Jordan expands powers of anti-corruption agency

Kingdom also announces wider effort to collect taxes and catch tax evaders

A picture taken on April 27, 2020, shows the Jordanian flying waving in the wind over the capital Amman, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.  / AFP / Khalil MAZRAAWI

Jordan's government unveiled strengthened legal measures on Sunday to fight corruption and announced an expansion of efforts to collect taxes and prevent evasion.

Amendments introduced to the 2020 Integrity and Anti Corruption Commission Law will grant the anti-corruption body greater autonomy and legal backing to investigate a wider scope of potential crimes, the government announced at a press conference.

Key amendments include giving the Jordanian Integrity and Anti Corruption Commission (JIACC) greater financial and administrative independence from the government and empowers it to pursue corruption cases through the judiciary under recently passed Economic Crimes Law.

Under the changes, which will be forwarded to parliament for approval, the JIACC is granted the right to independently investigate suspected money laundering, tax evasion, the improper exchange of “favours”, as well as the right to “settle” with individuals and groups who return embezzled funds.

The amendments also give the commission greater legal backing and tools to investigate political corruption, including bribes, improper gifts and quid pro quos.

A particular focus was laying down the legal framework to investigate and expose abuse of public office or abuse of influence for personal gain or that of others.

“This definition of abuse of influence is the use of public office to provide a job, a service, contract, supply bid, or any decision or advantage that is not deserved,” Jordan's Minister of Media Amjad Adaileh said.

The amendments allow the commission to monitor and follow up on sudden, questionable gains of wealth or assets of officials, private individuals and groups.

The government also said it was expanding tax collection services and inspections and raids to detect tax evaders.

Finance Minister Mohammad Al Ississ said the goal was to increase government revenue and tackle its widening deficit while not imposing new taxes or raising taxes on average citizens.

“Jordan’s path is through tackling tax evasion, not raising taxes on middle-income citizens,” Mr Al Ississ said.

He said the increasingly used practice of raiding suspected tax evaders was a “last resort” for government agencies.

After repeatedly raising income tax and removing personal tax exemptions in 2019 and 2020, the government has recently focused on the collection of income tax from corporations.

A 2018 study revealed at least 132,000 companies across Jordan engage in some form of tax evasion, which cost government coffers an estimated $100 million to $200 million or more per year.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic affected the economy, Jordan was set for a $1.2 billion budget deficit and struggled to eliminate public spending, with national debt standing at 96 per cent of its GDP.


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