By conservative reckoning, I estimate that the government has given away about 200 million dinars worth of free land to the investor who wanted to build the casino on the Dead Sea, just so that he doesn’t build the casino. Everybody has been led to believe that this is some great achievement. I mean, can a price tag be put on virtue?Other land is busily being disposed of, but at a cash price. Aside for the no-casino give away, there are three massive real estate transactions on the table.In Aqaba, the main port area has been sold to investors from the UAE. The plan is to move the port to the southern part of the coast, and free up the land in the north for high end tourism projects. There has been a plan to do this for a while, with environmentalists have been worrying about how this will damage the fragile coral reefs in the proposed new port site. Jamil Nimri has been privy to “inside source”, who assured him that it is a fair deal.Rumors have been going on that there is a plan to sell the area of the King Hussein Medical Center, along with the newly built and still unoccupied army headquarters and possibly the General Intelligence Department building, also to UAE investors. The original rumors said that 4 billion dollars will be paid for the area. More recent reports cut the amount to two million. New army headquarters and a new medical center are planned to be built in Madouna, in the eastern desert. Nimri again reports that the PM has defended the sale. The medical center buildings are old, and why keep land that can be sold to build much needed office space? This argument may make sense, although I was always under the impression that hospitals should be easily accessible. The PM is now saying there is no land sale. We will see.The third project is the most controversial. The mayor of Amman is planning on building a complex for governmental offices (which is not the responsibility of the Amman municipality). The developer is Najeeb Miqati, the former Lebanese prime minister. The complex is to cost 1.4 billion dinars, and will be rented to the government. The project is a financial loss for the government. Renting the complex will cost about 140 million dinars a year, while currently the government pays only 11 million dinars per year for renting buildings all across the country. It is not unusual for Nahid Hattar to oppose such a project, but you know that there is a problem when Fahed el Fanek opposes it. Reports suggest that the government has not signed on to the scheme, and the PM is sending signals that he was not consulted and has not committed to moving government departments in rented buildings to the new complex. Of course, given the way that decisions are made (in closed rooms, away from public scrutiny), we will only find out when the
dictator mayor of Amman makes his decision. Whatever the PM thinks, the municipality is going ahead with the land confiscation for the project. Maybe the PM doesn’t know that the decision has already been made.The government says it is trimming down, as if the problem is with the real estate that it owns. I would like to see the government spending cut back and rationalized. With all this extra cash floating around, I think that this is a remote possibility, so say the least. We can only hope that a fraction of it will be spent on something useful.