Minister faces parliamentary fire

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 23 Jan 2024

Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Ali Moselhi defended himself against attacks from MPs

Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Ali Moselhi
Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Ali Moselhi

 

MPs launched a scathing attack on Minister of Supply and Internal Trade Ali Moselhi, blaming him for price hikes and a shortage of essential commodities amid an economic crisis which has taken its toll on the country for the past two years, reports Gamal Essam El-Din.

During a stormy session held on 16 January, Moselhi responded to questions directed by 98 MPs who called on him to step down and demanded an explanation for his ministry falling short on regulating the local food market. They also criticised him for failing to address the shortage of sugar and for not taking tough action against greedy traders who hoard commodities and raise prices. 

They also pointed to several of Moselhi’s advisors facing corruption charges and who are currently in custody over alleged profiteering and receiving bribes.

Most MPs went as far as to ask parliament to exercise its supervisory powers by withdrawing confidence from the government of Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli or at least dismiss Moselhi.

Hani Khedr, an independent MP, said that Madbouli’s government had received parliament’s vote of confidence in 2021 “but now, after three years in office, this government should go because of its failure to rein in inflation and control high prices, address food shortage problems, and exercise control on retail markets.”

The parliamentary attack against Moselhi and Madbouli’s government comes amid widespread speculation that an imminent cabinet reshuffle is on the horizon and that Moselhi will lose his post. 

Leftist and Wafdist MPs including Abdel-Moneim Imam, head of the Justice Party, Diaaeddin Dawoud, and Mohamed Abdel-Alim called on Moselhi to step down after food prices exceeded “acceptable limits of the imagination”. 

Independent MPs Reda Ghazi and Alaa Suleiman also urged Moselhi to resign as “he could no longer be trusted as a supply minister responsible for protecting the poor.”

MP Younis Abdel-Razek, a member of the Mostaqbal Watan Party, asked what was the Supply Ministry’s strategy ahead of the month of Ramadan when demand on food products goes up.

MP Ghada Qandil, a member of the People’s Republican Party, accused the Madbouli government and Moselhi of leaving the poor and limited income citizens “prey to greedy traders who have pushed prices of basic commodities to astronomical levels”. Qandil complained the prices of most essential goods have witnessed regular hikes as the government has failed to control them, implying poor performance as well as possible corruption. Qandil was one of several MPs who asked the Supply Ministry to impose price controls on commodities such as sugar and tighten supervision of the retail market.

In his defence, Moselhi blamed external factors for the rise in food prices and the shortage of some essential commodities. Egypt, he said, is not living in isolation from the outside world. “There have been negative developments in the world over the last three years, starting with the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 to the war in Ukraine in 2022, while in 2023 came the wars in Sudan and Gaza and which ended with the Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red Sea,” said Moselhi, adding that “these wars caused a dramatic disruption in global food supply chains.” 

Moselhi also argued that the Egyptian pound has been struggling against the US dollar for almost two years, leading prices of consumer products to hike, primarily since Egypt depends on importing 60 per cent of its basket of food commodities like cooking oil, wheat, rice, sugar, lentils, and beans.

According to Moselhi, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza led to a big increase in freight, insurance, and energy costs, pushing prices of basic commodities like wheat to skyrocket. He added that climate change was also another factor that caused a shortage in the supply of the most basic commodities on world markets. “For example, this shortage forced India, a major exporter of rice, to stop exporting rice for one year,” Moselhi said. He attributed the shortage of sugar to the high cost of production. “The cultivation of sugarcane and beet has become very costly and we are doing our best to strike a balance between the cost of production and the supply of sugar on the retail market at reasonable prices,” Moselhi said.

He emphasised that the government had been exerting efforts to set fair prices and address criticism about the absence of market regulation. “The lack of organised markets has hindered efficient supervision but there are plans to establish controlled markets and logistics zones to facilitate better control over products,” Moselhi told MPs. He cited Prime Minister Madbouli’s decision to categorise seven basic commodities: cooking oil, fava beans, rice, milk, sugar, pasta, and white cheese as strategic goods, legally prohibiting any attempt to withhold them from the market.

Moselhi said corruption charges against some of the Supply Ministry’s senior officials are still under investigation. “We are a ministry which is serving 64 million citizens and it is unfair to charge it with corruption,” Moselhi said.

In his remarks, Speaker Hanafi Gebali said what he understood from the supply minister’s statement is that the problem of high prices and shortage of essential commodities is the responsibility of the government as a whole and not just one cabinet minister.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 January, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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