Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Prime minister faces MPs

The performance of the government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail comes under sustained attack in parliament, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

MPs from across the political spectrum joined on Monday to take the government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail to task over the worsening of the dollar crisis and deterioration in public services.

Independent MP Mustafa Bakri told reporters that he has gathered signatures from more than 200 MPs in favour of withdrawing confidence from the government. Bakri not only claimed the government’s poor performance was responsible for the deteriorating conditions of the majority of citizens, but that ministers refuse to come to parliament to answer questions on economic policy.

MPs believe that there should be a cabinet reshuffle, said Bakri, with cabinet ministers responsible for economic portfolios sacked.

On Monday morning parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs that parliament could compel ministers to answer MPs’ questions and explain government policies.

“We want to cooperate with the government, but with the stipulation that it change its policies,” said Abdel-Aal.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati told MPs that all cabinet ministers, including Ismail, were ready to come to parliament to answer MPs’ questions and explain policies. He also pointed out that under Article 131 of the constitution MPs can only withdraw confidence in the government after an interpellation is discussed in parliament.

When Ismail arrived at parliament on Monday afternoon he found that more than 100 MPs had directed “information requests” asking him to explain the government’s policies on, among other things, inflation, the dollar crisis and the shortage of sugar.

Ismail adopted a reconciliatory rather than confrontational tone. He thanked MPs for reflecting “the pulse of the street” and said members of the government were always ready to come parliament when requested to answer questions. “You are the ones who are in daily contact with citizens and so the government is keen to listen to you and respond to your questions,” he said.

”Yes,” he conceded, “we are facing a severe economic crisis but this is not a result of the current government’s performance but of the failure of former governments to embrace radical reform and take difficult decisions.” He added that “differences between the government and parliament at this critical stage will not help Egypt. We need cooperation and consensus. The government will not be able to overcome the current crisis without parliament’s support.” Ismail told MPs his government was ready to enact another package of economic reforms “but only if parliament agrees to the measures”.

He said some difficult but necessary policies had already been implemented — “issuing the value-added tax and the civil service laws” before adding “further economic reforms await the approval of MPs.”

“What we all need at the moment is to keep Egypt stable and see Egypt’s current stability as a blessing we cannot waste.” On the dollar shortage Ismail said the Central Bank of Egypt would soon issue new measures to stabilise the exchange rate. “We are also about to make important decisions on boosting investment, including amending the investment law and providing further incentives to industry after already allocating LE6 billion to the industrial sector to compensate for the increase cost of imported raw materials.”

According to Ismail, the dollar crisis is not all bad because it benefits the industry by discouraging imported manufactured goods. On the sugar shortage, Ismail said the government and governor of the Central Bank have agreed that $1.8 billion will be made available to import basic commodities like sugar and to build up supplies to cover at least six months. “We aim to create a stock of these basic commodities that should meet the country’s needs for eight months. Between 8,000 and 10,000 tonnes of sugar are being released onto the market everyday but the problem is merchants still insist on storing huge quantities. We will continue supplying the market with sugar regardless of any monopolistic practices until stock levels meet at least two months’ needs,” Ismail added. The prime minister reminded MPs Egypt’s vital tourism sector has suffered three setbacks in one year: the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Sinai last October 2015, the hijacking of an EgyptAir plane in March this year and the loss of another EgyptAir plane in the Mediterranean in May. “However, we are working in all directions to restore hope to the tourist sector which is vital to generate foreign currency revenues,” said Ismail. Speaker Abdel-Aal did his best to contain the anger of MPs who say their constituents are blaming them for not withdrawing confidence in the government. “Egypt has passed through several economic crises and challenges and what we need today is to join shoulders to overcome the current crisis,” he told MPs before addressing Ismail, saying “parliament is ready to extend a helping hand to the government so that as a nation we can overcome the current crisis.” He added that, ”parliament will welcome any decisions that will help the government implement a serious and promising economic reform programme,” vowed the speaker. Mohamed Al-Sewedi, the businessman head of parliament’s majority Support Egypt coalition, said MPs are ready to support any difficult decisions that lead to serious economic reform. But he blamed the thriving black market in currency on the government’s failure to quickly address the dollar crisis. Ismail vowed that greater efforts will be made to help MPs solve the problems of their constituents. He also promised that no radical economic reform decisions will be implemented without the approval of MPs.

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