By Farah Halime
How fitting that on April Fool’s Day, the Egyptian government attempts to deceive us all by claiming that its plans to raise the price of state-subsidised cooking gas for the first time in two decades will actually make any difference to the country’s energy subsidy spending.
In fact, it won’t, and it is unlikely that the IMF delegation visiting Cairo this week will see it this way.
According to Reuters:
The government increased the price of cooking gas cylinders sold for domestic use by 60% to EGP 8 [that’s from EGP 5] a bottle, and doubled it for the bigger bottles used by businesses, an official at the supplies ministry said.
Although it marks a big rise, Egyptians had grown used to paying as much as EGP 50 a bottle last year on a black market where the state-subsidised gas bottles are sold at a mark-up. Those prices have now fallen to EGP 10-15 a bottle, according to Egyptian media reports.
There are a number of holes in the policy that fit in well with the Egyptian government’s ad hoc approach to economic policy. Moustafa Bassiouny, economist at the Signet Institute explains:
A) Raising the price of a gas cylinder from EGP 5 to EGP 8 is unlikely to result in any substantial savings for the government who are struggling to meet demand for fuel. [Rebel Economy: It’s really just symbolic].
B) This type of fuel is predominantly used by the poor, while the wealthier have natural gas piped straight to their homes, and Egypt continues to heavily subsidise petrol which is, by definition, only used by the richest segments of the society (i.e., those who own cars). [RE: Egypt is effectively lifting subsidies for the wrong people].
C) This new policy change is fundamentally weak, regressive and ineffective, and still does not come as part of a comprehensive reform plan. So it fails financially and morally, in my opinion. [RE: Couldn’t have put it better myself].
The biggest flaw in Egypt’s energy subsidy system (and many others around the world) is that it is a class-blind system paying out more to support wealthier households whose fuel consumption is higher than in needier ones.
By lifting a subsidy specifically used by the poor, the Egyptian government is acting foolishly. Diesel dominates the structure of subsidies, while LPG (used in cylinders) commands a much smaller portion.
The Morsi administration would be well advised to follow through with its plan to introduce a new fuel rationing system from July 1 to raise the price of fuel used by the well-off.
But, like most policy changes in Egypt, this could easily be delayed for months and even into next year.
This post originally appeared on Rebel Economy