Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Help for the needy

The government is planning a set of social-friendly policies to help poorer sections of the population, writes Mona El-Fiqi

Al-Ahram Weekly

The beginning of the new school year adds to the burdens of many Egyptian households. In addition to now hard-to-afford daily expenses, parents with children going to school have to buy school uniforms, books, shoes, bags and stationary, in addition to school fees.

In a move aiming to make things a bit easier on parents, the government of Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawi has decided to exempt students at state schools from tuition fees and payment for books.

The decision will cost the government LE700 million, according to the minister of education, and it was positively received by low-income families who are keen to enroll their children in schools. 

Hanan Ahmed, a mother of two pupils at a primary school in Nasr City, said that “if this decision is really applied, I will save LE100, the cost of my children’s school fees.”

While that is good for Ahmed, she will still have to pay for the school to accept her son in addition to LE300 per month for private lessons.

Children at primary education in state schools, estimated at some 11 million, will also receive a free daily meal under a national nutrition programme.

Providing a healthy meal, according to Ziad Bahaaeddin, deputy prime minister for economic affairs, is important to increase pupils’ ability to understand their lessons at school, to build their bodies, and to save money for their families.

According to Bahaaeddin, a healthy meal of milk, biscuits and cheese will be provided to around 600,000 children in January 2014, while the programme’s full application will be in the next school year.

The government is also planning to reduce the cost of basic food commodities by up to 20 per cent. Minister of investment Osama Saleh announced that the Holding Company for Food Industries was committed to selling 20 basic food commodities, including sugar, rice, flour, meat, and cooking oil, at governmental cooperatives at a reduction of 10 to 15 per cent.

The reduction would continue until mid-October through 1,150 government outlets, he said. Other moves aim at reducing public bus ticket prices and adding 3.8 million citizens to the subsidised ration cards system.

“These are all steps in the right direction, showing that the government is working on behalf of poorer people,” said Refaat Al-Said, head of the Tagammu opposition party.

According to Al-Said, the government had in the past offered incentives for investors like low-priced land, but this was the first time it had catered to the needs of poorer families.

“Amid the non-stop political turmoil, it is important to think of poor people who don’t really care about political arguments and the constitution. They are too busy providing the means to feed and educate their children,” Al-Said added.

Securing such means puts a question mark over efforts to set a minimum wage for those working in both the private and public sectors. The cabinet is expected to announce a minimum and maximum wage during its coming meeting, scheduled for next week. 

A draft law on these levels is currently being discussed by the National Council for Wages, and a final decision will be taken during the coming few days before it is submitted as a recommendation to the cabinet.

Farmers, who represent more than 50 per cent of Egypt’s total population, are also included in the cabinet’s social-friendly plans. The government has said it will fund an estimated LE110 million to help farmers cancel their debts with the Agricultural Credit Bank.

According to law number 123 for 2013, issued by former president Mohamed Morsi, these loans should have been written off, but this never happened.

The beneficiaries of this decision are estimated to include some 73,000 small farmers. Mohamed Abdel-Kader, a farmer in the Daqahliya governorate, said that “the problem is that due to a delay in the implementation of the decree, I could not get new loans for the next agricultural season.”

Offering farmers another pat on the back, the ministry of agriculture has also set delivery prices of wheat at LE420 per ardab and LE1,800 per tonne of rice two months before the beginning of the cultivation season in order to guarantee the fair pricing of crops.

People have had enough of promises, however, said Manal Metwali, a professor of economics at Cairo University. “The government’s agenda is good, but people are no longer keen to listen to good news. What they want is to see these plans applied.”

Another point raised by Metwali was the lack of strict controls on markets, which makes any talk about reducing prices theoretical and might end up with products sold at lower prices being of less good quality.

Moreover, the cooperatives are not the main or essential outlets for basic food commodities, according to Metwali.

Al-Said said that the moves should be complemented by the introduction of a progressive tax system, as well as the application of a minimum wage of LE1,200 at least, with an annual increase equivalent to the inflation rate.

“I think that any individual who earns more than LE12 million annually should be subjected to a 80 per cent tax rate in order to achieve social justice,” Al-Said added.


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