The Egyptian government is facing a lawsuit demanding it release the proposed annual budget before it is presented to the Shura Council to be approved.
In a Saturday press conference at the office of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), the centre announced it had filed the lawsuit with the Administrative Judiciary Court at the State Council alongside several political parties and NGOs.
“We filed this lawsuit after submitting repeated requests to the presidency, government and Shura Council to release the budget, only for all of them to ignore us,” said ECESR lawyer Malek Adly.
The constitution stipulates that the House of Representatives, the yet-to-be-elected lower house of parliament, is tasked with discussing and approving the national budget, not the upper house. If the Shura Council passes the budget, it will be unconstitutional, Adly added.
“All we want is for the government to release the budget, but they prefer working in secrecy. The Muslim Brotherhood is running Egypt the same way they run the Brotherhood; through secrecy and blindly following orders,” Socialist Popular Alliance Party central committee member Ali Soliman said.
Soliman added that the House of Representatives, for the sake of transparency, should discuss the budget since the Muslim Brotherhood controls the presidency, government, and Shura Council. As the lower house elections have been suspended, the budget should instead be publicised and put up for national public debate.
“We need to know where our money goes, how much is being spent on things like health and education. Our opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood does not only stem from them being Islamists and our main debate is not political but economical; the Muslim Brotherhood is a capitalist right wing group,” said Egyptian Social Democratic Party Assistant Secretary General Maha Abdel Nasser.
Independent Workers Syndicate Union leader Kamal Abu Eita revealed that over a quarter of the budget was dedicating to servicing Egypt’s foreign debt, an allocation he said would come from the portion of the budget allocated for wages, thus making the poor poorer.
If the government takes out more loans, then next year’s debt servicing allocation will increase at the expense of wages, he added.
“We already have a court order against the government declaring a minimum wage and the government refuses to enforce it; now they will allocate us even less money,” Abu Eita said, adding that most subsidies go to the rich whereas they should go towards health and education.
“They want us to live on charity instead of production. The former regime promoted crony capitalism, this one is composed of merchants running Egypt like a grocery store,” added the labour leader.
Misr Al-Qawiya member Ahmed Imam highlighted the problems with the constitutionality of the budget, explaining that according to the new constitution the government needs to have the confidence of the House of Representatives. As this government does not, it should not be drafting a budget.
There is no House of Representatives to pass the budget, Imam added. If the Shura Council is to act as a replacement, he said, it must include all sectors of society in the debate.
“We have the right to know how much is being allocated to things like the police and military or the civil service. We have information that this budget has a 300% increase from last year’s when it comes to the police, meaning more teargas canisters and bigger bonuses for corrupt police officers,” said Imam.
Mohamed Al-Qasas from the moderate Islamist Al-Tayar Al-Masry Party said he had participated in sessions with the Minister of Planning regarding the economy.
“The government is treating the lifting of subsidies as the only method of income generation, they are not considering any alternatives. The budget for subsidies is EGP 60bn less than last year’s, hence the increase in prices for natural gas, petrol and other fuels. Furthermore, there will be a government hiring freeze for the next three years,” said Al-Qasas.
The Al-Dostour Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, 6 April, ECESR, and 13 other NGOs are filing the lawsuit which comes after the government failed to respond to statements calling for the state budget to be made public before the Shura Council makes any decision regarding it.
Minister of Finance Al-Morsi Hegazy presented the Shura Council with the budget in early April but failed to make it public beforehand.
“[The government is] continuing the blackout approach by the regime,” the statement signatories said, adding that “before allowing all interested parties a real opportunity to conduct a real social dialogue on the budget”.
They added that it was the government’s constitutional duty to provide the budget to the public. Article 55 of the constitution states: “It is a national duty for citizens to participate in public life.” Article 47 grants freedom of information to all citizens.