Monday,20 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)
Monday,20 August, 2018
Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Editorial: War on corruption

Al-Ahram Weekly

As though the economic straits of the Egyptian government — plagued by a national budget deficit of around LE350 billion not to mention more than LE200 billion in interest on domestic and foreign debts — were not bad enough, the House of Representatives economic committee has revealed huge embezzlement of public moneys through fraudulent wheat procurements in Egyptian silos. Some parliamentary deputies estimate that more than LE2 billion has been siphoned out of the Egyptian treasury. Sadly, we believe that this is not the only case of corruption and abuse of public funds.

The Egyptian government is bound by a commitment to fulfil a number of basic economic and social rights. Prime among these are providing daily bread to the people at an affordable price, free medical treatment to the needy and free education. We believe that most of the amount of money that is earmarked for the people does not reach its designated destination and instead winds its way into the pockets of public assets thieves. Therefore, all the Ministry of Supply’s efforts to realise an ample enough amount of subsidies go to waste and never reach their intended beneficiaries because the funds are plundered at source.

In spite of tremendous efforts made by regulatory agencies, it is not sufficient. Parliament must clearly play a role. Under the constitution, parliament has the right to monitor government performance and, in particular, it has the right to oversee government spending. Accordingly, it is constitutionally empowered to question and bring government officials to account. An important mechanism towards this end is the fact-finding committees that parliament can form in order to investigate and expose dens of corruption that undermine all efforts to realise real and concrete development in Egypt and, indeed, that make Egypt vulnerable to social instability due to inflation and the inability of the Egyptian government to alleviate the impact of soaring prices on the poor and limited income sectors of society due to the plundering of public funds.

According to the House of Representatives’ statutes, there are specialised parliamentary committees that mirror the jurisdictions of the various government ministries. For the Ministry of Finance parliament has the planning and budgetary committee; for the Ministry of Health there is the parliament’s health committee, etc. These committees are the legislature’s instruments for monitoring government performance. The success of parliament’s economic committee offers a model for parliament’s regulatory performance, especially with regard to the ministries in charge of public services and that have huge budgets to support these services. All other parliamentary committees should follow suit and immediately begin to scrutinise the performance of respective ministries in terms of the stipulated spending provisions itemised in the national budget. Naturally, in the process, these committees can avail themselves of the reports from the Administrative Oversight Agency, the Central Auditing Organisation and the Department for the Investigation of Public Funds Crimes.

The House of Representatives needs to assert its role in the war against corruption and exercise its powers of oversight with regard to public expenditure and how and where money is being spent in light of parliamentary discussions and government plans. For many years, far too much money has ended up in the pockets of the corrupt, hampering the realisation of the constitutionally enshrined principle of social justice and preventing subsidies from reaching their designated beneficiaries.

Curiously, following the release of the report on fraudulent wheat procurements, the grains sector in the Egyptian Chambers of Commerce and some officials in the Ministry of Supply have complained of a war against the chamber, by whom and why being left unsaid, and of differences in the gauges used to measure the amounts of wheat in silos. The arguments are clearly untenable and fail to offer adequate responses to the documented figures testifying to fictional wheat procurements to the tune of LE2 billion from the public treasury that ended up in the hands of some very fat cats.

The House of Representatives and its specialised committees must continue to press forward on this issue in defence of the Egyptian people’s economic and social rights. In the same spirit, the public prosecutor, who has already issued travel bans on those implicated in the wheat procurements fraud, must act rapidly to carry out investigations into this case and to bring the guilty to justice so that the people can be assured that we are on the right path in the elimination of the sources of corruption that have accumulated over the decades.

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