Employees of Egypt’s Central Auditing Organisation (CAO) are staging a sit-in at its Cairo headquarters for a second day, demanding reform of the organisation and better wages.
Protests in the northeast district of Heliopolis began on Tuesday with the participation of around 200 auditors from the CAO, whose duty is to supervise the spending of public money.
The number demonstrating had swelled to 2,500 employees by Wednesday, participants contacted by phone claimed.
The demands of CAO employees were spelled out in a statement yesterday by Auditors Against Corruption (AAC), a group formed by civil servants at the CAO and the Egyptian Club of Accounting.
The most pressing demand is the appointment of a new president for the CAO, which has been without a permanent head since the end of the mandate of Gawdat El-Malt in October 2011.
Protestors are asking parliament to issue a law giving the CAO full independence and powers to help it protect public money. Worried about the CAO's financial situation, they are also suggesting the organisation increase the fees it collects from the government bodies it supervises so it can cover its real costs.
They are also requesting improvements in wages and other financial benefits
This week's protests by CAO employees are only the latest demanding wide-ranging reforms at the organisation since Egypt's revolution began early last year.
Critics claim the auditing body, which should act as a watchdog for public finances, became toothless after a series of reforms during the reign of former president Hosni Mubarak.
Several amendments have been suggested in recent days.
“The committee of planning in Egypt's parliament approved a bill to reform the CAO and give it more independence," said Ashraf Badr Eddine, himself a member of the committee.
He explained that the bill would give the CAO the right to refer legal contraventions directly to the prosecutor, without the need for authorisation from other officials.
The bill also proposes a special court be created to deal with CAO cases.
But the parliamentary planning committee and the auditors and protesters differ profoundly on the future relationship of the CAO to parliament.
The proposed bill suggests parliament should elect the CAO head, while Auditors Against Corruption are asking for full independence.
"We were dependent on parliament for 30 years until 1998. During this period the performance of the CAO was weak and corruption only increased," says Tareq El-Guebali, a spokesman for AAC.
"The parliament is dominated by one or two parties that can manipulate the CAO. We want full independence just like other auditing bodies in democratic countries."
Ibrahim Gad from the auditors group says that before the 1952 coup that overthrew Egypt's monarchy the CAO was independent of the government. The body was formed in 1942.
The head of the CAO even resigned in 1950 rather than overlook an infraction involving LE5,000 made by King Farouk's press advisor, he claims.
That all changed when a military man was nominated as head of the body following the Free Officers coup, Gad says. It culminated in the final amendment made to CAO laws in 1998 which put the organisation under the control of Egypt's president.
The head of state was then tasked with choosing the head of the CAO on a four-year, renewable mandate.
“Since then [the CAO has had] no control on the presidency and other sensitive bodies like the Ministry of Interior, the National Council for Women or some departments of the Interior Ministry," says El-Guebali.
Auditors taking part in this week's protest complain that their incomes have declined in recent years with them now receiving lower salaries than the tax officers whom work they supervise.
According to their figures, over 200 members resigned from the body over the last month while over the last five years more than 1,000 have taken unpaid leave to seek job opportunities in the private sector.