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Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Egypt's parliament has a mixed agenda

Parliament’s next plenary session, due on Sunday, will see MPs discuss a raft of new legislation

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 30 Apr 2020
Mixed agenda
photo: Khaled Mashaal
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On 25 April Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the plenary sessions scheduled on Sunday will focus on helping the government fight the fallout from the coronavirus crisis, and include discussions of a new batch of financial and economic laws.

Abdel-Aal added that he had asked the ministers of health and education to come to parliament to answer MPs’ questions.

Sami Hashem, head of the Education Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Minister of Education Tarek Shawki had been invited to attend a meeting next week to discuss school exams and the beginning of the new school year.

“We will also discuss the research students in primary and preparatory schools are now required to prepare and send online to replace the end-of-year exams,” said Hashem. “MPs have received a lot of questions from constituents that we hope Education Minister Shawki will answer.”

Hashem believes that is now possible that schools and universities will open in September.

“All the signs are that the state is opting to reduce the social distancing measures imposed mid-March, which means the school year is unlikely to be postponed beyond September,” said Hashem.

The Education Ministry is also facing pressure to intervene to reach a middle ground between schools and parents on school fees.

“A lot of parents have written to the committee demanding the Education Ministry press schools to cut fees next year to compensate for the cancellation of the school year in the middle of March as part of anti-coronavirus measures,” said Hashem.

Mohamed Al-Amari, head of parliament’s Health Committee, told the Weekly that Minister of Health Hala Zayed is also expected to come to parliament next week to discuss the problems facing doctors working in quarantine hospitals.

On 22 April MPs approved amendments to Law 137/1958 which aim to give the Health Ministry greater powers to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

“I joined with 60 other MPs to propose amendments to articles 25 and 26, and to add three new articles to the law on the prevention of epidemic diseases,” said Al-Amari.

“The changes will allow the health minister to make it obligatory for citizens to wear face masks and follow other protective measures outside their homes, with a fine ranging between LE300 to LE5,000 for non-compliance.” 

The changes will also grant health authorities greater powers in determining how to handle the bodies of victims of epidemics.

“The proposed changes will stipulate that the bodies of victims be dealt with in a manner that prevents the spread of any epidemic while respecting the dignity of the dead and religious and social traditions,” said Al-Amari. Anyone found guilty of contravening the rules pertaining to the burial of those who succumb to infectious diseases, or who block or postpone burial procedures, will face a fine of up to LE10,000.

Hussein Eissa, head of parliament’s Budget and Planning Committee, revealed committee members are discussing the new state budget and development plans for fiscal year 2020-21 after the ministers of finance and planning addressed MPs on 21 April.

“We will hold a series of hearing meetings on the budget and development plans next week. MPs are keen to see how the new budget meets the needs of the health sector in light of the outbreak of the coronavirus,” said Eissa.

Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait told MPs last week that Egypt hopes to overcome the economic difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic “soon”.

Maait said that the outbreak hit Egypt “at a time when the country was moving towards building a strong economy capable of absorbing shocks and winning the confidence of international institutions and investors.”

The first half of fiscal year 2019-20 saw GDP grow by 5.6 per cent, the highest in Egypt’s history, Maait told MPs.

“We also reduced the unemployment rate to eight per cent, secured a budget surplus of LE40.4 billion and increased public investments by 23 per cent,” said Maait.

Maait added that though the coronavirus crisis will force changes to the 2020-21 budget it is too early to determine their precise nature, though it is clear greater resources need to be allocated to healthcare and education.

“An increase of LE 78.9 billion has been penciled in for healthcare allocations, and LE166.6 billion for the education budget,” said the minister.

Planning Minister Hala Al-Said also addressed MPs, indicating that in the face of the coronavirus crisis an extra LE100 billion had been allocated to support the tourism and industry sectors, stimulate the stock market and help seasonal workers.

Al-Said said the global recession caused by the crisis could see a 60 per cent drop in tourism revenues and falls in overseas remittances, exports, and Suez Canal revenues. Al-Said said the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic had forced the government to “focus on implementing health and social programmes to contain the negative effects of the crisis”.

Al-Said said the Planning Ministry had developed two possible scenarios for the developing crisis.

“The first scenario is that the virus will be brought under control within three months,”

while the second envisages the crisis caused by the virus continuing to the end of 2020.

Regardless of the path the pandemic takes, Al-Said said it is essential that Egypt makes the best of a doleful situation.

“There is an opportunity for the industrial sector to exploit the drop in imports and move to fulfil the country’s basic needs and boost Egypt’s exports to foreign markets,” said Al-Said.

She predicted that if the virus continues to wreak havoc until the end of the year, Egypt’s development plans will take a 30 per cent hit.

In the coming week MPs are also expected to debate a new Unified Tax Procedures Law and take a final vote on the 22-article Central Depository and Registration Law and a four-article law regulating the role of deputy governors.

 

*A version of this article appears in print in the  30 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: United we stand

 

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