Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))

Ahram Weekly

‘Much ado about nothing’

Parliamentary bylaws provoke stormy debates, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

This week the House of Representatives began debating draft bylaws that will regulate its conduct.

Wafd Party Secretary-General Bahaaeddin Abu Shukka, chairman of the 25-member committee that took charge of drafting the regulations, told parliament on Sunday that the new bylaws include 439 articles.

“This is 20 more than the current bylaws,” said Abu Shukka. “The increase is necessary to fully reflect the changed political situation following the passing of the new constitution.”

Additional articles were necessary to regulate the exercise of new parliamentary prerogatives — including the right to withdraw confidence from the president of the republic, and the prime minister — enshrined in the constitution.

“The bylaws will also regulate the process by which MPs can dismiss the speaker and his two deputies,” said Abu Shukka. “To bring a motion of no confidence in the speaker or his deputies will require the support of a third of MPs. To carry it must be supported by two-thirds.”

Abu Shukka also disclosed that the new bylaws will increase the legislative session from six to nine months.

“They also fix the monthly salary of MPs at LE15,000 per month, tax-free, and guarantee an annual increase of seven per cent,” said Abu Shukka. The figures do not include additional benefits and allowances to cover costs such as transport.

The new bylaws, said Abu Shukka, have been framed with an eye on democratizing the parliamentary process.

“The code of conduct regulating the behaviour of MPs is based on those adopted by the British House of Commons,” said Abu Shukka. “An ethics committee will be created to oversee compliance with the code.”

Leftist MP Kamal Ahmed told reporters on Sunday, “The new bylaws reflect the democratic spirit of the two revolutions of 25 January and 30 June and will help parliament exercise its legislative and supervisory powers effectively.”

Ahmed said he expects a growing role for parliament in fighting corruption. “There are now 28 committees to monitor the performance of cabinet ministers. It will be the role of the Transparency and Integrity Committee to spearhead the battle against corruption.”

Debates on the bylaws revealed MPs divided over three main points. A majority of independent MPs objected to the bylaws being handed to the State Council for revision.

“The constitution is clear that only laws drafted by the government need to be referred to the State Council for revision,” said MP and film director Khaled Youssef. “It’s a mystery why some MPs insist on granting the State Council the upper hand in endorsing all legislation in Egypt. They are effectively turning the council into another legislative chamber.”

According to Abu Shukka, however, “The revision conducted by the State Council is simply to ensure the new bylaws are immune to appeal. We want bylaws free from any constitutional defects.”

“Parliament will be able to exercise its supervisory and legislative powers only after the bylaws are endorsed and published in the official gazette,” pointed out Alaa Abdel-Moneim, the parliamentary spokesman of the Support Egypt bloc. “It is therefore essential the review process is completed as quickly as possible.”

Youssef criticized the bylaws for failing to democratize the make-up House of Representatives’ internal bureau.

“It was assumed from the beginning that membership of the office would be widened to include representatives from the five political parties with the most seats. Yet the new bylaws stick to the old formula, leaving the office in the hands of just the speaker and his two deputies,” said Youssef.

One of the most controversial articles stipulates that for a parliamentary bloc to gain official recognition it must include at least 20 per cent of MPs. MPs will not be allowed to be members of more than one bloc, and only political parties with five seats or more will have parliamentary spokesmen.

Nineteen political parties won seats in the elections, though only eight have five or more.

Olfat Kamel, a member if the Modern Egypt Party, argues the threshold for having a parliamentary spokesperson should be reduced to two seats. “This is important for democratizing parliament and reinforcing the multi-party system,” she said.

MPs were also divided over whether the number of parliamentary committees should be increased from 19 to 28.

Leftist MP Abdel-Hamid Kamal believes that rather than reinforcing parliamentary oversight, more committees will dilute it.

“I’m afraid it’s all much ado about nothing,” said Kamal.

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal hopes the bylaws will be endorsed this week. “We are now a month into the session and remain a parliament in paralysis. These bylaws need to be enacted quickly in order for parliament to begin doing its job,” he said.

The new bylaws have been praised by appointed MP Youssef Al-Qaeed. “Although they give the majority the final say on many issues inside parliament they offer a wide margin for the minority to express its views freely and democratically.”

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