Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1239, (26 March - 1 April 2015)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1239, (26 March - 1 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly


What’s after Sharm El-Sheikh?

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Egypt Economic Development Conference held recently in Sharm El-Sheikh was not just a breath of fresh air. It was a sobering reminder of how important Egypt is to the world, and how its safety and stability matter to all.

But now that the conference has turned out to be everything that we wanted and a bit more, what do we plan to do next?

Businessmen and diplomats, government officials and journalists all gave us the thumbs up. All agreed that we are on the right track, that we have a future worth betting on. No more nonsense about our having staged a military coup, or that our government lacks legitimacy.

A total of $60 billion has been promised so far, according to official statements. And if the memoranda of understanding our officials signed with foreign agencies and governments materialise, the total sum may rise to $175 billion or so.

This is a lot of cash, and a lot of expectations are riding on it, not just from the foreign investors who gave us a vote of confidence, not only from foreign governments who vouched for our probity, but from our own people.

It all looks bright and promising, but this is just the beginning of the road. A lot of work needs to be done, and that doesn’t just mean big contracts and mega-projects, but taking care of the average men and women who live in this country.

People who saw the conference unfolding, who listened to the speeches, who felt the sunshine of promise sweeping across the land, now expect results. They expect jobs and better roads, better health and education, an end to corruption, a concern for social equity.

Businessmen invest in Egypt to make maximum profits, which is their right. But the outcome of their investment must be good for the country, the rich as well as the poor, and this is the right of our nation.

Egyptians expect the new projects to build a solid production base in this country, enabling us to meet a major part of our needs. We expect the new projects to bring development to distant villages and small towns, the parts of the country that have been neglected, especially in the south.

We expect jobs to be created and workers to receive full social benefits, complete with pensions and insurance. We expect the services provided by investors to be offered at a price within the reach of the majority of the population.

Under the current investment law, the government forfeited its right to set fair prices. So what other mechanism does it have in mind?

Now that the government is inviting all these major corporations to do business in the country, does it have the necessary oversight to examine their books carefully and detect any sign of creative accounting that they might employ to deflate their profits, or inflate their losses?

Also, the government has slashed taxes and offered tax holidays for investors without consulting with the people, without having any public discussion on it. Is this going to be a trend?

So far, the government has discussed the new investment laws with businessmen alone, as if the opinion of the rest of society doesn’t matter. More than at any time before, this country needs transparency. We need to know the details of the contracts the government is signing with investors. We need to know that there is no corruption involved.

In the new investment law, the government introduced a clause immunising contracts from legal challenge. So what other mechanisms of oversight are in place?

Many of the contracts signed with investors at the economic conference focused on real estate and energy. Do we have guarantees that future construction projects will offer housing for regular folks, or is it all going to go into luxury compounds? Have we insisted that the construction be done by local, not foreign labour?

We are all aware that this country needs more investment in energy. But the government is apparently allowing private investors to set the price for the energy they produce. So what happens when they set prices no one can afford?

We are all elated today, thrilled by the show of international support and regional loyalty, basking in the warmth of billions of dollars soon coming our way, in direct investment and loans, in grants and joint ventures.

The world has apparently come through for us. Now we have to come through for ourselves.

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