Egypt asks US business delegation to invest in its social safety net programmes

Menna Alaa El-Din, Momen Sobhi, Tuesday 23 Oct 2018

Ghada Wali
Egypt's solidarity minister Ghada Wali speaks during a keynote speech during Special Session Addressing of "U.S. Corporate Impact on the Community" by AmCham (Photo: Moamen Sobhi)

Egypt’s social solidarity minister has asked representatives of a number of leading US companies to invest in its social safety programmes, describing the country as “vibrant” in terms of opportunities.

In a special session held in Cairo by AmCham Egypt, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the US-Egypt Business Council on Tuesday, Minister Ghada Wali urged a visiting US business delegation to invest in programmes introduced by her ministry to curb poverty.

Over 100 senior executives of almost 50 leading American companies were part of the mission to Egypt to “underscore the continued commitment and unwavering support of the American business community to Egypt’s long-term stability and economic development; as well as to explore prospective business opportunities,” according to AmCham.

Some members of the delegation met earlier with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

The delegation includes senior representation from the United States Trade Development Agency (USTDA), the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im), as well as multilateral financial institutions.

They will discuss recommendations as to how, given the support of the government, Egypt could see increased investments and face any existing challenges. 

“We need your business. We are a vibrant country, and this comes within Egypt and US’s historical and strategic partnership and relationship,” Wali said.

She spoke to the delegation about the ministry’s programmes, including an effort since 2014 to develop databases on poverty nationwide, through an index which would show how poverty is distributed across the country.

According to Wali, the ministry used the collected data on the poorest governorates, which she said were in Upper Egypt, to evaluate which available programmes could be applied, developed, or supplemented.

The minister pointed out that the Egyptian government has worked through its economic reform programme, embarked on in 2014, to help and safeguard the poor in Egypt.

The reforms, which includes the flotation of the Egyptian pound and fuel and energy subsidy cuts, have been receiving thumbs up from international financing organisations, while critics have said the reforms negatively affect the lives of Egypt’s poor.

In November 2016 Egypt secured a $12 billion loan from the IMF; $8 billion has reached Egyptian coffers so far.

The government’s reform programme had allowed more resources to go to cash-transfer programmes for 9.5 million people and had increased food subsidies for the poorest by 300 percent, according to the World Bank’s Jim Yong Kim this month.

Egypt first launched its Takaful and Karama cash transfer programmes in 2014, when the first reduction in fuel subsidies took place.

Some 2.5 million people have benefited from the programmes since their launch, up from 1.6 million, according to Wali.

Takaful is an income support programme for families with children up to 18 years old that is designed to produce human development outcomes, while Karama is a social inclusion programme for people who cannot work, specifically the elderly and people with disabilities, and it is designed to provide social protection and a decent life for these groups.

The conditional programmes have cost the government around EGP 23 billion to date. Seventy-two percent is spent in Upper Egypt, which is the poorest region, according to Wali.

Egypt aims to reduce poverty by half by 2020 and eliminate it by 2030, as part of its sustainable development plan.

According to the last report issued by CAPMAS, Egypt's poverty rate rose to 27.8 percent in 2015, compared to 25.2 percent in 2010/11.

According to Wali, the ministry has established social accountability committees to ensure that only those in need receive governmental support.

The minister said there were also programmes which US companies could help with, including programmes on slum elimination, school feeding, maternity health, and combating drug addiction. 

Around 11,000,000 students benefit from the government’s school feeding programmes daily, according to Wali.

She said that complex indicators help the ministry determine how to help those in need, and therefore how companies can help too.

“With challenges come opportunities, and with risks comes even bigger opportunities,” she said in her speech.

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