The limits of devolution

Yet the delegation of local authority is narrowly drawn and three elements of the statute suggest a weaker role than government representatives claim. While these councils can draft proposals for capital spending, control of both security and civilian ministries (such as education and health) remain in Amman.

The budgets and proposals are further required to be ″within the parameters set by the Ministry of Finance′s Budget Division″. Also, not only is a portion of the council appointed, but the executive council is entirely appointed – the governor, deputy governor, district officials, heads of each ministry′s local executive offices, plus three municipal executive directors appointed by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. The law also does not give councils authority to raise revenue, such as through taxation or fees, making them dependent on the central government.

The Municipalities Law, which oversees both municipal councils and ″local councils″ for areas smaller than a municipality, delegates similar limited legislative powers to local authorities as in the Decentralisation Law. One key feature is that Article 3, governing the Amman Secretariat, grants the cabinet the right to appoint the mayor (or more literally, ″secretary general″) of Amman and 25 percent of council members, the other 75 percent of whom are elected. While this law did not detail the distribution of council seats within each province, the cabinet issued a ten-page listing of all local and municipal districts in February 2017.

Little more than local advisory councils

Aside from limitations imposed by formal legal provisions, two additional factors may help explain the lack of popular enthusiasm for the ″decentralisation elections″. First, local authorities′ powers are based on a delegation of parliamentary powers, which are themselves quite limited. Parliament does not have the power to initiate legislation, which is solely the right of cabinet and any amendments it makes can be reversed by the senate, which is entirely appointed by the monarch. The 2017 budget, for example, passed into law in precisely the same form as the government presented to parliament. Thus the ″powers″ delegated to local officials may make them little more than local advisory councils.

In addition, provincial and local councils lack financial independence. That they cannot levy taxes deprives them of the real financial power necessary for political legitimacy. Furthermore, the national budget′s total operating expenses modestly exceeded total government revenues in 2017, meaning the state′s ability to engage in any capital spending at all depends on either foreign aid or foreign-guaranteed loans.

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