Ahmed Al-Sigini, head of parliament’s Local Administration Committee, told reporters on 9 October that the long-awaited local council law will soon be discussed by MPs.
“The report prepared by the committee on the law regulating the performance and election of local councils has been finalised and it is now up to the speaker and parliament’s internal bureau to set a date for MPs to debate it,” said Al-Sigini.
“The local council law is now a priority. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi told the recent youth conference he hopes local council elections can be held next year.”
According to Al-Sigini, the draft law is the product of two years of discussion. He added that all concerned authorities should ensure they are ready to prepare the ground for the implementation of the law once it is passed by parliament.
In July Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the law regulating local councils will top the agenda of the House of Representative’s final session.
“Article 180 of the constitution calls for local elections every four years,” said Abdel-Aal, “making the passage of legislation regulating local councils a constitutional obligation.”
Al-Sigini revealed the draft law allocates one quarter of local council seats to people under 35, a quarter to women, and half to representatives of workers and farmers. “Within these quotas,” he added, “adequate representation of Christians and those with special needs must also be guaranteed.”
The draft law adopts a mixed electoral system.
“The list and individual candidacy systems will both be used in electing local councilors, ensuring the door is open to independents and party-based officials.
“The elected local councils will act as mini-parliaments, with the power to direct questions and withdraw confidence from local administrations and summon provincial governors for questioning.
“We hope the draft law is balanced,” said Al-Sigini, “by which I mean that while elected councils will gain greater supervisory roles, provincial governors will also have be able to decentralise some financial and administrative functions. The goal is to turn local councils into autonomous entities that draw their funds from local resources rather than the state budget.”
Al-Sigini said the committee had changed several of the government-drafted law’s articles. In addition, “new articles were introduced following extensive consultations to create a balanced and integrated law that will facilitate improvements in the performance of local councils and a crackdown on corruption.”
Local councils have been effectively frozen since 2010 when the Higher Administrative Court ruled that the last elections were invalid.
Mohamed Al-Husseini, a member of the Local Administration Committee and parliamentary spokesperson of the National Movement Party, said the absence of elected local councils had affected the services offered to citizens.
“These elected units are a bridge between executive councils on one side, and the people on the other. Local elected units also serve as a breeding ground for future politicians and parliamentarians.”
Al-Sigini agrees that the absence of elected councils has compounded problems relating to garbage collection, building code violations, misuse of agricultural lands, administrative mismanagement and the proliferation of slums.
“Elected and executive local councils are the two wings of Egypt’s local administration system and both need to solve problems and improve public services offered to citizens. Local councils need to be more effective and transparent, and capable of engineering tangible improvement in the lives of locals.”
The lack of elected councils, said Al-Sigini, had pushed people to turn to parliament to file complaints and voice their grievances.
“In the outgoing session the committee received more than 400 letters from citizens complaining of poor services and bureaucratic problems in local councils.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.