Nominating a businessman as minister stirs Egyptian bad memories
A businessman is set to take charge of the Ministry of Trade and Industry in absence of any law regulating conflicts of interest. Another case of deja vu?
Salma El-Wardani , Wednesday 20 Jul 2011
"A businessman? Again?" splutters Hossam Eissa, a prominent lawyer, down the other end of the phone line.
On Monday Ahmed Fikry Abdel Wahab was officially announced as the new Minister of Trade and Industry, replacing Samir El-Sayad who resigned the day before.
His future now hangs in the balance, with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, having delayed the swearing in of newly appointed ministers.
Reports suggest that Abdel Wahab, along with other just-appointed ministers, may have just another few hours to enjoy their new titles before another cabinet reshuffle takes place.
But the fact that Abdel Wahab comes from a business background prompts questions on how to regulate conflicts of interest that might arise between his private enterprises and public interest of the country he will serve.
Abdel Wahab is currently serving as chairman and managing director of the FAW Industrial Group, a listed Egyptian company established in April 2008 that specialises in trading disc brake pads for private and commercial vehicles.
He has, however, mixed business with academia. After gaining a PhD in business administration from the University of Alabama in 1986, he served as adjust professor of management science at the American University in Cairo until 2001.
In 2008 he was appointed head of the Engineering Export Council by former industry minister Rashid Mohamed Rashid, a post he currently holds.
The former Minister of Trade and Industry also choose Abdel Wahab to be vice chairman of the Chamber of Engineering Industries at the Federation of Egyptian Industries, director of the Industrial Training Council at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and director of the Egyptian Competition Authority, according to the official website of the Engineering Expert Council of Egypt.
Abdel Wahab is also the director of the Egyptian Chinese Business Council and director and secretary-general of the Egyptian Automotive Feeder Industries Association.
The appointment of a businessman in the post-revolutionary government has raised concerns among many commentators.
Legal expert and law professor at Ain Shams University, Hossam Eissa is completely against "having another businessman holding an official post after Egypt's recent history of business corruption," he told Ahram Online.
"There could be a clear conflict of interest. If we allow this to happen again in a government formed to meet the aspirations of revolutionaries then this another tragedy."
Eissa is one of the founders of the the Egyptian Initiative for Prevention of Corruption, an organisation formed just after Mubarak's ousting.
Created by lawyers, academics and journalists, the initiative aiming to improve legislature framework for combatting corruption in the public and private sectors.
The initiative has prepared a draft law to prevent conflict of interest for ministers, government senior officials and employees of different sectors of the state where personal interests may conflict with the duties of public office.
"[The organisation proposes] a review and upgrade of the system of declaration of existing interests upon assumption of a public position, as well as of the procedures that should be carried out. This will ensure any previous private business are kept separate from the requirements of the public position and there there will be no conflict between them," the website reads.
"[It also proposes] creating a system to continue to monitor conflict of interest during the period after an official leaves public office with a view to ensuring that the position is not abused in the period immediately before departure."
It's not clear yet if Abdel Wahab has sold off shares in his company, but the fact that he comes from a business background worries Eissa.
"Holding an official post if you have a business career even if you dropped it before you joined is always risky because it probably means you'll have a bias towards the sector ," he says. "Egypt already had a bad experience with businessmen ministers."
Rashid Mohamed Rashid, former holder of Abdel Wahab's new post and also a businessman, was sentenced in absentia to five years in jail Saturday after being accused of using his government position to subsidise food export industries in which he is a shareholder.
Ahram Online was unable to find out more information about Abdel Wahab. Well-placed sources inside the ministry said they didn't know much about the new minister either.