Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 October 2009
Issue No. 969
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Bring back the billboards

By Samir Sobhi

It is sad when someone starts a project, puts in 95 per cent of the work, and then never gets around to finishing it. We have spent nearly LE7 billion on Toshka. We've cultivated hundreds of feddans, made an attempt to breed cattle, and built an underground canal that can irrigate a million feddans.

Now we need to make some money out of Toshka. This cannot be too hard, if one is to believe what one hears. According to our irrigation minister, 95 per cent of the work needed in Toshka has already been done. If this is true, let's get on with the rest.

The irrigation minister says that 300,000 feddans will be sold to investors and that plenty of farmland is available for college graduates on the road to Abu Simbel. We're also told that the South Valley Company will start exporting fruit and vegetables from a 14,000-feddan farm. I would love to believe all of the above. But I have a nagging feeling that the hype has outstripped performance.

I have a few ideas that I would like to share with you. One is to get a major investor involved in Toshka. Perhaps the US or even the IMF are interested. Also, we need a single administrative body in charge, one that has representatives from the irrigation and agricultural authorities, and one that can cut through red tape.

Another suggestion is to get the Egyptian army involved. I have seen what our military engineers accomplished in Borg Al-Arab, and I don't see any reason why they cannot get the job done in Toshka.

Fifty years ago or so, when Gamal Abdel-Nasser decided to build the High Dam, the job seemed too big. But the men in charge weren't put off. They announced a countdown for the finishing of the project. They placed billboards in public places for the nation to keep track of the work being done. And they stuck to the deadline.

As far as Toshka is concerned, I say bring back the billboards!

This week's Soapbox speaker is a senior editor at Al-Ahram.

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