Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Collision over corruption

In a snub to a media gag order imposed by the country’s top prosecutor, Egypt’s new parliament voted to investigate a top auditor’s figures on corruption, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Collision over corruption
Collision over corruption
Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s newly elected parliament, or the House of Representatives, and the judicial authority were on a collision course this week. Just a few days after voting down a controversial civil service law — much to the chagrin of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi — parliament rallied Sunday against Prosecutor General Nabil Sadek’s decision to impose a gag order on an investigation into figures released by Hesham Geneina, chairman of the Central Auditing Agency (CAA), on the cost of corruption in Egypt.

Parliament also exchanged accusations with Sirri Siam, an appointed MP and a former high-profile judicial figure who resigned after claiming that he was being sidelined by the House’s political forces.

In a parliamentary sitting on Sunday, MPs attacked Sadek’s 20 January decision to impose a gag order that bars the media from discussing Geneina’s claims that corruption in public and government circles resulted in the loss of LE600 billion in state revenues between 2012 and 2015.

MPs insisted that Sadek’s order did not apply to parliament and that they had the full right to request that an ad hoc parliamentary committee be formed to open an investigation into Geneina’s claims as soon as possible, regardless of the gag order.

Despite objections from Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal, MPs launched scathing attacks against Sadek, accusing him of interfering in the internal affairs of parliament. In particular, MPs attacked a letter sent by Sadek to Abdel-Aal on Saturday, one day before the House’s plenary sitting, informing him that Geneina’s claims were under a media gag order and, as such, “the file should be opened by parliament only after the investigation into the case is complete and the gag order is lifted”.

Said MP Adel Al-Sherif, “Parliamentary deputies are keener than the judicial authority to express the will of the people and that the prosecutor’s order in the Geneina case should not prevent legislators from exercising their supervisory powers.”

Al-Sherif’s words received a quick rebuke from Speaker Abdel-Aal, who ordered that “they be removed from the sitting’s minutes”. According to Abdel-Aal, “The legislative and judicial authorities are working on an equal footing and nobody can say that one is keener than the other in expressing the people’s will and that the two authorities cannot exercise their powers in isolation of each other.”

Abdel-Aal announced that the letter he had received from Sadek meant that the media gag order was still valid. Said Abdel-Aal, “For this reason, I propose that the formation of the parliamentary committee on Geneina’s corruption claims be postponed to a later date and should only begin its work after the top prosecutor’s investigation becomes complete and the gag is lifted.”

Instead of containing the issue, Al-Aal’s statement triggered sharp attacks from MPs who took it to mean submission to Sadek’s orders. MP Mustafa Bakri said, “We have great respect for the prosecutor-general but we are an independent authority and we are mainly responsible for investigating corruption in this country. And so I say that the prosecutor-general’s letter should be rejected and that the parliamentary ad hoc committee be formed soon to open an investigation into Geneina’s claims, regardless of media gag orders.”

Upon putting the issue to a vote, 211 MPs were in favour of the committee performing its job as quickly as possible while three MPs abstained and 175 MPs objected.

Following the no-delay vote, Abdel-Aal requested that “the committee be formed first, then the House’s office will inform MPs what the criterion upon which the committee will be formed”.

On 20 December, CAA chairman Geneina caused shock waves in political circles when he told a TV interviewer that more than LE600 billion of public funds were misappropriated between 2012 and 2013. Geneina’s claims prompted President Al-Sisi to order a fact-finding committee that would include judicial and financial experts to open an inquiry into the top auditor’s charges.

In a report issued on 12 January, the committee accused Geneina of deliberately inflating figures about corruption in Egypt for political reasons and tarnishing the image of the country abroad.

When Egypt’s new parliament met for the first time on 10 January, MPs made it a priority to open fire on Geneina, accusing him of acting on behalf of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood which, they said, is doing its best to “mislead the public and discredit the rule of President Al-Sisi”.

Following a brief debate on 17 January, 415 MPs voted in favour of forming an ad hoc committee to investigate Geneina’s claims, but Sadek’s media gag order on 20 January left the committee in limbo.

Meanwhile, parliament was forced into a confrontation with Sirri Siam, a high-profile judicial figure who was one of 28 people appointed by President Al-Sisi to parliament. Siam, who announced Monday that he had submitted his resignation to parliament, accused Abdel-Aal and other leading political figures of doing their best to sideline him.

Siam said he was put on the top of the list of Al-Sisi’s presidential appointees because of his substantial legal and constitutional experience. “Unfortunately, the current atmosphere in parliament does not make it possible to take advantage of my experience and this is why my resignation will be a final step,” Saim said.

On Monday, Siam told parliamentary reporters that he submitted his resignation to parliament’s secretariat-general. Said Siam, “Although the request should be submitted to the parliament speaker in person, I chose to give it by hand to Secretary-General Ahmed Saadeddin.”

For his part, Saadeddin said that, according to parliamentary rules, parliament’s internal bureau, including the speaker and two deputies, should issue a decision about Siam’s resignation within 48 hours.

“The whole matter will be subject to a vote when parliament meets in a plenary session next Saturday,” said Saaeddin. Sources told reporters that for Siam not to submit his resignation to Parliament Speaker Abdel-Aal was a clear indication of why he had decided to resign.

“Siam and other judicial figures think highly of themselves and when they feel that they are being sidelined or marginalised their reaction comes strong and fiery,” an informed source told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Siam is the former chairman of the Court of Cassation, the highest judicial authority in Egypt, and the Higher Council for Judges.

In parliament’s first procedural sitting on 10 January, Siam and Abdel-Aal clashed verbally on how MPs should run for the post of deputy speaker. While Siam argued that each nominee should be given the floor for five minutes to introduce himself, Abdel-Aal said this would take too much time, especially as 15 MPs had decided to run for the post.

Siam was also originally selected to be the chairman of a committee entrusted with amending parliament’s internal bylaws to fall in line with the new constitution.

But appointed MP Bahaaeddin Abu Shoqa, secretary-general of the Wafd Party, was chosen to head the committee in his capacity as the most senior parliamentarian.

Siam refused to take part in any committee meetings, and did not take part in any of the recent meetings with foreign officials who visited Egypt’s parliament, including the president of China and the speaker of the Russian parliament. He was also absent from parliament’s plenary session on Sunday.

Deputy Speaker Al-Sayed Al-Sherif told reporters that he did not know why Siam had decided to resign, though he said that the notion that Siam was being sidelined by Abdel-Aal was “by no means correct”.

Informed sources told the Weekly that Siam’s resignation should be put to a parliamentary debate in a plenary session and should be approved by two-thirds of MPs.

Early reaction showed that 90 per cent of MPs will reject Siam’s resignation but would approve it if he insisted.

“I think that many will try their best to persuade Siam not to resign and that parliament is in urgent need of him, especially after the new make-up of the House’s committees is completed,” the source said.

Just a few days after parliament’s opening meeting last month, Kamal Ahmed, a leftist MP from Alexandria, announced he would resign from parliament. He did, however, backtrack a few hours later after facing pressure from MPs, which could be a possible outcome for the case of Siam.

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