Country has to maintain dynamic push for reform
In the second part of The Daily Star Egypt’s interview with the Minister of Trade and Industry, Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid says there is no escaping that the local economy has improved in previous years.
He says he is dedicated to creating more job opportunities for Egyptian youth.
Prime Minister Nazif said earlier last week that the country is beginning to realize the fruits of reforms implemented since 2004. Is that true? What do you say to an ordinary Egyptian who might, in view of higher inflation, see that statement as not entirely true?
First of all, I see the economy s improvement as a reality. Looking at the situation in trade and industry, I can see very clearly that the activity of the companies, the establishment of new companies, and the profitability of operations in Egypt are all going up. You can see it in public companies listed on the stock exchange.
Look at the balance sheets and you ll see profitability going up. You will see the registration of new companies going up. You will see new factories coming in. And, of course, all those factors are showing the situation is improving.
Then of course, the second question is: when is the ordinary person going to feel it? My response to that is: give me his name. Because it varies from one individual to another. There will always be people who will never feel it until a certain period.
But for the people who have already been employed in some of the new factories, or if we go to a place where they have suffered from a significant shortage of employment such as Port Said, where the starting salary of unskilled labor averaged LE 300 two years ago and today it s LE 800, that s a different scenario. Some of those laborers have had their wages increased by higher percentages than the inflation rate.
The problem is when you try to take an average. And of course people are not averages; they are individuals. And every individual will have a different perception about economic development.
We know that to initiate economic growth, there are a number of steps that you have to go through. First of all, you need to see investment flowing in. When investment starts to flow as we have today, you see local investment going up by 20 percent and FDI going to $6.5 billion, this means the investment happening in 2006 will translate into employment probably 18 months later.
Because if you decide to have a tourism project today in Sidi Abdel Rahman, or if you acquire a new mobile operator s license, those projects will probably be ready in the next one to three years, and translate into jobs during that period of time. That s the evolution of any growing economy.
I feel a certain segment of the population is feeling the positive effects of economic growth. Another segment is probably not feeling much difference. And there s probably a small part of the population that is actually seeing the negative impact of it because it has been isolated, not really accessing jobs, and it s seeing prices going up all around and it s seeing the brunt of that impact as a result.
But that s exactly what we are trying to take care of as a government by increasing our social security budget. We are now including more than 1 million Egyptians in our social security umbrella. We have a subsidy bill today going up to LE 100 billion to make sure that portion of the population that is not yet benefiting is covered.
Q: How do you think the government should deal with the sentiment that it s growing more isolated from its people?
Rachid: Well, this sentiment is the opinion of some. I don t know if there are expectations from the government to deal with it.
We, as government officials, are spending all our time trying to work on the people s issues. We are not working on fiction. We are working on reality. We are working on things that actually have a current link to the people. In my ministry, I am spending my time working on projects that will produce more jobs for people, increasing incomes and improving products, prices and services. Now if these things are not related to the people, I don t know what else I can do. Because these are exactly the things that will cover the needs of the people. If you go to any family, and you ask them what they need, they need jobs for their children or for themselves, they need to see their income growing, they need to insure that their basic needs for products and services are available at affordable prices. My team and I are spending all our time dealing with these issues, whether in the office, in factories or in meetings or at negotiating tables. I think that s what engagement means for us.
We can spend all our time walking in the street. It does not mean we are engaged with the people. I think that real engagement with the people means delivering their needs.
Q: What is your reaction to talk surrounding a possible future appointment for yourself as prime minister?
Rachid: I phase it out of my mind. I don t think about it because it s all irrelevant speculation. This is not something that I or anybody else should be worried about right now. I mean I have an important job to do and that s what I m focusing on.
We know all this talk is speculation. And there s counter-speculation, that I might be kicked-out. You can have all sorts of rumors and speculation. If you worry about it, you will probably not be working well.
Q: Are you interested in the position?
Rachid: No, I m not interested. I m not interested in becoming prime minister. I just want to do my job. I have a term to finish and go back to my life.
Q: What s the biggest economic hurdle facing Egypt right now?
Rachid: Our biggest challenge is development of our people and how we can upgrade the skills and quality of our workers.
Q: What about on an institutional level?
Rachid: It starts with education, higher education, training, management upgrading and all things that relate to people s performance.
Q: How do you believe we can avert an economic plateau such as that of the late 1990s, when we saw very good numbers such as now?
Rachid: We have to be dynamic. We have to understand that we are not trying to do better than what we did yesterday. Our main challenge is to do better than the rest of the world, and faster. We have to keep that in mind. We have to keep moving.
We should not be complacent and sit tight because now we have delivered a number that was not there two years ago. We need to remind ourselves that people are moving faster and better at this stage, and we need to catch up with them. That will keep us on our toes and running, because there will always be somebody doing something better and faster than us. And that’s who we should be focusing on. The minute we relax because we have done better than two or three years ago, then we lose it.