An anticipated cabinet reshuffle has been postponed to Tuesday due to a visit to Egypt by Lebanon's President Michel Aoun on Monday, parliamentary sources said.
Sources affiliated with the pro-government parliamentary majority bloc "Support Egypt" told reporters that Prime Minister Sherif Ismail has informed parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal that the final list of the new cabinet ministers will be presented Monday so that parliament can take a vote on the new ministers Tuesday.
Ismail told the official Middle East News Agency (MENA) last week that a number between eight and 11 new cabinet ministers will be part of the much-anticipated limited cabinet reshuffle.
“We hope that a final list of the new cabinet ministers will be presented to parliament, the House of Representatives, when it reconvenes," Ismail told MENA.
Ismail indicated that some ministries could be eliminated or merged, but no new ones would be created.
It had earlier been announced that the cabinet reshuffle would be presented to parliament 1 February. But sources said that the reshuffle had been delayed mainly because some figures approached to take charge of ministry portfolios had declined.
Ismail admitted in interview with MENA that “some figures turned down the job because of the critical economic conditions the country is currently facing.” He added that “this made the choices available to us more limited, and so we have needed more time to finish the reshuffle.”
The process was further complicated by MPs stipulating that new cabinet ministers should get parliament’s approval before officially taking charge of their portfolios.
A number of MPs affiliated with the majority "Support Egypt" bloc in parliament argued that “Article 147 of the constitution is clear that the president can carry out a cabinet reshuffle only after consulting with the prime minister and gaining the approval of a majority of two-thirds of MPs.”
'High calibre people'
Mona Mounir, a Support Egypt MP, told reporters that “parliament’s approval means that each nominee must attend an interview, submit a curriculum vitae, and explain his vision for the new job, before he or she is officially approved by parliament.”
“We want to make sure that new cabinet ministers are high-calibre people who can deliver in their sectors,” she said.
However, other MPs said it will be enough for parliament’s speaker to read out each nominee’s curriculum vitae in a plenary session and ask MPs to approve them.
"Article 147 stipulates an approval of a majority of two thirds of MPs (around 300 MPs out of a total 596), but it keeps short of showing how MPs' approval should be granted," said independent MP and constitutional expert Abdel-Moneim Al-Oleimi.
Al-Oleimi indicated that "while the prime minister will not be present during the vote on the list of the new cabinet ministers, MPs will be just requested to approve or reject the list as a whole and not a case by case."
Al-Oleimi said when new Minister of Supply Mohamed Ali Al-Moselhi was appointed last year, it was enough for the parliament speaker to read out his name and a brief curriculum vitae about him.
"The fact that the list will get prior approval of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi will make it easy to gain the required approval in parliament," he added.
Sources said Ismail had held separate meetings with different figures who might become part of the new cabinet.
Independent MP and high-profile journalist Mostafa Bakry told Ahram Online that in addition to the Lebanese president's visit to Cairo, the reshuffle has also been delayed because the parliament has a busy schedule Sunday and Monday.
"I expect this cabinet reshuffle to be finalised on Monday and Tuesday," said Bakri, adding that "as Prime Minister Ismail indicated, the anticipated cabinet reshuffle will cover between eight and 11 portfolios."
Bakri said he expects that the ministers of higher education, education, agriculture, tourism, health, local development, environment, labour and immigration will be dismissed.
"I can't verify whether the reshuffle will cover any of the economic portfolios," he added.
Some reports stated that cabinet ministers responsible for economic portfolios as well as Minister of Interior Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar will be replaced.
Ismail told MENA last week that the job of a cabinet minister was “no longer a luxury”. The country’s harsh economic conditions and severe criticisms from the media and parliament had made “many high-calibre figures refuse to accept the job of cabinet minister,” he said.
Ismail dismissed reports that some public figures had refused to join the new cabinet because the salary of a cabinet minister was insufficient.
However, MPs said that a new draft law was submitted to parliament two weeks ago to raise the prime minister’s monthly salary from LE30,000 to LE42,000 and the salaries of the prime minister’s deputies, cabinet ministers and provincial governors from LE20,000 to LE35,000.
"This clearly shows that many refused the job of cabinet minister because of low salaries," said Bakri.
MPs also accused the government of deliberately delaying the cabinet reshuffle in order not to face questions on critical issues in parliament. They claim that the postponement of the reshuffle has led to delays in the discussion of key laws, particularly one aimed at raising the salaries of public sector employees not covered by the new civil service law by 10 percent.
Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati told MPs last week that “There is no problem with the 10 percent bonus.” “The minister of finance has been abroad, but he will be back soon to discuss this with MPs,” he said.
Al-Agati, however, infuriated MPs by criticising “an interpellation” that accused the government of pursuing haphazard policies that had caused a sharp spike in basic commodity prices and runaway inflation.
Abdel-Aal recommended that discussion of the criticisms be delayed until the new cabinet reshuffle is completed. “We are about to see a cabinet reshuffle of which we still do not know the scope and dimensions,” Abdel-Aal said.
In an extraordinary meeting Sunday, the majority "Support Egypt" bloc said in a statement that ordinary citizens have been lately complaining of the poor performance of some cabinet ministers.
"A fact which should compel the government to do its best selecting new high-calibre cabinet ministers to be able to stand up to the challenges of the coming period," said the statement.
It also added that a review of a report submitted to parliament on the government's performance over the last six months of the fiscal year 2016/2017 shows that the two sectors of education and health received the highest level of criticism.
"So we hope that the coming change will be a radical one leading to a more efficient and high-calibre government capable of delivering on services and policies," the statement concluded.