With the conclusion of the economic conference held in the New Administrative Capital earlier this week, questions arose as to the reason behind organising it, what it has achieved and what should come next?
I do not have definitive answers to the previous three questions, only general observations:
It seems to me that the main reason for holding the conference was for the government, with all its ministries and economic bodies, to provide an account of what it has done during the previous years, how it dealt with the Corona-Ukraine crises, and what it intends to do going forward, especially in the light of an imminent agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
In addition, the conference was an occasion to invite representatives of different political currents, opposition parties, independent commentators and experts in various fields to share their visions in open sessions, thus opening a broader dialogue than usual on the economic issue. Both reasons, in my opinion, are important and worthy of appreciation.
As to what has been achieved, I rather disagree with many of those who declared from the beginning — even before the conference was held — that nothing would come out of it because the government would not listen to diverse opinions, its decisions and recommendations would have been prepared in advance, and its real target was to “beautify” itself by inviting opponents and independents to make television appearances.
I disagree with the above for several reasons: First, because the belief that a conference held for three days will solve our economic problems is, from the outset, a misplaced and over-simplistic one. The conference is an occasion for exchanging views, but managing the economy is the responsibility of the government anyway.
Secondly, because the presentations made at the conference by ministers as well as various proposals advanced by experts, were valuable and sincere contributions, openly presented, fully broadcast on television, and now available to public opinion.
And, thirdly, the conference provided a rare opportunity for communication between governmental and non-governmental parties that seldom meet and exchange views or seek to agree on the minimum set of policies to bring the economy out of its current stumbling block. Moreover, and to be fair, some of the recommendations that were announced at the end of the conference were put forward by invitees from outside the government who proposed serious and practical ideas.
That makes the question of what next all the more important. The president of the republic stressed that the recommendations of the conference will be implemented and followed up, and the same was promised by the prime minister.
This is very encouraging and should give investors confidence and credibility in what was said. But the truth is that we should not simply wait for what the government will do. Rather, those who attended the conference or followed it with interest — political parties, civil associations, independent media, parliamentarians who are serious about monitoring the government, and various commentators — must coordinate and cooperate in order to keep the dialogue going and ensure there is permanent follow-up.
The worst thing would be for the conference is to end and the enthusiasm to pass, while we move on to other topics. The real gain from the conference is to open a free and continuous space for economic dialogue about the economy, investment, problems encountering investors, proposed solutions, and how to strike the right balance between the interest of the investors and those of society in general.
An important step has been taken, but the more important thing is to follow it up.
* The writer is an economist. This article also appears in today’s edition of the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.