Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Policing parliament

Overhauling parliamentary bylaws will dominate this week’s House of Representatives debates, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Following a two-week holiday, Egypt’s new parliament — the House of Representatives — begins grappling with a host of controversial issues on Sunday.

Amending internal bylaws is likely to be allocated the lion’s share of debates now that the 25-member ad hoc committee formed to amend parliament’s internal regulations and code of conduct has finished its work.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shukka, head of the committee and secretary-general of the Wafd party, told reporters on Monday that the committee’s recommendations will be discussed next Sunday.

“This committee’s report will take priority in Sunday’s debates for the simple reason that parliament will only be able to exercise its legislative and supervisory roles once there are bylaws in place that conform with the new constitution,” said Abu Shukka.

Once endorsed by parliament, any new bylaws will have to be referred to the State Council for revision.

Abu Shukka revealed that in its report the committee recommended the number of parliamentary committees be increased from 19 to 26. Some MPs had demanded the total number of parliamentary committees be increased to 30.

“The US Congress (435 MPs) has 19 committees, the British House of Commons (650 MPs) has 20, the French National Assembly (577 MPs) just eight and the Italian House of Representatives (630 MPs) 14,” pointed out Abu Shukka.

Free Egyptians Party spokesperson Ayman Abul-Ela says four new committees will be created and three subcommittees upgraded. “New committees will cover African affairs, small and micro-scale enterprises, anti-corruption practices and the problems facing the physically challenged, and the Higher Education and Scientific Research, Culture and Media and Religious and Family Affairs subcommittees will become independent,” he said.

Veteran leftist MP Kamal Ahmed told Al-Ahram Weekly that the creation of an independent African affairs committee was a step forward.

“Parliament needs to play a greater role in foreign policy and the introduction of a separate committee on African affairs, and the retention of existing committees on foreign and Arab affairs will reinforce parliament’s role in an area that has for too long been a presidential monopoly,” said Ahmed.

Ahmed also praised the creation of an anti-corruption committee. “The role of this committee will not be confined to fighting corruption. It will also review complaints raised by ordinary citizens.”

An Internet service, launched by the House on 27 January, will help build contacts with citizens, allow them have a say in legislative and supervisory affairs, and bolster parliamentary transparency, claimed House of Representatives Secretary-General Ahmed Saadeddin.

“Ordinary citizens will now be able to use the parliamentary website to send Whatsapp messages containing suggestions and grievances to parliament,” said Saadeddin. The House has also opened a dedicated phone line on which citizens can forward their own recommendations to parliament.

“In the first two days of the service being launched the House received 3,629 messages addressing legislative and supervisory issues and social grievances,” said Saadeddin.

He further said that the new Whatsapp service will help gauge public opinion about parliament’s performance and opens a channel for citizens inform the House about corruption.

Deputy Speaker Al-Sayed Al-Sherif says a major task of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee will be to ensure Egypt implements the 2005 UN Convention on Anti-Corruption. “The committee will also help oversee the implementation of the constitutional requirement to create a national anti-corruption commission.”

In addition, Membership of the House’s internal bureau, which oversees the running of parliamentary affair, will be increased from three to seven.

“Current regulations limit membership of the bureau to the speaker and his two deputies. The report recommends that the bureau be expanded to include the spokespersons of the four political parties with the largest number of seats,” said Abu Shukka.

Many MPs believe that the heads of parliamentary committees should be able to summon cabinet ministers and provincial governors for questioning without prior approval from the speaker.

“They argue that allowing committee heads direct access to state officials will be a democratic step,” noted Abu Shukka.

“New articles relating to the withdrawal of confidence in the president and prime minister, and in the speaker and his two deputies, are also necessary for the bylaws to conform to the constitution,” said Abul-Ela. He revealed that “new articles about the House’s budget have also drafted”.

The ongoing dispute between the government and parliament over the new Civil Service Law is also expected to figure prominently in next week’s parliamentary debates. On 20 January parliament voted down the law, only to be asked by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to reconsider its position.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati told parliamentary reporters this week that a report detailing the reasons why MPs had rejected the Civil Service Law will be forwarded to the president’s office.

“The Parliamentary Committee on Labour, which orchestrated the campaign against the law and urged MPs to reject it, is playing a leading role in preparing the report, in consultation with the government,” said Al-Agati.

The law, which was ratified in March by Al-Sisi in the absence of a parliament and ahead of Egypt’s International Economic Conference, aims to reform Egypt’s administrative apparatus in order to lessen the wage burden on state finances and encourage private investment.

“MPs objected to less than 10 per cent of the new law’s articles, most of them related to the penalties that can be imposed on government employees,” said Al-Agati.

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