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Embracing decentralisation

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial , Tuesday 11 Feb 2020
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Egypt has taken great strides towards restructuring government in a manner geared to giving a great boost to the economy and investment. These strides clearly fall in the framework of a comprehensive plan that seeks bolster local and foreign investors’ confidence in the Egyptian market and to advance a national vision for sustainable development. 

With its sights set on achieving sustainable development targets, the government focused firstly on building a sturdy foundation for the economy. The economic and administrative reform programme that the government set in motion in 2016 was instrumental in restoring overall economic stability. Previous steps helped pave the way. Above all, reforms in energy subsidies and the more efficient targeting of subsidised goods were crucial to the necessary process of deficit reduction. At the same time, the government gave high priority to steering investments towards infrastructure development, and specifically, transportation networks, electricity grids and other major projects which, combined, have worked to improve of Egypt’s competitivity and its credit ranking. 

Last week, Minister of Planning Hala Al-Said announced that the government was especially keen to bring a new public planning law to fruition. Noting that the last public planning law dated back to the 1970s, she stressed the need for legislation to keep pace with the evolution of government, modernisation and new outlooks on planning strategies. 

A central aspect of the new bill is its focus on decentralisation and promoting the role of local government at the governorate and municipal levels in planning, which is in keeping with the general universal trend towards indigenising development goals in practical and measurable ways. The bill, which is expected to be submitted to parliament soon, aims to lay a uniform foundation for the exercise of local governance across the country to better enable local governing bodies to contribute to the design and implementation of development policies from the ground up. Accordingly, it also aims to promote effective coordination in economic, social and urban planning, and to lay the foundations for broad-based community participation in the planning, execution and follow-through stages. Naturally, all such processes are crucial to activating the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS): Vision 2030.

The new bill calls for the creation of a Supreme Council for Sustainable Development headed by the presidency and explicitly obliges ministries to submit biannual progress reports on projects and plans earmarked for government allocations. Provisions such as this provide a form of cement to the decentralised system under the law which gives local government bodies unprecedented leeway in designing development plans and policies. Another important feature of the bill is its focus on steering investments towards those governorates that lag behind others in development. 

The text of the public planning bill reflects a qualitative leap in the approach to national planning in Egypt. Without a doubt, this will bear fruit in the form of higher levels of confidence in the government and in its ability to attract local and foreign investments and facilitate steering funds towards local development projects in all parts of the country in a manner consistent with sustainable development aims. Such progress would have been unattainable were it not for the huge inroads made in restructuring the public sector and the major infrastructural development projects that have been achieved during the past six years, despite the diverse and formidable challenges Egypt encountered at many levels along the way. 

 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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