Hard Talk: Egypt's Haphazard Choice of Ministers

Daily News Egypt
5 Min Read

A mix of confusion and indifference was the main characteristic of the Egyptian government s handling of the global financial crisis before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak s meeting with economic ministers and the Central Bank governor.

Some of those ministers showed extreme indifference by attending a conference of little significance in Washington, when the crisis began resonating in Egypt, and therefore were asked to return immediately.

This indicates that there is a big problem with the government’s performance in general and with the selection of Cabinet ministers in particular. This is attributable to the absence of modern mechanisms for the selection of ministers and senior officials in Egypt since the 1950s, as it has depended on personal relationships and nepotism on one the hand and random selection and coincidence on the other.

There is no clear mechanism for political recruitment through a ruling political party that continuously produces new cadres. There is also no certified academy to cultivate administrative cadres on firm foundations along the lines of that of the Paris-based HEC School of Management, for instance.

At the same time, there are no objective rules and standards of efficiency, professionalism and political perception.

Although the implications of the absence of such mechanisms have been known for several decades, they have become more visible thanks to the communications revolution, which allows ordinary people to remain updated on what is happening around them, especially in light of the unprecedented boldness of the written and visual media in its coverage of various issues that were considered taboo.

The second reason is the aggravation of crises resulting from the accumulation of problems over a long period of time, revealing the implications of the bad choice of ministers.

The Duweiqa rockslide disaster, for example, has opened the dossier of slums, and consequently, the imbalances of population policy and the poor performance of housing ministers over the past two decades.

The selection of the minister of housing from a class of businessmen (the current minister) has not proven to be more useful than appointing the owner of a large engineering firm (the former minister), because of the random selection in both cases.

In addition to the poor performance, the absence of modern mechanisms for the selection of ministers leads to serious anomalies, as the prime minister usually appoints a number of his friends or associates as ministers. The convictions of a minister could clash with the policies required at the ministry he was chosen for.

Although it is illogical that a minister admits such contradiction, former Minister Mokhtar Khattab, who was in charge of the privatization program in Atef Ebeid s cabinet, told Al-Badeel newspaper in a recent interview that his personal position was against the policy he implemented and that he was not convinced of many facets of denationalization.

This is not a singular case, as the lack of transparency hinders the revelation of facts unless a senior official speaks out after leaving office.

However, we should not wait for them to speak because the symptoms of the absence of modern mechanisms for the selection of senior officials are increasingly exposed in the form of public conflicts, some of which cannot be concealed.

This has become very clear, even to ordinary people, because it extends to sectors of interest to the public, such as sports, as in the case of our performance at the Beijing Olympics.

Thus, this imbalance has become more of a threat, because the random selection of senior officials is combined with aggravation of crises that need the highest degree of systematic and methodological work to be solved.

The ruling regime, for example, can neither put an end to the crises afflicting the country nor resolve or address them with ministers most of which do not know why they have been chosen and when they will be sacked.

They are still puzzling over the conflicts surrounding them, some of which are obvious and others are hidden within the inner circle of this regime.

Dr Waheed Abdel Meguid is an expert at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

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