The House of Representatives, under our constitution, has two primary tasks: legislating and government oversight.
That’s not new— it follows all previous constitutions. But to bolster the independence and sovereignty of the parliament, the new 2014 constitution required its approval of the Cabinet appointments and endorsement of the government’s program.
But now more than a year since its election, the parliament has not measured up to its responsibilities and seems to be preoccupied with internal conflicts. Most recently, the House last week expelled an elected member on the basis of vague, unsubstantiated allegations. At the same time, it refuses to recognize the membership of another legally elected representative who won a ruling from the Court of Cassation affirming his legitimate election to the House.
On the whole, the media and public tend to follow the irregularities and breaches taking place in the House. But more important than what the parliament is doing, however, is what it isn’t doing.
On the legislative front, immediately upon being seated, the House approved 340 laws issued via presidential decrees in just 15 days, with most of that time spent on procedural issues. And when the government presented its program, as required by the constitution, the few sessions allotted it involved no genuine debate on the proposed policies.
Even when the House approved a law regulating civic associations and sent it to the presidency, it was ignored like it didn’t exist. (And yes, it’s an extremely bad piece of legislation, but it still must be discussed, not disregarded.)
Finally, when the Supreme Constitutional Court overturned several articles in the protest law, the parliament did not take timely action to remedy the law, even with young protesters languishing in prison because of it.
On the economic front, the House inexplicably never reviewed one of the biggest loans ever received by Egypt in its history, the $12-billion loan from the IMF, although the agreement has entered into force and the first tranche of the loan was received. Nor has the House shown any interest in discussing state megaprojects, first and foremost the new administrative capital, although the project requires commitments from the state treasury and the contribution of state assets.
The House has thus far not asked for an account of the Suez Canal expansion project, which added LE64 billion to domestic debt, and it has not addressed the ongoing expansion of the state’s economic role, which is a source of confusion and anxiety both in and out of Egypt.
And politically, the parliament has shown little interest in exercising any oversight. It has been unconcerned about the Renaissance Dam project in Ethiopia and its repercussions and has stayed silent on the gross mismanagement of the Tiran and Sanafir Islands imbroglio and the resulting predicament. Nor has it devoted any attention to national and international reports on detainees and violations of citizens’ rights, as if they concern citizens of another country.
The fact is, our representative body has occupied itself, and the public, with issues and debates largely unrelated to its legislative and regulatory role. This is a serious matter: the failure of the parliament to assume its constitutional role means, in essence, that we are a country without parliament, without government oversight, and without popular representation in lawmaking. It means the executive monopolises the tools of governance, legislation, and oversight, which threatens the balance of powers on which the constitution is based.
I will conclude by stating my deep respect to those MPs, whether partisan or independents, who continue to work in silence, exercise the rights and duties of their office, and refuse to go along with the prevailing recklessness, silence, and weakness. They’re true heroes who deserve our support.
But those who are satisfied with silence, passivity, and obedience should know that time will hold them accountable.
One day, the people will demand an accounting from them for squandering their own rights and the rights of those they ostensibly represent.
*The writer holds a PhD in financial law from the London School of Economics. He is former deputy prime minister, former chairman of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and former chairman of the General Authority for Investment.
A version of this article was published in Arabic in El-Shorouq newspaper on Monday, 6 March.