Efforts against waterpipe in Amman
His Excellency Akel E. Biltaji is currently working as Mayor of Amman in the Greater Amman Municipality. Also, he served in different capacities as being the Chief Commissioner for the newly declared Region of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority from 2001 – 2004. Akel Biltaji is known to be one of Jordan’s strongest public speakers especially on issues related to the country’s image, the holy sites and protection of heritage.
We all know about your great efforts in improving the Aqaba Special Economic Zone, so what are your plans regarding improving Amman City?
I am about to finish my 6th month in office and I have not realized that a city with three million, half the population of Jordan, can be so challenging yet exciting. It surpasses all my previous jobs; the mayoral job is totally different. I directly deal with people’s lives and any small improvement can make a difference. I am yet to learn a lot though. As Chief Commissioner of Aqaba for three years, I was totally involved with the welfare of its people, but the capital is more challenging.
Humanizing the city is the key role in my mission and my aim is to have “Amman clean and green.” I’m on a five pillar program: the first is the environment and bringing the city up-to-date in garbage collection, rodent control and all aspects of health. The second is in traffic and public work. The third is the planning and zoning and the integration of licensing professions, the kind of uniformity that would not obstruct the fluidity of Amman’s presence and try to make the city investment-friendly and a one-stop shop for all aspects of investment. The fourth aspect is the culture, arts and CSR and the fifth would be maintaining the identity of the city of Amman.
What are your specific plans regarding emphasizing the tobacco control issue in Jordan?
This comes in collaboration with the Ministry of Health; we will be enforcing the law along with the implementation of a large scale awareness and communication campaign, furthermore GAM is ready to help the owners of these shops to find an alternative profession and facilitate their licensing in addition to helping them rehabilitating the existing workers and staff in the most proper way.
Prohibiting Argileh licensing for cafes is one of your greatest achievements, but what motivated you to do that?
It’s not my achievement. I am implementing the law which already existed after receiving a letter from H.E. the Minister of Health saying “smoking has become an epidemic among young people, especially the abuse of Argileh in coffee shops and restaurants, which has become a phenomenon that threatens the health of the citizens and affect the international status of Jordan.”
Jordan ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) with the World Health Organization and the Public Health Law No. 47/2008 Article 57 stipulates that we should prohibit the practice of any profession affecting the health sector.
What are the goals behind this decision?
Our first goal is to have a smoke-free city. We are also aiming to achieve a behavioral change in the lives of young people and orienting them into utilizing their time in healthy useful alternatives rather than smoking.
Also, what is the Greater Amman Municipality’s role in the phase of implementation and enforcement?
It’s worth mentioning that GAM has stopped issuing new licenses for Argileh since 2010 and I have to reemphasize that we are simply implementing the law which was introduced by the Ministry of Health as is; therefore we will be rejecting the licensing or relicensing of Argileh as well as transferring the ownership of Argileh between different owners of coffee shops and restaurants.
What is the penalty for shops that violate the decision?
We will be closing any place violating the law until they reform their status.
What was the reaction to this decision?
You can’t win them all; some were supporting the decision while others were against it depending on the situation.
Tobacco use appears to be so culturally engrained and embraced that you face large obstacles. Is it just a matter of time and education to change the cultural acceptability? What will it take?
Allow me here to talk as Akel the Jordanian citizen: We have to start somewhere to achieve the environment which our children and grandchildren deserve and no one is above the law. I believe that nothing is impossible it’s just a matter of time. Let me end with this — “We harvest what we plant and it’s about time to start planting the proper seeds.”