In its weekly meeting on 8 November, the cabinet led by Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli reviewed 58 draft laws ahead of submitting them to parliament. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Alaaeddin Fouad said the bills aim to speed up the privatisation programme and the sale of state assets to investors under the State Ownership Policy which tops the list of priorities.
Madbouli announced on Sunday that he will soon hold a press conference to provide updates on the programme. “In this press conference, I will announce what happened to the privatisation programme in the last period and what will happen in the near future,” Madbouli said.
Madbouli’s announcement came in response to critics who have been voicing frustration over the pace of the government’s privatisation drive. Economist and privatisation expert Medhat Nafie said in a recent TV interview that the programme is moving at a snail’s pace, one reason why the IMF has decided to postpone disbursing new installments of its $3 billion loan to Egypt. “It has also led some financial agencies like Fitch and Moody’s to downgrade Egypt’s long-term credit rating, citing the slowness of the privatisation programme as a major reason for this downgrade,” Nafie added.
In its report early this month, Fitch said it expects that reforms, including greater privatisation sales, are likely to accelerate after presidential elections in December.
A report released by the cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC) on Thursday, however, indicated that the privatisation programme has been moving at a reasonable pace. “It has delivered significant results, with the successful exit of the state from various economic activities valued at $5 billion from August 2022 to July 2023,” the report stated, indicating that “the government aims to raise another $5 billion in revenues from new privatisation sales between October 2023 and June 2024. The government’s plan is to sell stakes in 32 companies and assets by the middle of 2024,” the report said.
Minister Fouad indicated that priority in the draft laws also includes proposed amendments to expand jurisdiction of the economic courts bill so they can settle final higher-value appeals. “With the expansion of the role of the private sector in the Egyptian economy, it is important that the law regulating the performance of economic courts be amended to be able to settle all kinds of cases and appeals,” Fouad said.
The so-called old rent law is also expected to be a major issue in parliament in the coming stage. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi told a conference in the New Administrative Capital last month that it was unacceptable that property owners were unable to take advantage of what he said were two million housing units across the country.
Fouad said a joint parliamentary-government committee has been formed to propose expected changes to the law which has frozen rents of housing units since the 1960s.
Fouad added the cabinet’s legislative bucket list includes a number of bills that were carried over from the last legislative session. On top of these is the labour bill which was approved by the Senate in February 2022. The 267-article bill, Fouad said, is intended to reflect the changing economic and labour situation in Egypt and the outside world and to create a new balanced relationship between employees and employers. “It is also important that Egypt drafts a new labour law in line with the country’s 2014 constitution and which operates in tandem with the new rules instituted by the Supreme Constitutional Court and the new conventions of the International Labour Organisation.
“Not to mention that many of the current articles in the labour law are not in harmony with a number of other laws, particularly those regulating child labour and social insurance and pensions,” Fouad said.
It was reported, however, that the government pulled the bill from parliament earlier this year to redraft it after a backlash from the business community which complained that the original version was tilted in favour of workers. Sulaf Darwish, deputy chairman of parliament’s Manpower Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the bill was withdrawn following an agreement between parliament and the government. “The draft bill needs to be more balanced and it is now a matter of negotiations behind closed doors between the business community and representatives of workers,” said Darwish, indicating that “in general, the bill introduces new labour rights, including legislating minimum and maximum wages, putting caps on working hours, extending maternity leave, strikes, and automatic dismissal of workers, among other things.”
The social insurance bill, which streamlines insurance regulations, will also feature prominently. The 217-article law, which was approved by the Senate in April 2022, was referred to parliament for debate and a vote.
Hani Sarieddin, head of the Senate’s Financial and Economic Affairs Committee, told the Weekly that the draft Unified Insurance Law aims to draw up new and comprehensive rules for regulating the insurance industry and market in Egypt. “The past four decades have shown that the insurance market is in pressing need of new legislative and regulatory rules,” said Sarieddin, adding that “technological developments and the creation of new insurance tools also require that unified insurance legislation be passed.”
Fouad indicated that a new green hydrogen law was drafted to grant incentives, such as tax breaks, to green hydrogen investors. “The government believes that green hydrogen projects will be a promising source of foreign direct investment. We need a law to regulate this new business,” Fouad said.
Head of the General Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI) Hossam Heiba recently said that the green energy sector in Egypt is expected to receive more than $50 billion in investments over the next 10 years.
The cabinet’s priority list, said Fouad, will also include a draft bill that would toughen penalties on traffic violations. “We also have draft bills on the environment, child labour, and a one that would replace a 2019 law designed to help owners who violated the construction code to reconcile with the state in return for paying certain fees.”
On Monday, the House of Representatives gave a final approval for the new law that facilitates reconciliation in building violations. The bill states that citizens can reach reconciliation on construction violations that existed until the most recent aerial survey for buildings conducted by the Egyptian government on 15 October 2023.
The law grants a 25 per cent discount to those who pay complete reconciliation fees or pay in installments over no more than five years.
It will also legalise constructions built on state-owned lands or added to buildings with distinct architectural styles in return for paying reconciliation fees ranging from LE50 to LE2,500.
Furthermore, the law mandates forming committees in all governorates to examine the reconciliation requests.
Fouad said of high importance is “a host of political draft laws”. These include the 2014 law on the exercise of political rights, the 1977 law regulating the performance of political parties and the 2014 law regulating parliamentary elections. The laws were expected to be amended by the National Dialogue last summer in order that they find their way to parliament’s agenda in the new legislative season.
Amendments to the personal status law are also ready to be presented to parliament. A judicial committee was formed last year to redraft the personal status law after it was shelved following a backlash from women’s rights groups. The law regulates marriage, divorce, child custody, guardianship, alimony, polygamy, inheritance and other family-related matters.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly