Local council law delayed too long

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 23 May 2023

National Dialogue political debates underscored the urgent need for a law regulating the performance of local councils, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Local council law delayed  too long
Local council law delayed too long


The National Dialogue’s Political Committee held four sessions on Sunday, two to discuss the performance of political parties and two dedicated to the local council law. Participants agreed that a new local council law should be passed, with opposition and independent speakers regretting that, though parliament began discussing a new law in 2019, it was never passed, resulting in the absence of any civil supervisory authority at the local level.

Samir Abdel-Wahab, the rapporteur of National Dialogue’s local council subcommittee, noted that the 2014 constitution gives local councils powers to perform their roles effectively. “The problem is that we have not been able to hold local council elections since 2011. We hope that dialogue debates and recommendations will pave the way for a new law so elections can be held,” he said.

The Supreme Constitutional Court invalidated the election of local councils in 2011. Since then, said Ahmed Al-Sigini, head of parliament’s Local Administration Committee, the local administration system has continued unsupervised.

“In line with the 2014 constitution, a new law is needed so local councils can be elected and take charge of supervising the performance of provincial governors and executive local councils alike. The latter will have a lot of independent powers, but need supervision from elected councils which will act like mini-parliaments,” said Al-Sigini.

When the government-drafted local administration law was first referred to parliament in November 2016, a joint committee was formed to discuss it. The draft, according to Al-Sigini, “is divided into four chapters covering local administration, local councils, financial resources, and local council subdivisions”.

“After listening to the views of experts and representatives of political parties and civil society organisations over 50 meetings, it was agreed that a mixed individual and party list system should be adopted. The closed party list system will be used to elect 75 per cent of seats, and the individual system to elect the remaining 25 per cent.”

Al-Sigini added that the draft of this legislation should ensure 25 per cent of seats are allocated to women, 25 per cent to young people and 50 per cent to the representatives of workers and farmers.

Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie said passing a new local council law is an urgent necessity. “We need strong political will to draft the necessary legislation and elect local councils as soon as possible,” argued Rabie.

Warning that a closed party list system would lead to toothless pro-government councils, he argued for a mixed system of open party lists and individual candidacy to ensure elections are competitive and the resulting councils effective.

Guardians of the Nation Party representative Salaheddin Al-Maadawi said that while he agreed new legislation should give greater supervisory powers to elected local councils, the “closed party list system should be used because it is in line with the constitution.”

Tagammu Party representative Abdel-Hamid Kamal said there is a perception among governors that a new local council law will strip them of many of their powers which may be why local councils have been in limbo since 2011. “We know there is a lot of corruption in municipal circles making a new law granting supervisory powers to elected local councils essential. Members of elected councils should have the right to direct questions to provincial governors and even to withdraw confidence from them.”

Mohamed Bayoumi, from the Nasserist Karama Party, argued that in the face of complaints of corruption at the local level “councils must be empowered to weed out graft and improve public services.”

Justice Party member Islam Al-Guindi proposed that a mixed individual and open party list system be used. “We all agree that we need democratic and strong local councils. To achieve this, the law should ensure no single party dominates local councils,” he said. He also advised a supreme council for local councils be set up to exercise oversight of provincial governors and set socioeconomic goals.

Secretary-General of the National Dialogue Mahmoud Fawzi noted that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which took power in Egypt in February 2011 had no choice but to disband local councils after their election was invalidated by the Supreme Administrative Court and the Supreme Constitutional Court, and that the delay in drafting a replacement was a result of concern that the same scenario is not repeated.

Article 180 of the constitution stipulates that local councils be elected in a secret ballot every four years and that candidates be no less than 21 years of age, that 25 per cent of seats be allocated to candidates under 35 years of age, 25 per cent to women, and 50 per cent to representatives of workers and farmers. It also makes provision for the reasonable representation of Christians and disabled people.

It further states that local councils be authorised to implement state socioeconomic development plans, exercise oversight over executive authorities in the form of submitting proposals and briefing requests, directing questions and interpellations to provincial governors, and withdrawing confidence from heads of local administrative units.  

* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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