Human development first
The National Council for Production is currently preparing a "framework for reviving the Egyptian economy". Former immigration minister and well-respected economist Fouad Iskandar is head of the Financial and Economic Policies Department of the Specialised National Councils. He talks to Doaa Abdel-Moneim about the details of the framework
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has asked the National Council for Production to prepare a framework for reviving the Egyptian economy. What is it about?
It is a package of measures focussing on human development, which should enable Egypt to perform on an economic level satisfactory to its citizens and society in the near future.
Why the focus on human development?
Development is the art of managing resources. We aspire for optimum productivity, production and fairness of distribution. All of the above involve people and their abilities. Our prospects for development depend on our ability to train people and give them the qualifications they need for the job market.
The framework is geared towards comprehensive development. It proceeds in two parallel lines. One is a clear vision of the goals, which are being translated into strategies and policies; then -- through intensive work -- into programmes and projects.
This, in turn, calls for reviewing the structural composition of various institutions in order to ensure the elimination of duality, define responsibilities in a clear manner and achieve complete coordination. This process also involves a more vigorous system for local administration and decentralisation.
How can comprehensive development be achieved?
Through production which should comprise quantity as well as quality. We have to take the sectoral and geographical dimensions into account and enhance the competitiveness of our production of commodities and services on the local, regional, and international levels. We also need to benefit from the latest technological and scientific methods. What we need is to mobilise all our material and human resources and reduce waste and unused capacity.
How can we do that?
Our top priority is to improve the distribution of income and strike a balance between the needs of future generations. This calls for special attention to a number of challenges including the population growth. We must embrace the view that population growth is an asset that can be geared towards development.
How can the population be turned into an asset?
The geographical distribution of the population we have now is tilted, with most of the population concentrated in the Valley and the Delta. What we need to do now is bring development to distant areas such as the Sinai and the oases and the areas located in the Western Desert, especially the "Development Corridor" proposed by Farouk El-Baz.
Another challenge facing us is the augmentation of the under-25 age group, which makes it necessary to provide the right environment for developing the awareness and capabilities of this youth. Our young need to know what citizenry is all about. They need to learn to assert their rights and honour their obligations. They need to be part of the reconstruction efforts and the problem-solving of the future. There are many activities that should be promoted. We need to focus on sports, youth centres, voluntary work and travel. The young must get to know their country and engage in communal work. There are countries in the world with bigger populations and higher rates of population growth and they are doing better than us. The population increase cannot be a problem if one takes into account the market for foreign labour in Africa, where demand for labour is strong and growing. So we must change the way we think about exporting Egyptian labour. Instead of exporting excess labour, we should train the young to make them qualify for the jobs the market needs. Education is the bottom line. With better education and better management of human resources, our young will have better prospects at home and abroad.
What is your view on the calls for a higher minimum wage?
I do not believe in the minimum wage or in a certain figure. The minimum wage in any country is what the citizen needs to buy basic needs without suffering. These basic needs are health, education, food and clothing, etc. Egypt will not reach the point of setting a minimum wage for another 20 years at least because Egypt is too far behind in terms of productivity and production. There are also the pressures unleashed by the revolution, where protests and professional demands go unchecked. I warn the youth against the continuation of these protests because the success of the revolution hinges on higher production and productivity. Only then we would be in a position to increase wages and salaries.
There is something in the "framework" about the cooperative system. Can you elaborate?
We need to focus on the cooperative system, both in terms of production and consumption, because it is a solid foundation for development in Egypt and a real opportunity in many ways. The small agricultural properties can only become efficient under this system. Here I mean a real cooperative system, not the Arab Socialist Union style.
Several Arab and foreign countries expressed willingness to help Egypt economically. What is the best way to make this happen?
Arab countries matter a lot to us and I call on them, especially the Gulf states, to allocate $100 billion for investment in Egypt. Egypt has always been there for the Arabs. So I say to them, invest in Egypt and it is going to be worth your while.