Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Grilled on wheat and a five star hotel

Khaled Hanafi was forced into resignation after MPs filed complaints against him, accusing the minister of corruption and graft. Gamal Essam El-Din reports.

Al-Ahram Weekly

In its weekly meeting on Thursday, Egypt's cabinet decided to accept the resignation of Minister of Supply Khaled Hanafi. The move came after a number of MPs exerted pressure on Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and also decided to file complaints against Hanafi with prosecutor general Nabil Sadek.

In a press conference following the meeting, Hanafi said he decided to resign for the sake of transparency and also allow prosecution authorities investigate him. Hanafi, however, said the accusations against him are exaggerated and that he will respond to them.

In particular, parliament is expected to discuss seven written motions (or interpellations) cross-examining the performance of Minister of Supply Khaled Hanafi. The most significant of these is the one tabled by independent MP and journalist Mustafa Bakri. It directs accusations of corruption and graft against Hanafi and seeks to withdraw confidence from him.

Bakri told reporters that the interpellations directed at Hanafi are expected to be discussed in a plenary session on Monday. "Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs that a report prepared by a fact-finding committee about corruption in the Ministry of Supply will be up for debate next Monday," said Bakri, adding that "Speaker Abdel-Aal also agreed that the seven interpellations levelled against Hanafi also be discussed on Monday."

MPs say their interpellations, backed by documentation, aim to expose the depth of corruption and graft at the Ministry of Supply. They also say they want to use a report by the parliament's fact-finding committee on corruption in wheat supplies to support their argument against Hanafi, and to force his resignation.

MP Magdi Malak, head of the fact-finding committee, told reporters that the committee's report was submitted to Abdel-Aal on 17 August and that the speaker agreed that parliament look into the report on corruption in local wheat procurement and supplies next Monday.

Although Malak refused to disclose the contents of the report, members of the committee told reporters that it directs accusations at ministers of supply, trade and agriculture. Malak himself had previously said that a lack of control over wheat supplies led to large quantities of grain finding their way into the black market without adequate oversight from the Ministry of Supply, and with many of the ministry’s officials illegally profiteering. Malak also urged the government to "reform" the local wheat procurement system to stem the tide of corruption in this sector. "I hope the government will move quickly to implement the recommendations proposed by the fact-finding committee to reform this sector and stop a source of drain on Egypt's national resources," said Malak, an MP from the upper Egypt governorate of Al-Minya. 

MPs – particularly Bakri – also accuse Hanafi of misusing public funds. Bakri alleges that Hanafi cost the Ministry of Supply LE7 million during his stay in a suite in a Nile-front five-star hotel (the Semiramis Intercontinental) from February 2014 to August 2016.

Bakri said he has high hopes that the parliament’s discussion of the seven anti-Hanafi interpellations will be aired live on air. "I hope Speaker Abdel-Aal will approve this because it is a golden opportunity to show people how parliament can act as a good watchdog of the performance of cabinet ministers," said Bakri.

Bakri told Al-Ahram Weekly that the fact-finding committee's report concludes that Hanafi’s “fraud and shady practices” are primarily to blame for corruption in the wheat procurement system. "I also received information that the cost of Hanafi's stay in Semiramis Hotel from February 2014 (the month he was named minister of supply) and August 2016 stood as high as LE7 million," said Bakri, asking why Hanafi had chosen to stay “in Egypt's most expensive hotel and why should the Ministry of Supply foot the bill”.

According to Bakri, the cost in a luxurious 131-metre suite (suite No1038) in Semiramis Hotel is as high as $594 a night. "This, in Egyptian pounds, means that Hanafi spent as much as LE7 million during his stay in Semiramis over two and a half years," said Bakri, wondering "how Hanafi, with a monthly salary of LE30,000, was able to afford the cost of his stay in Semiramis".

Bakri also wondered why "while the Ministry of Supply has a number of five-star rest houses, Hanafi chose to stay in an expensive hotel". Bakri claimed that "a mafia of private wheat suppliers" bankrolled Hanafi's stay in Semiramis Hotel.

There were rumours that wheat traders who are members of the General Federation of the Chambers of Commerce (GFCC)  paid Hanafi's bills in Semiramis in return for helping them monopolise the local wheat market. 

Bakri indicated that his interpellation would ask Hanafi to submit to parliament a detailed statement about his personal financial wealth and show parliament how his Semiramis bills were footed. 

Ahmed Al-Wakil, head of the GFCC, announced this week that he did not spend one pound on Hanafi's stay in Semiramis. "Why should I pay for it? Those who allege they have documents on "an exchange of benefits" between me and Minister Hanafi should go report them to the prosecutor-general," said Al-Wakil.

Bakri said "the corruption exposed by the fact-finding committee and Hanafi's shady practices should put the government before two choices: either Hanafi chooses to resign from office on his own free will, or parliament withdraws confidence from him". Bakri also indicated that he collected the signatures of as many as 350 MPs in support of withdrawing confidence from Hanafi.

In a quick response, the Ministry of Supply said in an official statement this week that Hanafi did not cost the ministry anything and that the bills of his stay in the Semiramis were footed using his own money.

Hanafi also told the private TV channel Sada Al-Balad on Saturday that "nobody has the right to question the sources of my private money." "The cost of my stay in the hotel comes from the private money of my family and sons," said Hanafi, adding that his stay in a five-star hotel “helps him perform his job in an excellent way". "Some people use their private money to buy cars because they enjoy this while others opt to use their personal money to stay in hotels," said Hanafi.

Hanafi was in parliament on Monday to answer questions directed by the Agriculture Ministry on rice supplies. He told MPs that he met with Prime Minister Ismail before he went to parliament and that they agreed on how he would respond to interpellations directed at him. He also told MPs that Ismail did not ask him to resign and that he himself has no plans to quit. 

Hanafi defended himself in parliament early this month, denying there is graft in wheat supplies or that he profited from his post. "The problem is that there are two prices for wheat supplies” and that he asked the government several times to adopt one price “to foil corruption attempts", said Hanafi.

Hanafi also boasted that his “excellent performance” led to putting an end to people standing in long lines in front of bakeries waiting to buy bread. He also said he was able to modernise the ration card system in a way that enabled millions of poor and limited-income citizens to get high-quality subsidised products.

MPs, including Deputy Head of the Agriculture Committee Raef Timraz, told reporters that they hold no grudges against Hanafi. "All we want to know is what was his wealth before he became a minister in February 2014 and how this wealth looks like now," said Timraz, adding that "it is by no means acceptable that while the government is calling for austerity measures at a time of a severe financial squeeze, people see that one of their government's ministers is spending lavishly on his personal life.”

Independent MP Ilhami Agina also said "if Minister Hanafi said he used the private money of his family and sons to spend $594 a night on his stay in Semiramis, then it would be possible that this private money is enough to buy the Semiramis Hotel itself".

According to Article 130 of Egypt's 2014 Constitution, "Each MP has the right to table a motion (or interpellation) that seeks to withdraw confidence from the prime minister or his/her deputies, and a cabinet minister or his/her deputies, after questioning their performance, and that parliament must discuss this motion between seven days and 60 days from its submission."

Alaa Abdel-Moneim, head of the pro-government parliamentary bloc Support Egypt, told reporters he expects that parliament will withdraw confidence from Hanafi.

"The fact-finding report about corruption in the Ministry of Supply and the fact that a lot of MPs have documented information about this corruption could force Minister Hanafi to resign," said Abdel-Moneim.

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