After last week’s opening procedural sessions the newly-elected House of Representatives got down to business this week, summoning Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli to parliament on Monday to address MPs on the implementation of his government’s Egypt Kicks Off programme, first introduced in July 2018.
At the time was introduced, Parliament Speaker Hanafi Gibali told MPs on Sunday, the Egypt Kicks Off programme won the support of parliament but its subsequent implementation had fallen short of MPs’ expectations.
Madbouli begged to differ. On Monday he told the House that despite the impact of coronavirus on the economy his government successfully implemented the programme, increasing the supply of strategic goods and controlling the price of basic foodstuffs to the extent that “the inflation rate decreased to 5.7 per cent, the lowest in 14 years”.
Adding that mega projects over the last two years had helped generate job opportunities, and unemployment rates had dropped to 7.3 per cent, Madbouli conceded that the figure had risen in the third quarter of fiscal year 2019-20 to 7.7 per cent, and later, as a direct result of the pandemic, to 9.6 per cent, but was once again falling.
Madbouli said his government had “struck a balance between protecting citizens’ lives and keeping the economy open during the pandemic.
“From the beginning of the crisis we recognised that a total lockdown would only harm the economy and opted to keep the economy open while imposing strict protective measures.”
The result, he said, is that Egypt had managed to contain the negative fallout of the virus and “most international financial institutions have praised this achievement, ranking Egypt second after China in terms of economic growth rates in 2020”.
Madbouli told MPs that his government had distributed LE519 billion to 7,320 projects between the start of the programme in July 2018 and the end of December 2019, in addition to “LE5 billion allocated by the Ministry of Finance to the tourism and civil aviation sectors.”
The prime minister insisted fighting poverty remained the cornerstone of his government’s policies. “Our social protection networks, particularly the Takaful and Karama programmes, provide financial assistance to 32 million poor citizens,” he said, and as a result poverty rates had fallen for the first time in 20 years, down to 29.7 per cent from 32.5 per cent in 2017-18.
On housing, Madbouli told MPs a million housing units had been built since 2015 and an additional LE54 billion had been allocated to construct 147,000 affordable homes over the next two years. He also drew attention to the 2,575 development projects implemented in poor areas of Upper Egypt, mostly in Qena and Sohag, which “helped generate 205,000 direct and indirect job opportunities”. The programme will expand to include 50 towns in Upper Egypt next year.
Government investments of $50 million in oil and gas fields, combined with new discoveries, allowed “Egypt to achieve self-sufficiency in natural gas last year” said Madbouli, “and by 2030 we will be self-sufficient in petroleum products.”
The prime minister hailed Egypt’s 90 ranks leap in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Report in terms of the quality of road infrastructure. The country is now placed 28th instead of the 118th in 2014.
A total of 1,600km of new roads have already been constructed and a further 2,500km are being developed. Novel transportation networks are being built for Egypt’s ambitious new cities, including a high-speed electric train system.
“Egypt has imported 250 locomotives and 1,300 rail carriages as part of its efforts to develop the railway system,” said Madbouli, and existing locomotives and rail carriages are being overhauled.
On the foreign policy front Madbouli said Cairo continued “to adopt balanced policies in dealing with foreign powers, support the security and stability of Arab Gulf countries, reinforce Egypt’s role in settling disputes and preserving peace in the region and engage with the Libyan crisis and the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam [GERD]” in a manner that safeguards national security.
To help contain the impact of the GERD on Egypt’s water supplies the government is seeking to diversify sources of water and has constructed seven seawater desalination plants with a total capacity of 250,000 cubic metres and a cost of LE4 billion.
Madbouli concluded by stating that the priority of his government over the next three years is getting the economy back on track following the disruption caused by the pandemic.
“The government aims to achieve annual growth of six per cent, double exports and implement major infrastructure projects,” said Madbouli. “We will also continue to support the Armed Forces and police as they battle terrorism and reinforce stability.”
Diaaeddin Dawoud, a Nasserist opposition MP, said “parliament should check the figures cited by Madbouli as many doubted the government’s policies had really helped the poor.”
MP Mustafa Bakri argued that the privatisation policies of the last two years had undermined public sector workers and called for a parliamentary fact-finding committee to be formed to investigate the financial status of public sector companies, particularly the Helwan-based Iron and Steel Company which last week the government decided to liquidate.
On Monday, Minister of Local Development Mahmoud Shaarawi and Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Ali Moselhi also appeared in parliament to address MPs. On Tuesday it was the turn of Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar and Minister of Information Osama Heikal, and on Wednesday and Thursday the turn of the ministers of education, international cooperation, youth and sports and public enterprise.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.