CAIRO: Real estate tax employees continue to stand firm eight days after they began their strike, demanding to be returned under the Finance Ministry’s authority as opposed to the local municipalities.
Employees remain resolute following the Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros Ghali’s contradictory statements concerning the strike.
“These vague dates Ghali proposed do not give us any formal concrete promises, and certainly no clear time frame, said Abdel Ghaffar Abdel Fatah, a tax collector.
“They say that there will be more negations on Dec. 23. This is just another attempt to stall.
Ghali’s controversial comments published yesterday in Egypt’s independent newspapers, namely Al Masry Al Youm and Al-Dostour, included the stern warning “nobody twists the arm of the government. Let them sleep in the streets if they want to.
“We’re not twisting the arm of the government, said Nadia Mashraky, financial affairs head at the Cairo Real Estate Tax Authority. “We’re just asking for our basic and legitimate rights. I honestly don’t know why he goes on insisting that we’re trying force the government to comply with irrational demands.
“It’s inhumane to leave people sleeping in the streets with their families and children while they take their time procrastinating. We will not compromise our rights, even if we have to take it to the president’s house, she added.
Daily News Egypt visited the administrative offices of the Real Estate Tax Authority to investigate the working conditions of the protesting employees.
As we entered the deserted offices, we were greeted by the sight of wrecked furniture lying precariously on ancient storage cupboards and smashed windows.
In fact, the few officials who accompanied us responded with laughter when asked whether the offices – responsible for a large part of Egypt’s tax accounts – were equipped with computer facilities.
“They aren’t even enough resources or funds to repair the furniture, said Mohamed Hassan, a tax collector. “Do you see that pile of documents stacked in the corner over there? No one has looked at these papers in decades, and no one even knows what information they contain.
Taking a step out of the back of the building, we descended a flight of stairs and were accompanied what initially looked like a storage room. As our guide unlocked the concrete room, we discovered that it was actually an office space of two employees.
With almost no ventilation, and riddled with cracks from the damped ceiling, two chairs with two desks are crammed into this miniature space.
Ascending the stairs again, we made our way to the financial affairs office where we spoke to the few remaining employees. These employees were finishing off some work before returning to join their colleagues outside the Cabinet building on Kasr El Eini Street.
Elsewhere, while thousands continue to strike throughout Egypt, the real estate tax department responsible for entertainment centers chose not to follow suite despite their strong support and empathy for their colleagues.
“We can’t stop working and join the strike, said an official who asked to remain anonymous. “The real estate tax collectors would eventually collect taxes at the end of the year albeit with difficulty. We, on the other hand, aren’t in the same position. If we missed a day of tax collection, that money would be lost for good.
When asked why he continued to work when the government is not responding to demands, he replied “because this is our money. It’s the money of the people.
However, the raison d’etre of the strike stems from the common allegations that, despite the government’s claims, only a tiny frication of the collected revenues find its way back to the workers themselves
The People’s Assembly is deliberating reforming the 1846 tax law, issued during the Mohammed Ali era.
This law governs the rules of taxation of real estate and cultural land in the recent addition of entertainment centers.
However, it is only applied to major cities such as Cairo, Giza and Alexandria. Until now, newly established affluent areas such as Marina, Sharm El Sheikh and 6th of October, have been exempted from taxation. And the new law proposes to include these areas in the taxation reforms.
The decision that would annex the employees to the ministry of finance is tied up with these reforms. However, they might take an unforeseen period to be officially passed.
Workers refuse to return to work until an immediate and formal decision has been made.
“We’re not concerned so much now about immediate bonuses. We just want a decision to be made and our rights to be realized, said Abdel Fatah.
“It doesn’t make any difference to me whether I work or strike, either way I’m earning peanuts and can’t provide for my family, he continued, “if they arrested me, at least I’ll be getting fed. We will strike and pray the barium’s prayer in the street if we have to. We have nothing to lose.