'Tax_Reform_in_Jordan' Hashtag…Government Alert, Media Neglect

Osama Rawajfeh

AKEED -- A video showing Husam Abu Ali, general manager of the Income and Sales Tax Department (ISTD), speaking about tax evasion has become the government's springboard through its platform, Prime Ministry-Jordan page on Facebook, on 30 April to promote amendments to the Income Tax Law under the hashtag #tax_reform_in_Jordan.

The government of Dr. Hani Mulki is trying to promote its actions through its social platform, which was previously confined to government news and activities. This especially applies to the decisions it adopted at the beginning of 2018. The government paved the way for these decisions through the hashtag (#your_right_to_know), which AKEED had previously analyzed.

The government is cloning its experience through a new campaign on its social platform to mobilize public opinion and reduce popular and civil society opposition to the amended Tax Law, which cuts individual and family exemptions and raises tax on banks and companies.

According to AKEED monitoring, the government published 29 items in the media between 30 April and 27 May under this hashtag (#tax_reform_in_Jordan) and 9 items that had both hashtags (#tax_reform_in_Jordan) and (#Jordan_advances). These items indirectly spoke about tax and primarily promoted educational and health achievements in Jordan. The items that had the tax reform hashtag included 12 videos and 14 graphics, while the items under the two hashtags combined included 2 videos and 7 graphics. Three items included written content and pictures.

The government content on the Prime Ministry account on Facebook on 7 May had 12 posts, accounting for 41.37% of the tax reform hashtag. At the end of the day, this culminated in the Cabinet approving the reasons for the amended Tax Law and referring it to the Legislation and Opinion Bureau to proceed with constitutional measures to approve it.  

The content of the 12 posts spoke about the new law in terms of tightening penalties against tax evasion, setting up a department for financial investigations, and comparing tax rates in Jordan and other countries in the region. The content also discussed tax exemptions for individuals, households, and companies, while trying to justify the step by saying that "it will not affect a large segment of the population."

The government published 14 posts, accounting for 48.27% of the hashtag, through its tax reform hashtag in the period between its approval of the reasons on 7 May and until the Cabinet approved the draft law amending Income Tax Law No. 34 of 2014 and referred it to the Lower House of Parliament on Monday, 21 May.

After the approval of the law, the government is trying, through its hashtags (tax reform and Jordan advances) to publish items that promote the idea of using tax revenues to primarily develop the educational and health sectors. However, this has not reduced the broad opposition to the law after its referral to the Lower House of Parliament, which is waiting for a royal decree to list it as part of the topics of an extraordinary session that is expected to be held after the month of Ramadan.

According to the amended law, taxable income for households has been reduced from 24,000 dinars to 16,000 dinars and for individuals from 12,000 dinars to 8,000 dinars, while canceling additional exemptions granted per family, estimated at 4,000 dinars for hospital and education bills.

The amended law divides the income of taxpayers into five categories. The value of each category is 5,000 dinars at a tax rate of 5%-25% of the income that exceeds the exempted income. The current law had three categories for individuals, with a tax rate of 7% for the first 10,000 dinars, 14% for the second 10,000 dinars, and 20% for any amount beyond this.

The AKEED monitoring shows that Jordanian media outlets did not interact with the content published by the government on the anticipated tax amendments. These outlets did not share the government items on their own pages. They merely check what the government is promoting, while being careful not to promote any justification for the new law.

Most popular interactions through social media platforms with the content published through the government hashtag #tax_reform_in_Jordan were confined to criticizing government justifications for issuing the amended law through mostly negative posts and comments on these items. Meanwhile, some people considered this a way to poke fun at the justifications advanced by the government.

Awni Dawud, assistant chief editor of Al Dustour daily for economic affairs, said that "the Prime Ministry page on Facebook is not a source of information for journalists. They check it just to know what is on it, but they do not promote what is posted there unless it has a balanced and objective news value." He adds: "I do not look at it. I have never heard fellow journalists talking about it."

He told AKEED: "When the government unilaterally promotes what it wants to do, the method has no influence, whether it is television, newspapers, or social media platforms. These means should provide room for government-institutional-public dialogue on the new tax law, and not a way to promote justifications that will not influence anyone."

Fayiq Hjazeen, a journalist specialized in economic affairs, said that "the current government has set up a department for media promotion. One of its arms is social media. We have repeatedly tried to communicate a message that the media content on the Prime Ministry page is inappropriate and that focus should be on justice in services."

He told AKEED that "promoting spending on education, for example, does not add anything new and does not justify the government resorting to imposing new taxes on citizens because spending on this sector in Jordan is equivalent to spending in some European countries, but regrettably there has been no development in the efficiency of the sector."

He added: "I do not consider the government page a source. Therefore, I see that any hashtag launched by the government will not influence public opinion. It has not succeeded in communicating its message because it is perfectly aware that such media content to justify the new tax law is unrealistic and that such a law is hard to pass the way it wants" amid popular and union protests, which culminated in the professional associations asking all members to stage a strike on Wednesday, 30 May 2018.

Ra'fat Ashqar, chief editor of Garaa News, one of 253,000 people who liked the page, which also has 257,000 followers, says: "I truly like this page. I use it to publish the latest claim or joke advanced by the government to justify its decisions, including the Income Tax Law." He said that following it is "just to stay informed as a journalist, and not because I am convinced of it."

He adds: "I really use this page to criticize the government by looking at the intentions or decisions it declares, specifically in relation to the Income Tax Law, which has broad popular opposition. No media message, through any means or on social media platforms, will change this opposition."