Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Ration card hiccups

Activation of the new electronic system is causing headaches, writes Hayat Hussein

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Chicken and meat are not as important as cooking oil and rice, as far as some Egyptians are concerned,” said Samir, a doorman and the father of three children in Cairo’s Ain Shams district. “They should ration cooking oil, rice and sugar over time, but only ration meat and chicken for single meals,” he added.

Samir was criticising the new system for distributing rationed subsidised commodities that came into effect in July. The system affects the sale of 20 items, including meat and chicken. The Ministry of Supply hopes to eventually expand the list to include more than 100 items. The old system only covered essential goods like rice, sugar, pasta and cooking oil.

Egypt’s rationing system for subsidised foodstuffs currently benefits some 18 million families. For many Egyptians, the system provides their only source of food.

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), the number of people living beneath the poverty line increased in 2012­–2013 to 26.3 per cent, compared to 25 per cent in 2010–2011.

“People will be allowed to choose from a larger range of products that includes milk, fruit, meat, frozen chicken and vegetables,” Ministry of Supply spokesman Mahmoud Diab said. He added that the new system will prevent smuggling and offers better products.

It also allows competition with market products, Diab said. Under the old system, each citizen holding a ration card was entitled to two kg of rice, two kg of sugar and 1.5 kg of cooking oil. To keep prices low, the state shouldered much of the cost of these products and consumers paid shopkeepers the government-set subsidised prices.

Under the new system, people do not pay at all if their purchases are under LE15, the value of the government subsidy.

However, after a media campaign to introduce the new system, people were disappointed to find that the new products were sometimes not available. Compounding the problem, regular ration allocations were also not available.

Ali, who cleans cars for a living, said his family is suffering because they cannot get their rations. “I do not have a permanent income, and rationed goods are the only secure source of food we have. Poor people like us cannot deal with delays,” he said.

There have been disputes between customers and shopkeepers because of the delays. “People think the shopkeepers are keeping the goods from them,” said Emad Abdeen, vice-chairman of the groceries division at the Federation of Chambers of Commerce.

A large part of the confusion may have stemmed from the fact that only 16, and not the promised 20, goods were included in the new system. People were also unable to access rations of rice and cooking oil because of late deliveries, he said.

Khaled Hanafi, Minister of Supply has been quoted as saying that part of the problem was because it was the end of the fiscal year, and part of it was because of the changeover to electronic cards. The 20 rationed items will be available starting this month, he said.

“Empty stomachs and hunger cannot wait,” said Alia, a widow with two children in Sharqiyya. Unable to receive the subsidised products, she was forced to ask relatives for food.

Ibrahim Abu Zaid, a shopkeeper, said that the new system is a good one but faulty implementation has led to bad feelings. He expects the problems to be sorted out within a couple of weeks.

While Hanafi said that 60 per cent of the rationed goods were delivered to the shops, a statement by the groceries division last week reported that only 50 per cent of July’s rationed goods were received.

Waleed Al-Sheikh, head of the groceries division at the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, said that the problems were made worse by unfair distribution. “Cairo received 80 per cent of its share, but Fayoum got only 17 per cent,” he said.

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