The Egyptian parliament voted on Monday in favor of approving a new civil service law and will be referred to the State Council to be revised in constitutional and legislative terms, parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al said.
The final approval of the 76-article law came after MPs and the government held lengthy debates to reach common ground on two controversial articles that regulate salaries. On Monday, MPs approved article 38 which states that government employees receive a five percent financial incentive out of their basic salaries instead of a two-and-a-half percent incentive.
"But employees who will be entitled to receive this incentive should be evaluated as 'highly efficient' ones over two years and that they cannot get this incentive more than one time in three years," article 38 stipulates, adding that "the number of employees who could receive this incentive should not exceed 10 percent of the total number of state employees in one year."
On Sunday, parliament also approved the controversial 37 article which states that salaries of state and government employees will be raised by seven percent annually. Minister of Planning Ashraf El-Arabi told MPs that the government had hoped that salaries would be raised by 10 percent and even more every year, but because Egypt is currently under a severe financial squeeze the government was unable to meet these hopes.
El-Arabi disclosed that the law will regulate the performance of around 6.3 million employees in state departments and public authorities, explaining that the new Civil Service Law is mainly aimed at fighting corruption and bureaucracy in government circles and reforming the country's antiquated administrative system.
"This will come through adopting a new system designed to evaluate the performance of state employees and select the most efficient ones," said El-Arabi, adding that "we hope that this system will improve the state's administrative apparatus and make sure that ordinary citizens receive high quality public services."
"This law aims to build new bridges of confidence between the government and citizens," El-Arabi continued.
El-Arabi's argument, however, was rejected by the leftist 25-30 group of MPs who insisted that "salaries of government employees should be raised by at least 10 percent every year in order to be able to meet high inflation rates."
The leftist 25-30 group was able to mobilize most of the MPs against the initial version of the civil service law when it came up for debate before parliament last January. They complained an annual 5 percent increase in state employee salaries would cause sweeping protests on the street.
According to deputy finance minister Ahmed El-Sayed, the value of state salaries rose from EGP 207 billion in the 2014-2015 budget to EGP 218 billion in the new 2015-2016 budget. "In spite of this huge amount which swallows third of Egypt's budget, the government approved that the annual financial bonus for state employees be raised from five percent to seven percent."
"This two percent bonus will cost the government an additional EGP 2 billion and we can't afford more EGP 3 billion to make this bonus reach 10 percent," said Al-Sayed, promising that the seven percent bonus will be periodically revised to make sure that it meets inflation rates.
Liberal parliamentary MPs affiliated with Al-Wafd, the pro-government Long Live Egypt bloc and the Free Egyptians Party said they fully understand the government's insistence that the annual bonus be fixed at seven percent per year.
"We want the annual bonus to be more than 10 percent per year, but we know that the government is currently under severe financial stress and that the budget can't run up more deficit," said Ayman Abul-Ela, the parliamentary spokesman of the Free Egyptians Party.
The leftist 25-30 group also raised objections that the new law imposes numerous harsh and arbitrary punishments on government employees. "These will leave them under the mercy of top officials," said leftist MP Khaled Youssef.
In response, Mohamed Gamil, chairman of the Central Apparatus for Regulation and Management, said: "The punishments will be gradual and all aim to impose discipline on state employees."
"Failed employees will first receive an ultimatum, then they might lose part of their salaries or be dismissed from their job for six months, and finally they could be stripped of any promotion," Gamil concluded.
Article 58 states that before imposing any punishment, a state employee will come under questioning. "He must defend himself first and the committee in charge of questioning him should explain in detail why he or she should be punished," read article 58.
Article 59 also indicates that the Administrative Prosecution Authority (APA) will be the one in charge of questioning top-ranking state employees. "APA will be entrusted with investigating the financial and administrative irregularities in government circles and can impose punishments in this respect," read article 59.