Nazif under fire
The government's performance comes under attack in the People's Assembly, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
The upbeat economic picture painted in Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif's 19 December policy statement came under parliamentary fire with the publication of a 268-page response, debated by the People's Assembly on Tuesday.
While conceding that in the previous 12 months Nazif's government had stabilised the Egyptian pound and raised GDP by 6.9 per cent, the report drew attention to "stark deterioration" in public services, especially the transport -- rail and maritime -- sector.
"Unfortunately the benefits of economic success have not been felt by the majority of citizens," said the report. The number of Egyptians living beneath the poverty line increased from 16 per cent of the population in 1999/2000 to 19 per cent in 2004/2005, while inflation has spiralled from 4.7 per cent in 2004/2005 to 11.8 per cent last November according to figures released by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS). "This sharp rise has made it difficult for a broad base of citizens to meet their basic daily needs," concluded the report, which also underlined the government's failure to make progress towards delivering its promise to reduce unemployment.
Public service provision was heavily criticised, with deficiencies in the rail system coming under the spotlight.
"In 2006 this sector witnessed several train accidents which left more than 50 citizens dead," said the report. The government was also criticised for failing to give adequate attention to the provision of potable water in villages and towns while on Monday Minister of Health Hatem El-Gabali came under attack from NDP MPs Mohamed Abul-Enein and Ahmed Abu Heggy for failing to do enough to prevent the spread of Avian Flu as well as for the ministry's role in the ongoing scandal concerning contaminated blood bags.
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif faced four interpellations detailing the health risks of contaminated water. Kamal Ahmed, an independent MP with Nasserist sympathies, alleged that more than 90,000 Egyptians die annually as a result of consuming impure water, and it was directly responsible for more than 17,000 children contracting hepatitis. Although more than LE25 billion had been allocated since 1985 to ensure villages are supplied with potable water, said Ahmed, 18 governorates still lack clean water facilities.
"In the Delta governorates of Daqahliya and Sharqiya citizens cry to get a cup of clean water," Ahmed claimed. He went on to accuse Mohamed Ibrahim Suleiman, a former minister of housing, of corruption, saying he had consistently ignored the warnings of engineers over the deficient water pumps the ministry supplied to villages.
Abdallah Eliwa, a Muslim Brotherhood MP, accused the government of being lax in preventing the dumping of industrial waste products into the Nile. He was backed up by Mustafa Bakri, an independent MP, who said more than 330 factories, between Alexandria and Aswan, dump 550 million cubic metres of industrial waste into the river, on top of the 2.5 billion cubic metres of agricultural waste water that the National Studies Council has revealed is dumped annually.
"The government," charged Bakri, "is busy catering to the needs of business tycoons and providing Internet services to people at the expense of providing basic needs such as bread and clean water."
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Moufid Shehab, objected to Bakri's characterisation of the government. "The achievements of Nazif's cabinet are unprecedented and its programmes for modernising Egypt ambitious," he said. Minister of Housing Ahmed El-Maghrabi also came to the government's defence, highlighting the fact that his ministry provides citizens with more than 21 million cubic metres of clean water every day.
The assembly's report went on to urge the government to adopt a more positive attitude towards civil society organisations and loosen its grip over political parties. "The government," it said, "must also set free all those imprisoned without charge" and be more serious in dealing with violations reported by the National Council for Human Rights.
On foreign relations the report highlighted "the strategic relationship between Egypt and the United States" and urged that the bilateral relationship include more than the exchange of visits by senior officials.
"There needs to be stronger ties at a popular level, involving civil society organisations in both countries," said the report, a recommendation unlikely to go down well with those opposition MPs who have already criticised the government for allowing American NGOs to operate in Egypt.
The report praised the 2004 QIZ (Qualified Industrial Zones) agreement for boosting Egyptian exports to the American but also accused US policy in the Middle East of blindly supporting Israel, arguing that "the People's Assembly must play a bigger role in exposing the dangers of this policy for the image of the US in the region."