Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Parliament targets Sherif Ismail’s cabinet

MPs have tabled interpellations that seek to withdraw confidence from the government, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

As the end of the first session of parliament approaches many MPs are wondering if their written interpellations questioning the performance of the government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail will be discussed or not and whether draft legislation stipulated as priority by the 2014 Constitution will be sent to parliament before it adjourns at the end of this month.

In a plenary session on 7 August MPs mandated President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to issue a decree setting the dates of parliament’s summer recess.

Informed sources say parliament will adjourn by the end of August. “There will be a one month summer recess. The second session will begin in October,” said a parliamentary official who asked not to be named.

MPs now fear that interpellations – questions addressed to cabinet ministers which must be answered in a plenary session – will not be discussed before the summer recess begins.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shukka, head of parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, told reporters that the government should respond to MPs’ accusations within the next two weeks.

“An integral part of our supervisory role is to question cabinet ministers. If a minister fails to appear in parliament to answer the questions MPs can move to withdraw confidence from him or her,” said Abu Shukka.

Abu Shukka, a Wafdist MP, says the Wafd Party believes that Ismail’s government has proved a failure. “Not only has the government failed to improve public services, it has also messed up the country’s economic affairs,” said Abu Shukka.

Mohamed Fouad, the Wafd Party’s parliamentary spokesman, told reporters that the government’s policy statement, delivered before parliament on 27 March, was approved by MPs with the stipulation that the government act to improve the living standards of citizens. “Instead, what we have seen is a government incapable of controlling prices or formulating a coherent economic strategy,” said Fouad.

Fouad also complains that the government’s negotiations with the IMF for a $12 billion loan were not mentioned in its statement before parliament. “This is tantamount to misleading both parliament and the public,” said Fouad.

Mohamed Badrawi, spokesman of the National Egyptian Movement Party, has submitted a motion urging MPs to withdraw confidence from Ismail.

“Most of his ministers – and especially the group responsible for the economic and financial portfolios – are pursuing uncoordinated policies that have led to high inflation and economic deterioration,” said Badrawi.

Badrawi described Ismail as “a technocrat prime minister who only acts on orders”.

“He is not a man with the vision or energy to improve the economy. Prime Minister Ismail has become a liability for the regime of President Al-Sisi."

Ahmed Tantawi, a leftist MP and member of the 25-30 group, also disclosed that he had submitted an interpellation seeking to withdraw confidence from the government. “The cabinet violated the constitution by refusing to inform parliament in advance of its agreement with the IMF and by adopting neoliberal economic policies that will make life much harder for millions of poorer and limited-income citizens,” said Tantawi.

The Ministers of Supply and Education face interpellations accusing them of corruption. Khaled Breidaa, an independent MP, claims his questions, backed up by documentation, will expose the depth of graft at the Ministry of Supply. “Investigations by parliament into wheat supplies have shown that large quantities of grain found their way onto the black market without any oversight from the Ministry of Supply,” said Breidaa.

Minister of Education Al-Sherbini Al-Hilali also faces accusations that the poor performance of his ministry led to the scandal of the Thanaweya amma examination leaks.

In the wake of the anti-Ismail government rhetoric in parliament the prime minister met with leading parliamentarians on Tuesday. Informed sources say the meeting reviewed the government’s economic policies, with special attention paid to the agreement with the IMF and the implementation of a value-added tax (VAT).

Badrawi says Ismail told MPs that the measures agreed with the IMF on 11 August were part of the government’s policy statement delivered on 27 March. “This included the issuing of a new civil service law, reducing subsidies and introducing a value-added tax,” said Badrawi.

Other sources say that Ismail asked MPs to soften their attacks on the government. “We hope that we all stand hand in hand at this critical stage, and remain so until economic conditions improve,” Ali Al-Moselhi, head of parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee, cited Ismail as saying during the meeting on Tuesday.

Al-Moselhi told reporters MPs had agreed to cooperate with the government on condition it presents parliament with a clear-cut strategy capable of generating revenues from the richest and creating a safety net for the poorest.

Kamal Amer, chairman of the Defence and National Security Committee, says “economic conditions are deteriorating not just in Egypt but across the Arab World and the Middle East.”

Amer told reporters that he is in favour of cooperating with the government at this critical stage. “We should be aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is trying its best to exploit strained economic conditions in Egypt to incite violence against the government.”

Amer claimed President Al-Sisi is “by no means a populist head of state”.

“He is ready to take hard and unpopular decisions that might negatively affect his popularity in the short term as long as they improve the country’s finances later down the line,” said Amer.

The meeting with Ismail also covered laws due to be referred to parliament. The 2014 constitution states that laws on municipal elections, the press and media, the construction of churches and the establishment of the National Election Commission should receive priority.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati issued a statement this week saying that if any of these laws are not ready during the current session they will be forwarded to parliament by October at the latest. He also revealed the law regulating the construction of churches will be discussed by the cabinet on Wednesday and stressed that “the press law is currently being revised by the State Council in constitutional and legal terms”.

Al-Agati said the government was prepared to answer any interpellations in parliament next week. “I have informed the Ministers of Supply and Education about the accusations levelled against their ministries and they say they are ready to respond to them,” said Al-Agati.

Al-Agati also insisted that the government’s economic policies were the only response to deep seated problems.

“We have had to contend with the budget deficit, review the catastrophic subsidies policy and generate more state sovereign revenues. The government had no option but to embark on radical reforms. The status quo could no longer be maintained.”

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