File photo: Egypt's parliament speaker Ali Abdelaal speaks during the opening session at the main headquarters of parliament in Cairo, Egypt (Reuters)
This week was the end of parliament’s fourth legislative season (2018-19). Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs on Sunday that parliament had been scheduled to adjourn on 30 June but because members had a busy legislative agenda, they were obliged to intensify their meetings this week to finish discussing and voting on laws that were hastily referred by the government in the past few days.
“It is deplorable that in June and July every year the government becomes very active and so decides to surprise parliament in the last days of its session by referring to it a big batch of laws, and I don’t know whether this is deliberate,” Abdel-Aal said.
Abdel-Aal said in addition to the existing draft laws which were already discussed by committees, the government decided to refer another batch of amendments to additional laws to parliament.
He said he decided that these government-drafted legislative amendments be sent to a number of the House’s committees to discuss them and prepare reports on them as soon as possible.He also indicated that the new legislative amendments include laws regulating the Customs Authority and youth organisations. “They also include a traffic law, social insurance and pensions law, a law on the protection and development of lakes and fisheries wealth, and a support fund for the physically challenged,” Abdel-Aal said, adding that the list also includes a law on NGOs.
Before it wrapped up its current session this week, parliament voted in favour of several laws. On Sunday, it approved amendments to the Investment Law (72/2017). Minister of Investment Sahar Nasr said the amended law provided incentives to existing investment projects seeking to expand, particularly in provincial governorates. “We need to boost investment projects in governorates because these create jobs and generate income for the local population,” said Nasr, revealing that the incentives offered include exemption from the majority of registration fees which currently constitute a big burden.
Amr Ghallab, a member of parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee, disclosed that the Ministry of Finance opposed the new amendments on the grounds that they would affect the state treasury’s revenues. “But we insisted that the incentives be introduced because countries in the region now strongly compete in attracting investments by offering big financial incentives,” Ghallab said.
In a related move, parliament approved new amendments to the two laws regulating the residence of foreigners in Egypt (Law 89/1960) and Egyptian nationality (Law 26/1975).
Kamal Amer, head of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee, said the amendments of the two laws also serve the investment agenda. New incentives in the residence and nationality laws are in line with investment laws, and all serve the national economy, Amer said, adding that “the new mechanism adopted by the two laws seek to encourage foreign investors to come to Egypt and invest”.
A report by the committee indicated that under the new mechanism, the Egyptian nationality can be granted for the first time against payment of a specified sum. “The prime minister will be authorised to decide whether a foreigner who buys state-owned or private property, sets up an investment project in line with the investment law or deposits a fixed sum in foreign currency in a local bank is eligible for Egyptian nationality,” the report said.
According to the report, a unit affiliated with the cabinet will review nationality requests and pass recommendations to the prime minister. “The unit will include representatives from the ministries of foreign affairs, interior, investment, international cooperation and concerned security apparatuses. Nationality requests will be submitted to the unit against a payment of $10,000 or its equivalent in Egyptian pounds, to be refunded in case the application is rejected. The unit will be obliged to review any request within three months of the date of submission. If the request is approved an initial six-month temporary residence will be granted,” the report stated.
Speaker Abdel-Aal announced that the two laws on the residence of foreigners and Egyptian nationality would be referred to the state council to revise them in legislative and constitutional terms.
Also on Sunday, parliament approved amendments to the Mineral Wealth Law (198/2014). Farag Amer, head of parliament’s Industry Committee, indicated that the law gives greater facilities to geological search and survey companies to inspect and explore for metals such as gold. The amended law allows the government to sign “administrative contracts” with mineral exploration companies without waiting for parliament’s approval, explained Amer, adding that “this allows flexibility because exploration in the area of minerals should not take a long time and the country needs greater investments in this field.”
The list of the legislative agenda this week also comprised amendments to the law on intellectual property rights (Law 82/2002), the law on institutional regulation of the production of drugs, pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, and the law regulating old rents of non-residential units (Law 136/1981).
Alaa Wali, head of the Housing Committee, said government-drafted changes to the law covering old rents of non-residential units were made in line with the ruling issued by the Supreme Constitutional Court in May 2018.
“The court judges that the first paragraph of Article 18 is to be invalidated because it allows old contracts to continue indefinitely,” Wali said, adding that “as a result, the law was amended to state that a rental contract will henceforth be five years, and that rents can be increased by 15 per cent annually.”
Wali also explained that the perpetuation of rent contracts had caused a lot of injustice to landlords.
“Since the two laws on non-residential units were passed in 1977 and 1981, landlords have not been able to raise rents to match inflation rates,” Wali said. “So it was necessary to amend the law to strike some kind of balance between tenants and landlords.”
Parliament also discussed the new Social Insurance Law. Omar Hassan, advisor to the minister of social solidarity, told the Labour Force Committee that the law aims to raise the age of retirement to 65 by the year of 2040. “In the year 2034, the retirement age will be increased to 62; in 2036 to 63; in 2038 to 64; and in 2040 to 65,” said Hassan, adding that “the objective is to put all employees, be they in the public or private and business sectors, on an equal footing and that all have unified access to all insurance privileges.
In line with Article 115 of the 2014 constitution, parliament’s legislative season stretches nine months (October to June), after which the president should issue a decree declaring that parliament must adjourn for a three-month summer recess, and that it should reconvene in October. The next season (2019-20), scheduled to begin before the first Thursday of October, will be the last for the present parliament, after which elections will be held at the end of 2020 to form a new parliament.