2,000 people; and 170 councils with shared services. There are twelve governorates that act as regional planning agencies. The governorates (muhafazat, singular - muhafazah) are: Ajlun, Al 'Aqabah, Al Balqa', Al Karak, Al Mafraq, 'Amman, At-Tafilah, Az-Zarqa', Irbid, Jarash, Ma'an, Madaba.
Local Government Budgetary Reform
Councils have three sources of financing: the government, independent sources and the Cities and Villages Development Bank (CVDB). Government sources include fuel revenues, fees for traffic violations, customs duties, transportation fees and property taxes. Taxes are collected and allocated by the central government to the local governments according to population, location and necessity. Independent sources are limited and include employment and building licenses as well as taxes on small stores and vegetable markets.
Municipalities in Jordan rely upon the national government for most revenues. All municipal budgets must be sent to the MMRAE for approval, leaving little room for tailoring the budget to local needs. Around 40% of local revenues come from fund transfers from the central government. Municipalities also borrow funds from the CVDB for roughly 14% of their expenditures, but Jordan’s municipalities retain a limited role in the provision of public services. Many of the services provided by municipalities in other countries are the providence of the national government in Jordan.
As part of Jordan’s efforts to meet the International Monetary Fund’s Special Data Dissemination Standard, local and regional government budgets were being integrated into a more transparent general government budget in 2005.
Reform: Fiscal Decentralization
Since 1989, the Jordanian government has expressed its commitment to decentralization as an integral part of economic reforms, albeit without decentralizing government finances. Larger municipalities have been created so as to improve their administrative and economic capabilities. Other measures include developing an accounting system, clear model budgets and new municipal election laws. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has undertaken a project in Jordan to increase administrative efficiency and equitable services at the governorates level. The Civil Service Bylaw of 1998 is an initiative toward decentralization of government services and local-level human resource development. It transferred the central employment authority of the Civil Service Bureau to the governors in the districts. It provided the formation of personnel units in every district chaired by the governor with the membership of the deputy governor, representatives of the concerned agency, a legal counselor, and one of the directorate’s employees in the district. The role of the committee is to recruit and hire employees in the districts. The Ministries of Health and Education, with a workforce representing 87% of total civil service employment, have institutionalized the regional distribution of services and have delegated most of the ministers’ powers to the regional directors.
The most recent municipal elections in Jordan took place on July 31, 2007 in accordance with a new municipal election law that gives voters the right to elect the head of municipal council and one council member only. The new law allocated 20% of all municipal seats to women and lowered voters’ age from 19 to 18 years old. In contrast to the 2003 municipal law, the 2007 law allowed voters to elect all municipal councils, except in the case of Greater Amman Council whereby voters elected half the council members, while the Ministry of Municipal Affairs appointed the other half and the council’s president.
Of the 1.9 million eligible voters, 48% were women. There were 2325 candidates contesting 1022 municipal seats. They included 361 women who competed for the 211 municipal seats (20% of the total) reserved for women. Women achieved remarkable success: one of them, an engineer, was elected mayor of the southern town of Hassa. Four others won seats not reserved for women. Final results showed that opposition parties achieved some success, with some of the 39 candidates of the “Democratic Movement,” which includes 4 nationalist and leftist parties, winning municipal seats. The “Islamic Center Party,” which is in disagreement with the “Muslim Brothers” and close to the government, won the presidency of 4 municipal councils and membership of 5 other councils outside the capital, but four Islamist opposition candidates also won.
In 2003 the Municipal Law had been amended to allow the government to appoint half of the members in any city or village council while the other half was elected. In addition, the government appointed the head of every council. On July 2003, around 58 per cent of the 803,000 eligible voters cast their ballots to elect council members to half the seats in the country’s municipalities. Candidates in 17 municipalities ran unopposed. Among the 46 women contenders, only five won seats. But the government pledged to appoint a woman in each municipality where women candidates failed to win a seat.
Voter turn out was around 65% outside the capital in 2007, but the polls had to stay open an extra day in five districts of Amman to reach the required 50% in the city. The “Islamist Action Front Party”, the political arm of the “Muslim Brothers” movement, withdrew their 33 candidates 6 hours after the voting started and accused the government and security agencies of election fraud, of ordering military personnel to vote against their candidates and allowing them to vote several times each. Security agencies registered the occurrence of 45 violent collective and individual incidents among candidates’ supporters that involved using weapons, and destruction of public and private property.
Voter turnout in rural areas had been much higher that in the major cities in 2003. Where voter turnout was low, analysts pointed to a combination of public apathy and objection to the 2003 amendment to the Municipal Law, marked by a boycott on the part of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) in protest against the amended law. IAF Secretary General Hamzeh Mansour charged that the government had no faith in the electorate.