1:48pm , Tuesday 19th January 2021

Royal Dream for Ma'an Development Dashed

14 May 2013

Maan, Jordan (Al-Ghad) –King Abdullah II launched the Ma’an Development Area on September 9, 2007 to turn the impoverished desert area into a hub for economic, social and scientific development to help combat poverty and unemployment.

Days later, the King met with academic, civil and official representatives from the Ma’an governorate and instructed them to come up with a road map with clear timelines to implement plans to meet the goals of the upcoming scheme..

In April 2008 the Ma’an Development Company (MDC), a private enterprise tasked with setting up the comprehensive development scheme was born out of a partnership between the Southern Company for Construction and Development (SCCD), the Jordan Industrial Estate Corporation (JIEC) and Al-Hussein Bin Talal University.

The company would focus on four aspects to realise the Ma’an Development Area including  promoting it to investors and providing accounting and administrative services to follow up on investments and projects.

According to statements published on the website of His Majesty King Abdullah 11 when the project was launched, the cost of infrastructure works for the four main axes of the MDA development amounts to 150 million Jordanian dinars ($200 million dollars).

Ma’an Development Company CEO, Dr. Maher Madadha, and MDC Business Planning & Development Director, Dr. Mamoun Fanek, told this reporter that the money was never released beyond the studies that were conducted at the launch of the MDA. They both said that the amounts spent were very small when compared to the amounts listed in the study.

The same statement goes on to state that the initial phase, which involves infrastructure, will provide 7,000 job opportunities in the initial phase and up to 20,000 jobs by 2025.

Five years after launching MDA, the reality on the ground shows randomness of planning, poor follow up by official institutions and worse yet, putting the cart before the horse when executing a project.

Hence, plans for a Skills Development Centre that was meant to train 3,000 students every year for different sectors have evaporated. A series of field visits by this reporter and the examination of a group of documents and official papers have shown how poor planning and monitoring by the Development & Free Zones Commission (the umbrella organisation for economic development zones in the country, including MDA) has prevented the translation of the Royal directives into realities on the ground.

The four interlinked axes of the Ma’an Development Area are: a Skills Development Centre, an Industrial Park, a Hajj Oasis and a Residential Community.

This reporter has found that all investments there have thus far provided 86 job opportunities for the citizens of Ma’an in comparison to the promised 2,600 job opportunities.  That would have covered half the unemployed in the governorate which has the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the country. Governmental labour and investment institutions remain unable to confirm labour rights for the people of the governorate.

Dr. Maher Madadha, the CEO of the Ma’an Development Company who succeeded Mohammed Turk in 2010, assures the author of this report that 27 million Jordanian dinars, including a JD 12 million Royal grant, has been invested in the MDA. They funds were used to build dormitories for female students at the only university there, JD 4 million to extend water and electricity to the Industrial Park. He added that the Jordan Industrial Estate Corporation (JIEC) contributed 32 hangars and some buildings for a cost of JD 27 million. And the Al-Hussein Bin Talal University donated 1000 ‘dunums’ (1 million square metres) to develop a residential community.

But on the ground, nothing much has changed. The once hopeful residents of Maan remain disappointed.  The Skills Development Centre has yet to see the light of day. The Industrial Park – its infrastructure in place to attract investors and manufacturers – has failed to achieve its objectives. A few “Ma’anis” work in the Park, not to mention that some of its factories have been closed down. The construction of the infrastructure for the Hajj Oasis started in mid-2011 instead of 2008 as scheduled.

Under the fourth axis of the city’s master plan, a Residential Community should have been set up to provide housing for families of 15,000 workers employed in all new projects. The plan was to have a “a complementary environment providing comfort and a modern lifestyle for the employees encompassing a variety of facilities from villas to restaurants, schools, public parks and sports venues”.

The 3D images in the MDA booklet look incredible but they have yet to be implemented.

These images show thousands of labourers in the various industries, but as one walks through the empty yards of the park, the rosy picture turns grim.

According to MDA records, the 50 hangars should house 26 “standing investments” worth JD82 million ($117 million dollars). However, a visit by this reporter to the Industrial Park shows there are eight working factories instead of the declared 13, while three have floundering due to financial problems, one has come to a total halt and 9 others are under construction.

The following table clarifies the number of active factories in the Park according to the field visits:

Untitled

The Head of the Industrial Park, Hani Al Khatatbeh, acknowledged that there are only eight factories operating. He justified the inflated number that appear on the Park’s records by stating that there are floundering companies or unsustainable contractors who implemented their projects and subsequently left the zone.  Khatatbeh confirms that investments in the standing factories stand at over JD39 million ($55 million dollars), while a MDA official document, a copy of which is attached, indicates that the gross value of investments amounts to JD55 million ($78 million dollars). The Investment value includes the value of the land, the hangars and all services, together with expenses shouldered by investors.

A review of the contracts signed with investors between 2008 and 2009 indicate that the projects should provide 2,600 job opportunities for the residents of Ma’an.   The Ma’an Development Company – the investment arm of MDA – expects it to provide 8000 job opportunities by 2017 and up to 20,000 by 2025.

But MDA data states that the Park “has thus far provided a total of 124 job opportunities, 102 of them for residents of Ma’an”.  Field visits to the Park and the records of the Labour Directorate of the Governorate of Ma’anindicate that the Park has only hired 86 men and women, 39 of them from the local community, 23 from other governorates and 24 foreign workers.

Ma’an Development Company CEO Dr. Maher Madadha explains the inconsistency in the statistics by saying: “Employment figures in standing investments in the Industrial sector fluctuate, rising or falling within a period of two months so the figures are not reliable”.

The Head of the Ma’an Chamber of Commerce and Industry Abdullah Salah says: “The average Ma’ani citizen has neither seen any real change nor any qualitative shift as far as new job opportunities or youth employment are concerned”.  He confirms that creating jobs for the local community has not risen to match the figures of 2,500-3,000 that were stated in the promotional materials of the zone.

The Head of the Center for Studies, Consultations and Community Development at the Al-Hussein Bin Talal University, Dr. Basem Twissi, says the “MDC has failed to understand the mechanism of manpower training. They did not build wide consultation networks with the different sectors outside the boundaries of the Industrial Park. They could have trained thousands of the region’s residents and supplied the job market with the needed manpower especially in the big projects that the region witnessed over the past five years”.

Amal, 30, a mother of two, is married to a public sector driver whose monthly salary is JD300 — 150 of which goes for house rent.  Amal has been waiting for three years to work in one of the Park’s factories to help her husband provide for the family.

In 2010, Amal and another 21 girls received training in assembling electricity meters at the Skills Development Center, in collaboration with the MDC. The goal – according to Amal – was to “train the women to work in the Jordanian British Meters factory (JBM) in the Industrial Park”.

Amal and seven of her colleagues were chosen to work in the factory having excelled in the training course.

Engineer Ahmad Al Amrat, their training supervisor, confirmed that 16 women succeeded in the training program and 14 of them are actually qualified to work on the assembly lines.

The happiness of the female workers died quickly. Amal and her colleagues were fired before they signed the contract.

The conditions imposed by the factory owner on Amal and her colleagues were harsh: 10 hours of work a day, five days a week without health insurance, social security, transportation expenses, incentives or vacations. Amal adds that “the factory owner’s goal was to hire us for only two months and then discharge us before we signed the contract in order to avoid the additional costs of social security and health insurance mandated by labor laws after that time”.

Amal and her colleagues filed a complaint with the Ma’an Labor office. Arwa Al Rafaya’a, head of the Labor Inspection Department confirmed that “after they filed a complaint with the office, we imposed a fine on the factory for unjust dismissal but this is the maximum we can do”.

Engineer Hani Al Khatatbeh, the director of the Industrial Park which is the organisation charged with monitoring the factories inside the Park, confirms that the women were trained for four months for a monthly salary of JD100 ($141 dollars) with no commitment to employ them.  Amal confirms that the contract stipulated training, without a commitment to hire, but that her salary and that of her colleagues did not exceed 50 Jordanian dinars (70 dollars) for two months of work.

This reporter was not able to get a response from the employer who lives outside the Ma’an Governorate. However, the engineer supervising the factory, Wala’ Al Madani, confirmed that “the factory does not need this large number of workers and did not sign an employment contract with them.  They were only in for a training period”.

S.K, 26, worked at the Golden Arrow for Fertilizers Company between October 2011 and end May 2012. During that period, she remained without a defined job description, carrying out secretarial duties and taking care of supplies and finance, all for a monthly salary of JD250 ($350 dollars).

A 2007 graduate in Office Management from the Al-Hussein Bin Talal University says, “ I used to work five days a week, 8 am to 4 pm, while some employees worked longer than 10 hours a day without being paid overtime. Over the year I worked there, I did not receive any other employment rights whether social security, health insurance, vacations or overtime – which was the same for other colleagues – until I got tired of it all and resigned.

With that, both women joined the ranks of the unemployed which stand at 18,000 in this southern governorate, equal to 15.7% of its inhabitants according to the 2011 figures of the Department of Statistics.

Ibrahim Al Huwarin, an expert in the economics of development sees that “the main goal of the companies in the Economic Development Areas is to improve the living standards of the inhabitants of less developed areas, and this applies to the MDC.  This goal can be achieved by attracting more investment projects that are able to bring positive change and impact the lives of people in the area”.  He then adds, “The projects which the MDC brought in did not have any visible impact on economic activity in the region, which continues to revolve around an income based economy which is unsustainable, costing the treasury a lot but without return.

In the heart of Ma’an, north of the Industrial Park lies a Skills Development Centre spanning an area of 50,000 square metres and, according to its promotional brochures, provides 3000 students with practical and theoretical training as well as dormitory facilities.

But three year after the launching of this site, the only visible thing is a sign bearing the name of the project.

The delay in getting this centre off the ground made it all the more difficult to employ the city’s inhabitants in the factories’ of the Industrial Park. These workers remain unqualified and untrained.

The on site manager at Al-Nukhba for Fertilizers and Veterinary Industries Company factory (NUVAC), Abdullah Al Jalousi, complains that the “workers from the area have such low levels of qualifications and training that he has to continuously fire them”.

This is confirmed by the Head of Investment at the Industrial Park, Nancy Al-Shabtat, who states that “most job-seekers from Ma’an are unqualified and we are very often surprised by the lack of experience of those we send to work in the different factories”.

According to the MDC’s plans, the Skills Development Centre should prepare “labourers in the Ma’an Development Area with the best training, the highest qualifications and professionalism”.

Madadha, however, justifies the procrastination in setting up the Skills Centre by saying, “from a purely economic point of view, it is not logical to build a Skills Centre when there is no need for developing skills in large numbers of people when there is no demand for workers at the factories in the Industrial Park”.

By contrast, Dr. Basem Twissi sees that developing human capital lies at the core of local development.  He points out that the development vision for Ma’an “involved the establishment of a specialised centre for technical and skills training, to supply the production sectors with the required competences”.

According to the master plan, the Hajj Oasis spreads over 200,000 square meters and includes “hotels and tents, parking lots, a mosque, restaurants and commercial shops specialised in Hajj and Umrah necessities”.   The Oasis, however, has yet to see the light of day.  Work on the infrastructure started in September 2011 and is expected to end in September 2012 at an estimated cost of  JD4 million.

Madadha says, “the Hajj Oasis project should have been undertaken by the private sector but after evaluating the project, it was concluded that it was not economically feasible because Hajj is a seasonal event and the profits are not high enough to create surplus”.

The number of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims is estimated at half a million every year but it is not easy to oblige pilgrims to stop at the Oasis”.

Not too far from the Al-Hussein Bin Talal University, sits the Residential Community amidst 4000 housing units, divided between villas, semi villas, apartments and student dormitories with latest state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities ranging from schools, mosques, health care centres and commercial venues as well as vast green parks to accommodate 15,000 people.

The description found in the MDA brochures seems ideal. On the ground it remains ink on paper.

The only product of this “ambitious” project is a student dormitory for women which takes up to 1,500 students, at a cost of JD14 million ($20 million dollars). The idea was to establish a variety of dormitories for 3000 students by the start of 2009-2010 academic year.

Madadha explains why there was a delay in delivering the women’s dormitories saying, “the project planners were rushed and they exaggerated the timeframe for the evaluation and construction of the building.  This is a problem of expectations”.

He also justifies the delay due to “the lack of big investments so far as it is built on the needs of the workers in the Development Area”.

The ex-mayor of Ma’an, Khaled Al Shammari, sees that “the student dormitory for women – which is considered to be the core of the Residential Community for the MDC, lacks proper development planning. The project imitates others which are owned by the city’s inhabitants but the MDC should not be competing with local private investments. It should instead come up with new projects, especially that the cost of construction is very high.

Dr. Basem Twissi sees that the MDA achievements “fall short of the local community’s expectation and that a look at the four axes of the project and at the media campaigns that followed shows clearly that the level of achievement is disappointing because most of the projects never took off and are no more than ink on paper”.

Twissi refers this to “a miscalculation by the institutions involved in the project of the development and economic opportunities on one hand and the economic situation in the country on the other”.  He continues, “We noticed that MDA was managed commercially and in terms of public relations at the expense of seeking economic and developmental opportunities”.

The MDA project covers a period of 25 years, says Madadha, stressing that “the goals of the developmental zones are based on long-term, not short-term needs”. This does not concur with the report issued by the Centre for Strategic Studiesin 2008 which indicated that the time span needed to complete the infrastructure works for the project is 10 years.

Both the Head of the Ma’an Chamber of Commerce and Industry Abdullah Salah and the former mayorof the Ma’an Greater Municipality, Khaled Al Shammari, deny that there was ever such a time limit stated when MDA announced its four axes.

Al Shammari believes that the MDC dealt “a big blow to the residents of Ma’an. With all the media hype that preceded it the people of Ma’an soon saw their high hopes dashed…their situation did not improve, as before”.

As for Abdullah Salah, he says that the MDC “did not fully understand that the development process is complicated and often is at conflict with the vision of its employees who could only see illustrations on paper.  They produced oversized signs and advertising campaigns but left the projects without content.  In addition, the state did not realise that these kinds of projects require in-depth assessment of the economic situation, the nature and amount of resources available, and provision of thepreliminary and basic requirements for the work to commence, the principal capital accumulation levels and the actual cultural, social and political standards of the people of Ma’an”.

This investigation was supported by ARIJ Network and coached by Imad Al Rawashdeh


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