By Heba Hesham
CAIRO: Rights activists and lawyers condemned forcing government employees to donate part of their salary to a campaign spearheaded by a preacher to replace US military aid to Egypt, amid growing concerns about the legality of collecting such donations without specifying where they will be allocated.
A grassroots anti-SCAF campaign criticized on its Facebook page on Monday an official letter asking employees at the tax authority for their consent to accept one day’s salary cut per month to support Egypt’s economy.
The campaign, called “3askar Kazeboon” (Military Liars), circulated a copy of a letter which asked department heads to flag the names of employees who refuse to contribute to the initiative from February-June, in order “to take appropriate action”, without further clarification.
The signature of Munira El-Qady, the head of the tax authority at the Finance Ministry and wife of General Sami Anan, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces and member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), was seen at the bottom of the letter.
Yet, El-Qady denied in an interview published in state-run daily, Al-Ahram, on Thursday that she was forcing employees to make donations.
She claimed that the signature on the letter was forged by one of her staff and leaked to the media.
“However, I decided not to take legal action against him but transferred him to another office,” she told Al-Ahram. “I then sent another fax saying that donations are voluntarily.”
According to the letter, this initiative aims to support Egypt’s ailing economy to counter calls by revolutionary movements to hold a general strike.
But while El-Qady denied taking advantage of her husband’s position to collect donations, employees in other government authorities said they are facing the same quandary.
Employees spoke to Daily News Egypt on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
They said that at the beginning their managers had said that donations will be voluntarily.
“Later they said they will cut the monthly amount anyway and that those who do not wish to donate will have to present a written request,” said a female teacher at a government school in the Delta city of Mansoura.
She said that they were then told that the money will be cut anyway to retrieve an extra bonus they were previously paid by mistake.
In Kafr El-Sheikh province, a government employee said that she was told that not only will the amount be cut from her salary over the next six months, but that she will also be deprived of the promised LE 500 compensation for supervising the Shoura Council elections.
Hafez Abou Seada, lawyer and head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), said it was outright illegal to force someone to donate.
“Employees have the right to refuse such procedures and if the money is deducted from their salaries without their approval they can file a lawsuit before the administrative court, which will rule against the deduction,” he said.
The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) also announced its willingness to provide legal support for employees who may be harmed by this decision, according to its director Khaled Aly.
If employees agree to make the donation, they should be given a separate invoice clearly stating its beneficiary, Abou Seada said.
Legally, there is a law that regulates the collection of donations, explained Ghada Shabandar, board member of EOHR,
It states that public contributions can only be collected via an identified entity which holds an approved license to do so.
“This body can be a non-governmental organization (NGO), which means that its license would be issued from the Ministry of Social Solidarity, or it can be a public shareholding company which is subject to the companies’ act through which a license can be issued for the same purpose,” she explained.
The government that supported the initiative should announce how it is going to use the money it collects, Aly said. “There should be a committee that transparently overseas the fund and regularly announces the amounts that were collected.”
According to Salafi preacher Mohamed Hassan, who launched the initiative to forgo US military aid and replace it with a local campaign to raise the same amount from the Egyptian people, the official launch of the initiative and the allocation of bank accounts for donations will be announced soon under the supervision of Al-Azhar.
He added in a conference held at the Judges Club this month that a committee will be established to oversee the implementation of the “Egyptian Aid” initiative which will include various religious scholars and scientists.
After a meeting with Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzoury, Hassan said that the aid will not go to the state treasury, but will be given directly to the ministries of health, education and housing.
Hassan started the initiative in the wake of growing tension between Cairo and Washington. In response to putting 19 Americans on trial as part of a crackdown on pro-democracy NGOs in Egypt, some US lawmakers threatened to cut aid to the Middle East ally.
Under the peace treat with Israel, Egypt has been receiving military aid from the US since 1979, averaging to $1.3 billion annually in recent years. Additional $200 million go to economic aid.