Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1278, (14 - 20 January 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1278, (14 - 20 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Policies for the man in the street

Policies adopted by the new parliament should deal with the main challenges now facing the country, writes Sayed Moawad

Al-Ahram Weekly

In his distinguished book My Recommendations to my Country, the late professor Ibrahim Shehata, a former deputy president of the World Bank, quoted from European politician Jean Monet’s memoirs to the effect that in order to succeed in changing the souls of people we must change the course of things.

The status quo cannot be changed unless work focussing on the most important points is done, he said, this work being that which can genuinely meet people’s aspirations. In a similar way, in the 1960s, the Czech reformer Alexander Dubček said of the country’s government that it claimed “the street was not the place to solve our problems. But I am saying that the street is the place and its voice should be heard.”

Fortunately, in Egypt, and in particular after the 30 June Revolution, we have a government that listens to calls from street. This article will try to imagine the government’s programme that will be delivered before the newly elected parliament in the coming days.

Egypt is at the beginning of a new course of action after the completion of the roadmap of July 2013. By the completion of the parliamentary elections and after the drafting of the country’s new constitution and the presidential elections, all the institutions of the state are in place after the two revolutions.

The programme outlined below includes the pressing matters that must be dealt with on an urgent basis. It encompasses 17 related pillars, each of them affecting the other and the public framework of the state. I will not discuss terrorism as our heroes in the army know their homework very well and are doing an excellent job in this respect.

THE RIVER NILE: Egypt’s share of Nile water was 55.5 billion cubic metres when its population was less than 20 million, and today this share is the same as it was despite the fact that the population has become 90 million.

Agriculture in Egypt depends for more than 90 per cent of its water on the Nile while our partners depend on not more two per cent. We should negotiate raising our share instead of keeping it at its previous level. While Egypt recognises its partners’ developmental concerns, our partners ignore Egypt’s right to life.

For nearly two years, negotiations have continued between the three concerned parties, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, and fortunately the latest round of negotiations in Khartoum has resulted in constructive outcomes respecting confidence-building and strategic partnerships between the three parties.

The message I would like to send here is that the government takes the Nile water issue very seriously.

POPULATION: On 6 December, the population of Egypt reached 90 million, with an annual increase of 2.55 per cent in 2014 — five times more than that of the developed countries and twice that of other developing countries.

The continuing increase in the population constitutes the main challenge that Egypt now faces. The government has committed itself before the parliament to bringing the population increase down to one per cent annually. It has many tools to achieve this target, but it will start by raising the awareness of uneducated women through extensive courses delivered by the educated and adopting the mechanism of one year’s paid public service.

Furthermore, it will launch a public-information campaign using different media techniques to spread the advantages of having small families, replicating the Chinese experience in family planning albeit with less harsh measures.

EDUCATION: Education is the key to the development of Egypt and the driver of its progress. But despite the efforts made by successive governments to reform educational policies, and the allocation of substantial resources on education and developing government schools to absorb the steady increase in classroom numbers, the government still seems to be unable to provide an acceptable quality of education.

Education in Egypt is lagging behind that of many other countries, and the competitiveness reports issued by many international organisations prove this bitter fact. We have to confess that the education system in Egypt faces many problems, among them crowded classrooms, multiple-shift schools, and weak infrastructure, all of which lead to weakening students’ ability to understand the material presented to them and making education merely a memorization process.

Hence, there is a necessity to shift educational provision from being solely the responsibility of the state to expanding partnerships with the private sector. Such partnerships will reduce the burden on the public budget and address the educational needs of all segments of society.

The problem of education in Egypt has been that it has reflected the point of view of successive education ministers and has not been seen as a matter of state strategy. As a result, with every new minister we have started again from scratch.

We have to bear in mind what one Japanese minister once said: “Basic education moved Japan from being a third world country to being a second world country, and technical education moved Japan from being a second world country to being a first world country.” We need to take into consideration the fact that education is the raw material of industrialisation.

INDUSTRIALISATION: The government has a strong conviction that industry is the cornerstone of economic and social development in Egypt.

The importance of industrialisation is that it changes the nature of the available resources, modernises production techniques, and enhances the level of technical knowledge by raising the capabilities and skills of the workforce. It acts to overhaul the balance of payments through import substitution or increasing exports, which creates tangible economic development and will enable Egypt to gain a competitive position in the international markets.

Just as importantly, industrialisation leads to job creation and increasing national income and, accordingly, reduces poverty. However, in Egypt the ratio of industrial production to national domestic output since the sixties has been very modest. Today, the government has committed itself to modernising the industrial sector in Egypt through enhancing education as a prerequisite for industry, facilitating procedures for attaining business licences, providing necessary infrastructure, and maximising the benefits from the trade agreements Egypt has with trade partners all over the world.

DECENTRALISATION: The historian Gamal Himdan wrote in his book The Personality of Egypt that “centralisation is a clear feature of Egypt’s personality, and political and administrative centralisation has imposed itself in the form of a potentially tyrannical government and an overstaffed bureaucracy. Centralisation, government and bureaucracy are the synonyms of a chronic problem.”

Centralisation is a dominant feature of public administration in Egypt, and it is high time that we reconsidered this situation. The government is now planning to transfer the authority and resources for the design and implementation of development programmes to local units of government and administration in order to provide opportunities for more citizens to play a direct role in the development process.

Through decentralisation, we will be able to provide an institutional framework for groups and individuals to organise themselves to participate in the decision-making process. Decentralisation has many advantages, including reducing the red tape and rigid procedures of central government by relying on the knowledge and expertise of local citizens. It also promotes checks and balances between central and local units. Furthermore, citizens at the local level are made more aware of the priorities and needs of their society.

THE PRIVATE SECTOR: The private sector is a principal partner in the development process. The private sector’s participation in Egypt’s GDP is 70 per cent, and it secures jobs for 75 per cent of the workforce in the country, although some of these jobs are informal.

Public-private partnerships are therefore a must. However, these partnerships impose obligations on both parties. From its side, the government is committed to providing the kind of friendly business environment that will eliminate the hurdles that impede the private sector from implementing its activities.

It is always eager to listen to the private sector’s views in all policies, measures, and legislation it intends to formulate. Most importantly, the government has issued a domestic product preference law to encourage domestic production, and it has considered increasing export incentive funds to encourage Egyptian exports to foreign markets.

As for the private sector’s role, the government is inviting national capital to enlarge its investments in all activities in all the country’s governorates, towns and villages. The private sector is required to produce goods to international standards, even if these are directed to the domestic market.

Furthermore, it is invited to allocate more resources to research and development, not only in factories, but also in scientific research centres to encourage these to innovate and produce new techniques that will serve the private sector’s needs.

THE PUBLIC SECTOR: While the private sector plays a pivotal role in the Egyptian economy, this does not mean ignoring the important role played by the public sector.

The public sector has always been seen to perform basic activities such as defence, security, the judiciary, managing the macroeconomic environment to keep price stability and achieve high levels of growth, employment and the proper distribution of income.

The public sector has been involved in providing health and education services, but its poor performance has largely voided these of their purpose. Therefore, it is high time that we provided more room for the private sector to be involved in both health care and education, provided that the government works as the supervisor of such activities from both the quality and price perspectives.

It must be made crystal clear that reforming the public sector is an imperative. Such reform can be brought about either by managing public-sector assets according to market forces, even if they are still under government control, or selling part of public-sector assets that do not work efficiently to workers and the government keeping the rest out of social considerations.

From an economic perspective, it does not matter who manages the assets. What matters is managing them efficiently. As the Chinese proverb says, “The colour of the cat does not matter. What matters is that the cat catches the mouse.”

The government is and will continue to be a key agent in economic activities, even if it is not directly involved in production activities. The intervention of the government to control the increases in prices lately is a strong witness of this. But reforming the public sector is the responsibility of the government, and since the government does not have sufficient resources for this purposes we have to replicate the invitation of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to finance the Suez Canal and invite the public once again to participate in financing public-sector reform.

FOREIGN POLICY: Since the 30 June Revolution Egyptian diplomacy has played an important role in re-establishing the country’s relations with moderate foreign partners and with the most influential players in the international arena, in particular Russia and China.

The role of Egyptian diplomacy will continue to be to settle the hot issues that threaten Egyptian national security. Stability in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Iraq is the main target of the coming period. The role of diplomacy should also be extended to developmental matters.

We need to introduce a new concept to the classical role of diplomacy, the concept of the diplomacy of development. The negotiations on the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam and keeping Egypt’s historical right to the Nile’s water are a great challenge, but we have full confidence in our negotiators’ abilities in this respect.

THE JUDICIARY: A philosopher once wrote, “Peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of justice.” Fortunately, Egypt has a judicial system that is characterised by independence, competence, integrity and patriotic feelings.

Social and economic development is not only about balance of payments, budget deficits, paving roads and building bridges. It is also about the rule of law. In the economic environment people use the legal system to structure their activities and resolve disputes, and what they need is a sound judicial system with effective enforcement. Good institutions play an important role in economic development, and among such institutions, perhaps the most important one, is the legal and judicial system.

The World Bank, as the premier development institution, recognises that countries with weak legal and judicial systems are economically and socially impaired. Building the judicial system will be the starting point to reducing the backlog of cases that currently clogs it, and it will send a positive message to foreign and local investors that the judicial system is efficient in enforcing contacts and settling disputes.

COMBATTING CORRUPTION: Corruption destroys all the efforts that are made to raise the standard of living of Egyptian citizens .The government should never tolerate corruption, though corruption is not only a problem of government, but is also a problem of Egyptian society at large.

Egypt does not lack the institutions needed to combat corruption. What it lacks is the culture of combatting corruption. The government does not restrict itself to the narrow World Bank definition of corruption, which is “the abuse of public office for private gain.” Instead, it considers a corrupt person to be any person who delays performing the interests of the people, who misuses his power, who voids the law of its content, who pollutes the water, who goes against traffic signs, who pollutes the air, who taints the food of the people, who unjustifiably raises prices, or who throws litter in the streets.

Corruption deters economic development as it distorts the business environment and leads to lower efficiency and benefits from public services, creating incentives for economic entities to work informally and damaging public services and leading to the loss of economic resources. Corruption erodes the opportunities for economic growth and causes a lack of confidence in government. Economic reform and the enforcement of the controlling agencies’ role are now imperatives.

YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT: Young people constitute a major proportion of Egypt’s population, and many of them suffer from unemployment. The government is serious about empowering young people through creating proper jobs and paving the way for them to actively participate in leading Egypt.

The government is aware that securing jobs for all young people in the public sector is an impossible mission; therefore, micro, medium and small enterprises are another solution. The banks, the Social Fund for Development and lending agencies have been instructed to not only finance but also to provide feasibility studies for micro, medium and small enterprises that will employ more young people.

THE BUDGET DEFICIT: The Egyptian economy faces a huge financial gap in which revenues are significantly less than expenditures. Egypt has a budget deficit of nearly 10 per cent, which is not so very bad, as many countries have something similar.

We should not make the budget deficit a big issue, despite its importance, as our main concern is to have a budget that enables the government to do its job in a more satisfactory manner, i.e., to be able to spend more on basic services, education and health.

There are various ways to secure more funds for the public budget. First, there is domestic resources mobilisation. The government is convinced that domestic resources are the long-term path to sustainable development. Mobilising domestic resources does not mean imposing new taxes or raising existing ones; it means the improvement of tax compliance and the simplification of the rules.

The government recognises the critical challenge of ensuring that it has adequate domestic resources to support its ambitious development plans. The mobilisation of domestic resources is not only about direct finance for development, but it can also work as leverage for the private sector to participate more in financing public services, basic infrastructure, social protection and institutional and human development.

Second, formalising the informal sector to expand the tax base should take place, provided that certain incentives are submitted to the sector as is done with local and foreign investors. Third, there should be a simplification and enforcement of the rules by both the tax and customs authorities to increase the efficiency of collecting resources and combating evasion and smuggling.

THE ERADICATION OF POVERTY: Poverty must be looked at as a national security issue and not just as a social or economic phenomenon. The Scottish economist Adam Smith said in 1776, “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which by far the greater part of the numbers are poor and miserable.”

The real way to eradicate poverty is through work. The government can adopt policies to reduce the burden imposed on the poor, but this should not continue forever. Government programmes should be restricted to the aged, the handicapped and the more needy segments of society, and not to all the have-nots. Properly targeting the poor is one of the procedures that are needed.

Our aspirations should also go beyond meeting the basic need of quality of life. The poor must be given the opportunity to participate in and benefit from the development process. The poor need honest guidance to draw them on at the right pace. The poor have the right to enjoy higher incomes, higher standards of health and nutrition, a cleaner environment, equal opportunities, more individual freedoms, a richer cultural life and greater self-esteem.   

Our conviction must be that in the existence of poverty there is an absence of development and security. The aim of eradicating poverty is not to have a wealthy society but to have a humane, stable, fair, loyal and productive society.

The problem of the poor is also not the government’s problem alone. It is a societal problem. All stakeholders must play a role, including the government, NGOs, the poor themselves, human right activists, parliamentarians and the media.

CIVIL SOCIETY: Egypt has a large number of civil society organisations that can play a positive role and work as important agents for promoting good governance in respect of transparency, effectiveness, responsiveness and accountability.

Civil society can enhance good governance through policy analysis and advocacy, the monitoring of government performance and the behaviour of public officials, and building social capital and enabling citizens to identify their values, beliefs, civic norms. Most importantly, civil society can improve the well-being of the Egyptian community. The main condition for civil society work is to strictly follow the formal law of the state.

SOCIAL JUSTICE: The government is fully aware that social justice is both a human right and a human need. It is not a favour from the government to the citizen; it is a commitment towards the citizen who must insist on getting his rights. This is exactly what he did twice, once on 25 January 2011 and once on 30 June 2013.

The government should make every possible effort to secure inclusive social justice that involves all segments of society in accordance with the teachings of religion and in a manner that meets the highest international standards. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.

In addition, necessary social services are needed in the event of sickness, disability, unemployment, old age, widowhood and any other circumstances that are out of his control. Social justice means social coherence. A final word is that of American president Thomas Jefferson, who once said, “People are the safest depository of power at the end of the day.”

ERADICATING ILLITERACY: Figures from the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) reveal that the illiteracy rate in Egypt is more than 20 per cent. This is a terrible shame in the 21st century and in a country that has more than seven thousand years of civilisation.

The problem should be eradicated at its roots. Illiteracy not only limits the full development of individuals and their participation in society, but also has repercussions throughout life, affecting individuals’ family environments, restricting access to the benefits of development, and depriving people of the enjoyment of human rights.

The illiteracy problem puts moral and ethical obligations on the government. Egypt must set up an agency to eradicate illiteracy and carry out adult education that must be provided with all the needed facilities to perform its job rightly. Egypt produces thousands of university graduates every year. Why do we not use these young people to help their fellow citizens rid themselves of this disease?

THE MEDIA: Egypt suffers from a state of chaos in its media environment. The freedom of the media is misunderstood by the private media, whether in the press or television. The government has no control over the private media, and this is not how it should be. No one is against freedom of expression, but everyone should be in favour of responsible freedom.

If informality in the economy deprives the economy of huge resources, informality in the media spreads immoral values in society. The solution is that the government, jointly with the private sector, should produce a code of ethics binding all the parties, both public and private, and setting out harsh penalties for breaching this code. In short, we need a media that participates in constructing the positive values that are needed for development and not a media that destroys everything but the interests of some.

Today, Egypt has a historic chance under a patriotic and charismatic leader who is fully aware of the potential of his country and the needs of his people. Egypt has a mobilised people who are ready to follow their leader to the utmost and are ready to make sacrifices and to work day and night to put their country in the place it deserves among the developed nations.

The programme set out above is the strategic programme of a government that is committed to development. It is based on reality, not wishful thinking. I appeal to all stakeholders to share the burden. It is high time our country took a new course, in which I am fully confident we will succeed.

The writer is in charge of anti-dumping policy at the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

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