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By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) -Jordan's prime minister reshuffled his cabinet on Monday for the fourth time since taking office a year ago, creating a new investment ministry as part of moves officials said will give him more scope to tackle social and economic problems.
Premier Bisher al Khasawneh appointed ex-banker Khairy Amr to lead the new investment ministry, which will seek to spur foreign investment and create much-needed jobs in Jordan, where the unemployment rate is a record 25%.
The reshuffle, which affects eight posts as well as the new ministry, was approved by royal decree, the officials said.
Khasawneh retained Harvard-educated economist Mohammad Al Ississ as finance minister. He won International Monetary Fund praise for his handling of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic and secured a four-year IMF programme worth $1.3 billion.
Khasawneh said his priority was reviving growth after the aid-dependent economy suffered its deepest contraction in decades last year. The government and IMF both predict a rebound of around 2% this year.
The British-educated former diplomat and palace aide was appointed last October by King Abdullah to restore public trust over the handling of COVID-19 and defuse anger at successive governments' failure to deliver on pledges of prosperity and curbing corruption.
Bankers say Jordan's commitment to IMF reforms and investor confidence in the improved economic outlook have helped it maintain its credit ratings while similar emerging markets were being downgraded amid the coronavirus crisis.
The country hopes its reputation for stability will help it become a regional hub for services and trade, but businessmen say red tape and changing laws have discouraged investors.
The government says its major economic challenge is reversing declining investment flows and creating jobs.
Deteriorating living conditions and growing hardships for many Jordanians following IMF-guided austerity programmes and tax hikes have fuelled bouts of civil unrest in recent years.
"Jordan is going through difficult economic conditions after the pandemic with growing unemployment that is most worrying," deputy speaker of parliament Ahmad al Safadi told state-owned Al Mamlaka public broadcaster on Monday.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi;Editing by Alison Williams and Catherine Evans)