Egypt's economic policy: More transparency please

Nader Bakkar , Sunday 20 Jan 2013

If not quickly remedied, the current lack of transparent government policy will only make Egypt's dire economic situtation worse

No one owns Egypt's economy. Not the Muslim Brotherhood, not Muslims, and not anyone else. All rational people have to agree that the nation's political disputes should now fade into the background; that Egyptians must stand together in the face of serious threats to the national economy. We must all try to find common ground without allowing our short-term disputes to turn into mere obstinacy, which threatens to bring the roof down on our heads and the heads of generations to come.

I am sure that our economic situation will never be worse than that of Brazil before 2002, before Lula da Silva's first presidential term. The country's debt to the World Bank at the time exceeded $20 billion. Subsequently, however, Brazil managed to bring this figure down to $14 billion.

For two weeks now, the media has been spreading rumours that can be summed up by the following statement by Central Bank of Egypt Deputy Governor Rania El-Mashaat: "Recent days have seen unjustified speculation and demands on foreign currency due to news and rumours about Egypt's credit rating and the postponement of the [proposed] IMF loan."

Meanwhile, as for recent ministerial appointments, instead of easing the economic crisis, they appear to have only made things worse. I will not comment here on the choice of new ministers, since I fail to understand the criteria used for selecting them – just as no one really understands the criteria employed for evaluating the performances of outgoing ministers.

All this can be resolved by applying a "transparency policy" to each step taken by the government. This should be applied according to the relative seriousness of the challenges faced by the government – from a presidential advisor's mysterious visit to the UAE at a time when dozens of Egyptians remain detained without charge in Saudi Arabia, and ending with the real reasons for the dismissal of several government ministers while retaining others.

Another option for this proposed 'transparency policy' would be to fully open the doors to all questions on the part of the opposition – questions which, if left unanswered, might further poison Egypt's political environment and increase the current trust deficit.

What concerns me now is implementation; and implementation cannot happen in the absence of deadlines. In other words, what we want from our government now is the application of "goal-based" management. The ordinary citizen, along with politicians and economists, will not be impressed with the number of meetings held by ministers.

The number of hours a minister works should not represent a criterion for evaluation, nor should the achievement of general objectives that should go without saying. For instance, we no longer want the government to repeat that the realisation of 'social justice' represents one of its prime objectives. Rather, it would be better served by providing us with facts in greater detail, which might be quantifiably measured. We need achievable objectives – so-called 'smart goals' – that stand a reasonable chance of being realised before we die.

As management guru Geary W. Sikich puts it in his book 'All Hazards': "Management is never put more strongly to the test than in a crisis situation." Indeed, many crises – one after the next – have tested the government of Prime Minister Qandil. All of them proved that his government significantly lacks a 'quick-solution' mentality. A main component of this mentality would be to form a ministerial-level crisis management team, along with a 'rapid-intervention' team to provide short-term relief to Egypt's everyday problems that can't be resolved according to traditional methods.

As for the nation's more long-term, chronic problems, these must be dealt with via long-term planning that should be pursued by respective ministries – regardless of changes of individual ministers. We cannot expect our vision – or methods of management – to change every four months, especially those pertaining to Egypt's sensitive economy-related ministries.

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