Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Bitter vote of confidence

Despite most political forces rejecting its programme, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail’s government has won a vote of confidence, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail won a “bitter” vote of confidence in parliament on Wednesday. Ismail and most of his cabinet ministers came to parliament yesterday to respond to MP’s comments on his government’s policy statement, delivered before parliament on 27 March. At the end of his response, MPs gave the government a vote of confidence.

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the government’s policy statement had been discussed in plenary sessions between 10 and 20 April. “Spokespersons of political parties were given priority in taking the floor, with each allowed 15 minutes,” said Abdel-Aal.

The 340-page report, prepared by a special 50-member committee, offered a critical review of the government’s three-year programme, said Deputy Speaker Al-Sayed Al-Sherif, and recommended that the government implement it under the constant review of parliament.

“The report recommended that parliament’s vote of confidence be granted but stipulated the programme be implemented according to a clear time schedule,” said Al-Sherif.

“The report devotes particular attention to the government’s social justice policies, ringing alarm bells that the lives of millions of ordinary Egyptians have been severely battered by a steep rise in basic food prices and electricity and water bills,” said Al-Sherif.

The report noted that “although the government’s policy statement allocates an unprecedented sum of LE429 billion in spending on social protection programmes, this will be insufficient to lift millions of the most economically marginalised Egyptians out of poverty.”

The report urges the government to rationalise public spending rather than cut social subsidies, promote labour-intensive projects to reduce unemployment and fight bureaucracy in government circles. “In this respect, the government should closely cooperate with parliament in fighting corruption and improving public services,” the report said.

The report also lamented that the government’s policy statement fell short of discussing the issue of human rights in detail.

“In this respect, the report recommended that local council elections be held as soon as possible, that a regular and strict review of conditions in prison cells and police stations be conducted, the constitution’s articles on media freedoms be implemented and a new law be issued for NGOs operating in Egypt,” said Al-Sherif.

Parliamentary spokespersons of most political forces indicated that they would be granting the government a vote of confidence not out of conviction but because they had no other choice.

“If we rejected this programme the alternatives would be much worse,” said Alaa Abed. “We are in one boat,” he told reporters, “and all we can do right now is to approve this programme in order that the boat moves forward.”

He added, “This does not mean that the government will be granted blanket approval. We stipulated that the programme should be implemented under parliament’s supervision and that it should not come at the expense of the poor.”

Abed claimed all political forces in parliament feel the government is not doing enough to rationalise spending. “We still see the government acting as if it is the government of a rich country and not of one suffering from a severe foreign exchange squeeze.”

Abed further complained, “Cabinet ministers are still paying costly visits to foreign countries and most of them ride expensive imported cars ... within the same context, we do not see any credible administrative reform and anti-corruption programmes that might save millions of pounds and dollars.”

Nour Party spokesman Mohamed Khalifa told MPs his party would be giving the government its confidence “even if its statement fell short of any democratic reform programme”.

“There are no plans for promoting the multi-party system in cooperation with parliament, not to mention programmes for improving the country’s human rights situation,” said Khalifa.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shukka, parliamentary spokesperson of the Wafd Party, slammed the government’s policy statement for not adequately addressing the issue of NGO law reform. “NGOs operating in Egypt must be prevented from obtaining foreign funding because this violates the law,” he said.

“The statement also spoke of the necessity of implementing a number of mega-development projects without indicating how these projects will be funded.”

Said Abu Shukka, “We do not need rhetoric, we need figures and a time schedule to show how these projects will be implemented.”

Kamal Amer, spokesperson of the Guardians of the Nation Party, also believes the current NGO law should be amended to impose a ban on foreign-funded NGOs. He demanded that legal procedures be taken against all media outlets that “exceed the limits of freedom of expression” in covering parliamentary and political events, including private TV stations and social networking sites such as Facebook.

On Monday, parliament issued an official statement entitled “Freedom of expression should not be used to justify slandering and insulting institutions”. The statement said that parliament was ready to take legal action against television programmes that “direct criticism at MPs in a way which exceeds the limits of freedom of expression”.

“There is a subtle difference between exercising freedom of expression as a constitutional right and insulting or defaming state institutions,” the statement read. “The first is an allowed form of political criticism, while the second only aims at tarnishing the image of state institutions and disparaging them.”

The statement noted that a number of television programmes and public figures have recently directed insults to parliament and MPs in a way that exceeded the limits of freedom of expression, defaming them in the eyes of their constituents.

“We also note that some of these programmes adopt one point of view without presenting other viewpoints,” said the statement. It warned, “The right of freedom of expression should not be used in an arbitrary way” because “directing insults to MPs in fact means directing insults to the citizens who elected these MPs.”

The statement said parliament’s new bylaws, which were signed into law by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on Sunday, state that in exercising their parliamentary duties MPs are urged to observe the dignity of state institutions inside and outside of parliament, and that those “who fail to observe this right will be considered guilty of violating parliamentary rules”.

The statement was issued moments after MPs voted in favour of expelling independent MP and political researcher Samir Ghattas from the chamber, referring him to a special parliamentary disciplinary committee. Ghattas told reporters that he was expelled because he interrupted speaker Abdel-Aal’s call for MPs to boycott private TV channels. “The speaker wants to silence all kinds of criticism and place parliament on a collision course with the media,” said Ghattas.

Abdel-Aal accused Ghattas of trying to defame parliament inside and outside the chamber. “He is also writing articles that direct insults to parliament and the speaker,” Abdel-Aal said.

Abdel-Aal said that while Articles 65 and 70 of the new constitution state that freedom of expression is guaranteed and that freedom to establish all forms of media outlets is allowed, parliament is also authorized to insist that “this freedom should not go as far as directing insults or slandering state institutions”.

Meanwhile, Abdel-Aal disclosed that preparations for electing parliament’s 25 committees will begin next week. This follows ratification of the House’s internal bylaws by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on 17 April.

 

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