Egypt’s administrative apparatus: Reforming the labyrinth

Niveen Wahish , Wednesday 3 Jul 2019

Reforming Egypt’s administrative apparatus is a crucial aspect of overall institutional reform, But how to go about it?

One of the challenges facing the state is the huge size of the administrative system

Egypt’s administrative apparatus is a labyrinth of some 2,400 agencies, according to a recent study by the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies (ECES), an NGO.

The study, prepared by Tarek Al-Hosari, vice-dean of the Graduate School of Management at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport, tackles the problems of the administrative system in Egypt and suggests proposals for its reform.

Egypt has 33 ministries, the study shows, more than double the number in the US, which has 15, France, which has 16, and 12 in Singapore. The report also points to an overlap in the competencies of ministries, such as the ministries of electricity and petroleum, irrigation and agriculture, foreign affairs and immigration.

In statements made at a seminar organised by ECES to present the findings of the report, Al-Hosari said there were also agencies that had outlived their purpose or whose tasks had been transferred to others and yet they continued to exist.

These include the General Authority for Agrarian Reform, established in 1963 to oversee the implementation of the Agrarian Reform Law on land seized after the 1952 Revolution.

Although the role of the authority ended decades ago, it continues to exist and employs more than 13,000 individuals. Another example is a centre for adult education, established in Sars Al-Laya in the Menoufiya governorate in the framework of a programme run by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

This programme had now ended, the report says, which also points to overlapping competencies in other areas, including the development of exports.

One of the most important challenges facing the administrative system of the state is its more than six million civil servants who are sometimes low in productivity and a cause of dissatisfaction. With so many civil servants, there is one employee for every 15 people in Egypt, the report says, noting that in Germany and the US one employee serves more than 100 people.

The excess number does not come cheap, as it cost LE270 billion to pay public-sector salaries in the 2018/2019 budget.

Legislation is another challenge, since there are over 50,000 pieces of legislation governing the administrative apparatus, with some dating back to 1880. These can be a “back door to corruption,” Al-Hosari said.

To tackle such shortcomings, the report stresses the need to implement the structural and organisational changes necessary to raise the efficiency of the administrative apparatus. This entails reconsidering the size of the government and number of ministries, it says.

Moreover, the report stresses the need to separate the regulator and the supervisor of services, unlike in the electricity and telecommunications sector where the government is both the regulator and the supervisor of these services.

The report calls for a review of the role of public authorities, which currently number 217 separate bodies. It suggests that the private sector be contracted to provide government services under the supervision of the state, which would save hundreds of millions in costs.

There is also a need to pay more attention to training. The study shows the lack of a skills-development system in the public sector, with the employee share of the training budget amounting to less than LE40 per person in 2018-19.

The development of the workforce lies at the heart of the necessary reforms. According to Hani Mahmoud, a former minister of administrative development, human-resource development has been neglected for years in Egypt and the older generations must step down to make way for younger people.

Addressing the seminar, he said that reforming the administrative system needed steps to be taken to reduce the number of employees and raise their efficiency. He pointed out that although the Civil Service Law approved by parliament in 2016 was not enough, it was still an important step forward.

The reform process would come at a cost, Mahmoud said, but that cost would be much higher if nothing was done about problems in the administrative apparatus.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Reforming the labyrinth

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