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Egypt's cabinet to get a bitter vote of confidence in parliament

Despite most political forces rejecting its programme, the Ismail government will be granted a vote of confidence, if only because no coalition could form an alternative government

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 14 Apr 2016
The government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail will face its first vote of confidence in parliament
The government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail will face its first vote of confidence in parliament 20 April (Photo: Reuters)
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The government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail will face its first vote of confidence in parliament next week.

Parliament deputy speaker Al-Sayed Al-Sherif told reporters this week that Prime Minister Ismail will come to parliament next Wednesday to respond to MPs' comments on his government's policy statement, which he delivered before parliament 27 March.

"At the end of his response, MPs will be required to grant or withhold confidence in Ismail's government," said Al-Sherif.

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al indicated that the government's policy statement will be discussed in a number of plenary sessions between 10 and 20 April. "Spokespersons of political parties will be given priority in taking the floor, with each allowed 15 minutes to give a comment," said Abdel-Al.

Al-Sherif explained that a 340-page report prepared by a special 50-member committee offers a critical review of the government's three-year programme and recommends that the government implement it under constant review of parliament.

"The report states that parliament's vote of confidence will be granted, with the stipulation that implementation of the programme be based on a clear-cut time schedule and that at the end of each stage the government comes to parliament to give a detailed report about it," said Al-Sherif.

Al-Sherif said the parliamentary report covers the government's seven-point programme in detail.

"In general, the report devotes particular attention to the government's social justice policies, ringing alarm bells that the lives of millions of ordinary Egyptians were severely battered by a steep rise in basic food prices and bills of electricity and water supplies," said Al-Sherif.

The report said "although the government's policy statement allocates an unprecedented sum of LE429 billion in spending on social protection programmes, it remains short of lifting millions of the most economically marginalised Egyptians out of poverty."

The report urges the government to rationalise public spending rather than cutting social subsidies, promote labour-intensive projects to reduce unemployment, and fight bureaucracy in government circles. "In this respect, the government should closely cooperate with parliament in fighting corruption and improving public services," the report said.

The report also lamented that the government's policy statement fell short of discussing the issue of human rights in detail.

"In this respect, the report recommended that local council elections be held as soon as possible, conduct a regular and strict review of conditions in prison cells and police stations, implement the constitution's articles on media freedoms, and issue a new law for NGOs operating in Egypt," said Al-Sherif.

Parliamentary spokespersons of most political forces, however, indicated that they will grant the government a vote of confidence not out of conviction, but rather because they have no other choice.

"If we rejected this programme, the other option would be much worse," said Abed, referring to the fact that the constitution (Article 146) states that if MPs chose to withhold confidence, the majority coalition would be required to form a government itself.

Abed notes that right now it is difficult for any parliamentary coalition to take charge of forming an alternative government. Abed told reporters: "We are in one boat and all we can do right now is to approve this programme in order to let the boat move forward."

"But this does not mean that the government will be granted blanket approval," said Abed, adding that "We stipulated that the programme be implemented under parliament's supervision and that it does not come at the expense of poor classes."

Abed said all political forces in parliament insist that the government is not doing enough to rationalise spending. "We still see this government acting as if it is the government of a rich country and not that of a country suffering from a severe foreign exchange squeeze," said Abed.

Abed complained that "cabinet ministers are still paying costly visits to foreign countries, while most of them ride expensive imported cars." "Within the same context, we do not see any credible administrative reform and anti-corruption programmes that might save millions of pounds and dollars," said Abed.

Mohamed Khalifa, the spokesman of Al-Nour Party, the only Islamist force in parliament, told parliament on Monday that his party will grant the government confidence "even if its statement came short of any democratic reform programmes."

"There are no plans for promoting the multi-party system in cooperation with parliament, not to mention programmes for improving the country's human rights conditions," said Khalifa.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shukka, the parliamentary spokesperson of the liberal Al-Wafd Party, slammed the government's policy statement for not adequately addressing the issue of NGOs law reform.

"We warn that NGOs operating in Egypt must be prevented from obtaining foreign funding because this violates the law," said Abu Shukka.

He also lamented that, "The statement spoke highly of the necessity of implementing a number of mega-development projects, but without indicating how these projects will be funded."

"We do not need rhetoric, but we need figures and a time schedule that show how these projects will be implemented," said Abu Shukka.

Joining forces, Kamal Amer, the spokesperson of the "Guardians of the Nation" party, said the current NGOs law should be amended to impose a ban on foreign-funded NGOs.

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