Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1301, (23 - 29 June 2016)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1301, (23 - 29 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The ‘LE1 billion parliament’

While Egypt’s new parliament is acting like a rubber stamp institution, its budget has dramatically increased to LE1 billion this year, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

The budget of Egypt’s five-month-old parliament — the House of Representatives — has increased by around LE221 million. According to the state’s new budget, which is being discussed by parliament, the House’s budget will increase by 29 per cent —from LE776 million in 2015-2016 to LE997 million in 2016-2017.

“In 2012, parliament’s budget reached LE500 million and then increased by only around LE100 million in 2013-2014 to LE601 million,” a budget report said.

The big increase in parliament’s new budget drew criticism from political forces and analysts. Amr Hashem Rabie, an Ahram political analyst, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the poor performance of parliament in five months does not justify it getting such a hefty budget in return.

“This big budget also comes at a time that Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, is leading an austerity policy aimed at rationalising spending on public institutions,” said Rabie. “When people hear that the new parliament’s budget has become LE1 billion, they will wonder how this parliament with a poor performance gave itself the right to increase its budget by around LE221 million in just one year.”

Medhat Al-Zahed, a leading member of the opposition Democratic Current Alliance, told reporters that parliament is sending the wrong message to most Egyptians when it takes a unilateral decision to increase its new budget.

“While most Egyptians are suffering from tough economic conditions and high inflation, this new parliament increases its budget and imposes new taxes rather than help Egyptians improve their lives,” said Al-Zahed.

Al-Zahed noted that the increase also comes after parliament approved a government decision last month to increase custom duties on some vital imported goods and raise the price of medicines. “Parliament has also okayed raising fees charged against issuing new identification cards and marriage certificates,” Al-Zahed said.

A report by parliament’s Finance Committee shows that the House’s new budget was increased by LE221 million, up from LE776 million in 2015-2016 to LE997 million in 2016-2017.

“Out of LE997 million, LE406 million will be earmarked to cover the salaries of the speaker and 595 MPs,” the report said. It also indicated that LE55 million will be spent on foreign and field visits, LE2.5 million on 25 consultants and experts giving advice to the speaker and chairmen of committees, and LE2 million on internet and telephone services. “LE11 million will also be allocated to renting a big underground garage for MPs at the nearby Tahrir Square every year,” the report said.

The report also indicated that each MP will receive LE300 against each plenary session he or she attends. “This means that each session will cost LE167,700,” the report said. This is in addition to the LE150 that each MP receives for attending a committee meeting.

Tayseer Mattar, an MP and chairman of the Constitutional Party, agrees that parliament’s new budget is too high. “Now most Egyptians are calling us the ‘LE1 billion parliament’ and I think that some kind of squeeze will be imposed when the overall state budget comes up for debate next week,” said Mattar.

“It is too much to spend LE406 million a year on foreign visits. What I know is that parliament’s speaker, Ali Abdel- Aal, has set a new record for the number of foreign visits,” he said. “In five months, Abdel-Aal and other MPs have paid 25 visits abroad. This is too much.”

Mattar agrees that while President Al-Sisi is urging ordinary Egyptians and public authorities to rationalise spending, “parliament is clearly moving in the opposite direction”.

“Parliament’s new budget should be cut by at least 25 per cent,” Emad Mahrous, an independent MP from the Nile Delta governorate of Beheira, told the Weekly. “I think spending on foreign visits and transportation of MPs could be dramatically reduced.”

He continued, “MPs should view their role as a voluntary service rather than a job for which they should receive money. As a result, the LE300 payment for each MP in each session should be halved to just LE150 or even LE100. This way we will be able to save LE20 million. Increasing parliament’s budget helps worsen the state budget deficit. Cutting this budget will help close the deficit.”

Hassan Eissa, chairman of parliament’s Finance Committee and former president of Ain Shams University, told reporters that a number of new factors led to raising parliament’s budget by LE221 million.

“The first is that the duration of parliament’s one legislative season increased from six months to nine months, not to mention that the total number of MPs increased by 142 or from 454 in 2005, to 596 in 2016,” said Eissa. “This big increase has incurred a lot of costs.”

He added, “Please also do not forget that staff employees of the now defunct Upper House, the Shura Council, were added to increase the total number of parliament’s current employees from 1,400 to 3,200. We couldn’t say goodbye to these Shura Council employees, not to mention that the new constitution states that they should be part of the staff of the new House of Representatives, getting the same financial rewards.”

For his part, speaker Abdel-Aal insisted that among the world’s parliaments Egypt is the lowest in terms of financial costs. “This is despite the fact that some countries are in economic straits far worse than Egypt, but their parliaments and MPs still receive high salaries,” said Abdel-Aal. “On the list of 165 world countries that are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Egypt’s parliament ranks very low in terms of financial costs and salaries.”

Abdel-Aal explained that parliament expenditure is under supervision and review by the Finance Committee. “The committee stands against any redundant expenditure,” said Abdel-Aal.

“It has advised against spending on any high-ranking officials, including foreign presidents who visit parliament. The committee said they have just enough to serve them a cup of tea,” said Abdel-Aal.

Abdel-Aal disclosed that an MP’s financial reward per month cannot exceed LE5,000. “But he might get other financial benefits such as medical insurance and free transportation but that in all cases these benefits plus his salary should not exceed LE20,000 a month.”

According to the Finance Committee’s report, the total money allocated to MPs’ financial rewards will increase by LE15 million, or from LE21 million last year to LE36 million this year.

Abdel-Aal said this “modest” increase, including raising an MP’s financial reward per sitting from LE200 to LE300, was necessary to encourage deputies to attend sessions.

Abdel-Aal said a special committee has been formed to review parliament’s new budget and is expected to recommend measures aimed at cost cutting. “We are open to any recommendations because we do not want to be a burden on the state budget,” he said.

Head of the finance budget said a number of businessmen and wealthy MPs also decided to donate their financial rewards to the fund Tahya Masr (Long Live Egypt). The fund was established by Al-Sisi to fund projects for the poor and limited-income classes.

“They said they take their parliamentary duty not as a job and that they will donate their salaries to Tahya Masr.”

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