Saturday,22 July, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)
Saturday,22 July, 2017
Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Chomping at the bit

While Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal heaped praise on MPs for their hard work in the last session political analysts were less impressed, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

 

Chomping at the bit
Chomping at the bit

The House of Representatives ended its annual parliamentary session last week with Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal praising the legislative and supervisory roles it has played over the last nine months.

Addressing the assembly on 5 July Abdel-Aal said meetings had taken place “by day and night” to debate and endorse laws the scope of which were unprecedented.

“You were also keen to exercise supervision of the government’s performance and proved yourselves able to voice the daily hardships and problems facing ordinary citizens,” Abdel-Aal told MPs.

According to Abdel-Aal, MPs passed 217 laws and ratified 61 foreign agreements between October 2016 and July 2017. “This is the greatest number of new laws passed in a single session since parliament was created in 1866,” said Abdel-Aal.

The most productive session before the current one was in 2003/2004 when parliament passed 112 laws, said Abdel-Aal.

The new legislation, said the speaker, was vital to improving Egypt’s economy and safeguarding the national security.

“We passed laws on investment incentives, industrial licences, commercial registration and on the civil service,” said Abdel-Aal. “Social laws aimed at tackling illegal migration, facilitating the building of churches, licensing NGOs and regulating sports were also passed.”

Abdel-Aal heaped praise on MPs for passing new legislation regulating the media and press organisations and establishing a syndicate for radio and television workers and for the stand they had taken in helping the authorities fight terrorism by amending the criminal procedures and the protest laws and voting in favour of imposing a state of emergency for three months.

“Parliament, in cooperation with other state authorities, was able in one year to assist Egypt recover from six years of political and economic turmoil,” said Abdel-Aal. “I have said before that parliament and the government are in the same boat and we have been keen to cooperate with the executive to help the country move forward.”

“This does not mean we are a toothless parliament. In several cases we have forced the government to change its policies to safeguard the interests of limited-income citizens. Parliament forced the minister of supply to resign over corruption.”

Abdel-Aal insisted MPs had successfully fulfilled their role as objective, unbiased watchdogs. He stressed that 68 meetings had been held, generating 227 hours of debate.

“Out of the total 596 MPs, 457 participated in debates, illustrating how seriously they take the job of supervising government policy.”

A report issued by parliament’s secretariat-general said the House had discussed “498 information requests [compared to 324 in 2015/2016], 464 urgent statements [compared to 265 last year], and MPs had directed 1,024 questions to the government.”

It continued: “Cabinet ministers gave responses to 75 questions during plenary sessions and hundreds of written responses were sent to MPs.”

Of the 26 discussion requests submitted by MPs the report said the majority “dealt with daily concerns, including inflation and high prices and the availability of essential food products and other commodities in the market, of ordinary citizens”.

The report also revealed 37 requests were submitted to strip MPs of parliamentary immunity and noted that one member of the House had died during the session, another had resigned to take up a cabinet post, and a third had been expelled.

In addition, parliament’s 25 committees held 1,696 meetings over 3,700 hours.

“These committees prepared 1,372 reports on legislative and supervisory items that were discussed by parliament in its plenary sessions,” said the report.

Many MPs and political analysts, however, were less than impressed by the numbers cited.

Left leaning MP Haitham Al-Hariri said parliament’s supervisory performance cannot be reduced to a string of statistics “but should take account of how far the House was able to influence the decision-making process and project itself as a strong rival to the government and executive authority”.

“The reality is that the House was keen to toe the government line, something that was made crystal clear by its approval of the Egyptian-Saudi maritime border demarcation deal,” said Al-Hariri.

“The agreement was rammed through parliament without adequate discussion. MPs kowtowed to orders from above to ratify the deal no matter what.”

Mahmoud Ezzat, an independent MP from Beni Sweif, told Al-Ahram Weekly that most of the questions and information requests submitted in the session were “insignificant” and should have been discussed at local council level and “the government failed to respond to many questions and information requests submitted by MPs and instead took them by surprise by submitting laws and decrees without adequate notice.”

Ezzat also complained MPs were prevented from submitting interpellations. “These are the most serious supervisory tool but the House was manipulated by the speaker to cushion any serious criticism of the government when it came to corruption and IMF-related policies.”

Security and economic issues topped parliament’s agenda in its second session, said Amr Hashem Rabie, a political analyst with Al-Ahram, while “important political issues such as local councils, anti- discrimination laws and the press were shelved”.

“No interpellations have been discussed since parliament was elected in early 2016,” noted Rabie.

“Maybe the poor performance of MPs in exercising their supervisory role is due to the fact many are new to parliament and lack experience. We can only hope their performance improves in coming sessions.”

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