By Mai Shams El-Din
CAIRO: A local rights group demanded Wednesday that parliament repeals a law issued by the ruling military council that allowed for settlements in cases of squandering public funds.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) sent a memo to the People’s Assembly’s legislative and economic committees Wednesday demanding the repeal of a law issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on Jan. 3 to settle with investors under legal investigations in cases of squandering of public funds.
The law is an adjustment to the Investments Guarantees and Incentives Law No. 7 of 1997, giving the government full authority to settle with investors in financial corruption probes even if they are referred to criminal courts or are subject to preliminary prison sentences.
The law was pushed through 20 days before the newly-elected parliament was seated on Jan. 23.
“Issuing this dangerous law on a military order, upon a recommendation from the government and days before parliament’s first session is a clear violation of the rule of law,” said head of EIPR’s Social Justice Program, Amr Adly, in a statement released Wednesday.
“[The law is] a dangerous indication of the government’s intentions to protect the interests of investors even if this goes against the law, in order to protect the corruption networks inherited from the Mubarak era, [which] do not seem to have ended with his ouster,” he wrote.
EIPR said the drafted law “intentionally mixed” between the procedural violations that can be settled with investors and squandering public funds and financial corruption that cannot pass without punishment.
The law also obliges investors to return all the squandered funds at the time of committing the crime not at the time of reconciliation, without considering how much profit the investor made as a result of this corruption, according to EIPR.
The law also assigned the task of reconciliation to the General Authority of Investment which shows, according to EIPR, a conflict of interest since the authority is an institution concerned with promoting investment not monitoring it and may ease the punishment meted out to the investor to encourage more investment.
The law also stipulated that once approved by the prime minister, the reconciliation deal would be legally binding, violating the right to appeal to a judicial authority if the deal is not in the public interest.
“This law is tantamount to a promise made by those who have no right to make such promises to those who do not deserve the fruits of these promises,” Ahmed El-Naggar, head of the economic unit of Al-Ahram Center of Political and Strategic Studies, said Wednesday.
El-Naggar criticized those who support this law on the pretext that it will boost investment. He said that it is not to the benefit of serious investors to tarnish their reputation by squandering public funds.
“Serious investors wish to invest, not to become thieves,” El-Naggar said, adding that there is an apparent political angle related to the timing of issuing the law.
“If parliament is really representing the people who voted for it, MPs must immediately repeal this law,” he said.
Critics said a similar law allowing settlement in court cases pertaining to bank loans was to the benefit of violators.
Article 133 of the Egyptian Central Bank Law facilitated reconciliation with investors who cannot pay off their loans by dropping prison sentences against them if they paid off all or part of their loan.
The law did not consider the profit made by these investors, which El-Naggar said, represents a flagrant case of illicit gains.
Critics said that the law gave an opportunity for corrupt businessmen who received loans with minimal guarantees and fled the country over the past 10 years to avoid legal accountability.
The law also failed to distinguish between small investors who were unable to pay off their debt due to serious business turmoil, and others who exploited the law to squander funds.
Members of the parliament expected to discuss the issue were not available for comment at time of press.