It was hoped that the proposed Local Administration Law reforms would be a step forward towards democratic representation in light of the development difficulties in Egypt, which require an increase in effective decentralization and a greater role for citizens in overseeing the performance of the various government institutions, particularly at the local level. However, it has become clear from recent media releases that the primary aim of the proposed amendments to the Local Administration Law – originally issued in 1979 and remains in use till today – is to achieve a minimum degree of compatibility with the articles of the 2014 Constitution. According to the statements made by Major General Adel Labib, Minister of Local Development, the proposed amendments to the Local Administration law will render it compliant with the articles relating to local governance in the 2014 Constitution, which focus on implementing decentralization in decision-making and in giving Governors wider powers, in addition to devoting an appropriate percentage of representation to youth and women in Local administration councils.The 2014 Constitution discusses some aspects of local governance in the following four articles:
Article 176: The state ensures support for administrative, financial, and economic decentralization. The law organizes empowering administrative units in providing, improving, and managing public utilities well, and defines the timeline for transferring powers and budgets to the local administration units.
Article 177: … The State guarantees “social justice between these divisions”.
Article 179: The law regulates the manner in which governors and heads of other local administrative units are selected, and defines their mandate.
Article 180: …The law regulates other conditions for candidacy and procedures of election, provided that one quarter of the seats are allocated to youth under 35 years old, one quarter is allocated for women, workers and farmers are represented by no less than 50 percent of the total number of seats, and these percentages include a proper representation of Christians and people with disability. Local councils are responsible for developing and implementing the development plan, monitoring the f monitoring the executive authority such as proposals, and submitting questions, briefing motions, interpellations and others, and withdrawing confidence from the heads of local units, in the manner organized by law.
Decentralization is the process of transferring executive powers from central administration to the various local administrative bodies according to hierarchical administrative organization. In Egypt, governorates are the highest level of local administration, followed by the administrative centers, then the towns, villages and town districts.1 Decentralization is divided into administrative decentralization, fiscal decentralization and political decentralization. Administrative decentralization transfers the decision-making authority to local bodies; fiscal decentralization supports the transfer of fiscal resources from central control to the local bodies and supports their ability to collect the financial revenues it is entitled to, while political decentralization supports the ability of the local community to elect its representatives in the executive councils as opposed to being appointed by the central power.
However, what we encounter in the proposed reforms to the Local Administration Law will not transfer power to decentralized bodies, in particular the Local Popular Councils (LPC) (elected bodies), as the proposed amendments widen the powers of Governors (selected and appointed by central government) with negligible increase in the powers of the LPC which renders them, as was the case in the past, ineffective in the system of local administration in Egypt. Moreover, the law does not guarantee the necessary factors for the implementation of decentralization as it continues to adhere closely to the Law No. (43/1979) as demonstrated by the continued absence of fiscal and political independence for local level administrations. Therefore, it is considered an amendment to the law rather than a new law that upholds the hoped-for reforms. In this context, the ability of citizens to elect local leaders or to realize the rights of LPCs in obtaining information or questioning the executive powers in an effective manner remains out of grasp.
The following is a brief analysis of the most significant aspects of the proposed amendments to the Local Administration Law:
1.Giving additional powers to central bodies and marginalising lower echelons
The proposed new law gives more powers to central bodies specifically the Ministry of Local Development. Secondly, the new law strengthens the supervisory and regulatory role of the governor and gives him/her wider powers over elected local executive and popular councils.
Reinforcing the role of central bodies
The role of the Ministry of Local Development (MoLD) has been expanded from previously being responsible of overseeing the implementation of the system of local administration and defining all local requirements to implement and develop this system in order to achieve its goals. Under the proposed law, the MoLD becomes responsible for all issues relating to the organization of the affairs of local bodies and administrative units. For example, the ministry has to “establish and develop local facilities” and has to implement “a schedule for the transference of power and budgets to local administration units.” The ministry is also to fiscally, technically and administratively inspect local administration employees at different levels, and has to supervise and monitor their performance (Local Administration Draft Law, Articles 6-10). This is in addition to establishing “social justice between these units” as stated in the 2014 Constitution (Article 177).
Article 10 of the draft law requires the establishment of an educational academy – under the jurisdiction of the MoLD – for the training local administration specialists. The academy would aim to train and endorse the various cadres and promote the educational and professional facets of the employees in the administration. The resources and responsibilities of the academy would be controlled through a presidential decree. It is likely that the establishment of such academy shows the intention of the state to depend on its graduates for filling the positions of the heads of the executive councils, instead of an electoral system.
Article 11 expands the responsibilities of the Supreme Council of Local Administration (SCLA) to include establishing the internal framework and the regulations for the Local Popular Councils, implementing the necessary code of conduct of members of the executive bodies and discussing the elected councils’ performance reports. Membership of the SCLA will include the Minister of
Local Development, Governors and heads of the governorates’ LPCs, and will be chaired by the Prime Minister. This is considered a breach of democratic principles – how can the LPC question the government and hold them accountable if the government is the one setting their regulations and mode of operation?
Article 12 establishes the “Council of Governors” headed by the prime minister and with the membership of the minister of local development. Its role is to discuss “support and supervision tools of the local units.” This again will allow the central government to exercise direct and systematic control over local administrations.
Reinforcing the role of central bodies over lesser echelons (regions and governorates)
Articles 13-31 of the draft law strengthens the supervisory role of the governor, making him/her responsible for “the safeguarding of human rights in the governorate” (Article 14), in addition to overseeing security, ethics and public order which were already listed under the 1979 law. One may find it peculiar for the governor to act as a protector of human rights, particularly when the draft law does not define it. Moreover, the new draft law does not amend the articles that force elected LPCs to submit their decisions to the appointed governor for endorsing or rejecting (Article 20). This further reduces the effectiveness of the LPCs and supports the interference of the executive powers in decision-making. The draft law also added that the governor would have the authority to refer the heads of the executive bodies for investigation (Article 22).
According to Article 28 a coordinating committee will be formed on the governorate-level whose members will be determined by the prime minister. This committee works in conjunction with the governorate executive council and is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the development plans and preparing development proposals and visions for governorates.
The proposed law has devoted a chapter to the amendment and reform of the organizational framework for the capital to guarantee its financial independence and its right to manage the public assets within its jurisdiction. This chapter also tackles the improvement of public service delivery for education and health services. It is worth noting that the aim of these articles remains obscure as we remain unable to obtain all the articles of the chapter related to governing the capital.
Finally, the ‘Economic Regions,’ has now been renamed to ‘Local Development Regions,’ and their roles and systems have been redefined. However, the law did not define the division of these regions and this remains unclear as to whether they remain along the lines of the original economic regions (seven regions across Egypt) or whether this will change in accordance to emerging political variables and the redrawing of the governorate borders.
2.The effectiveness of Local Popular Councils in the absence of the necessary mechanisms to implement decentralization
The draft law makes no changes to the nature of the limited financial resources available at present to local administration. Local administrations currently receive over 90% of their budget from central government, further strengthening their dependence on the central government. It requires LPCs to undertake the comprehensive development of the local communities without affording suitable means and procedures to implement this requirement. On another front, the draft law stipulates the accessibility of information to LPCs and citizens in Article 17; however, it does not specify the degree of freedom in obtaining such information and the mechanisms for doing so. The executive bodies circumvent such freedoms with arbitrary and bureaucratic measures, necessitating permits and certified requests from security bodies to obtain such information.
With respect to the right to interrogate, request briefings and the role of fact-finding committees in the draft law, the new law gives some interrogation rights to LPCs to question members of the executive council. However it has withdrawn its executive role and transferred it to the senior administrative government representative, which is considered a further infringement of the role of LPCs to question and interrogate.
Finally the draft supports the contribution of citizens in conducting the general affairs through forcing LPCs to hold public hearings for citizens and development partners before adopting the local development plan. However, the law does not define the aim of such public hearings or the mechanisms of their operation in addition to the fact that citizens do not have the power to object or to vote on these plans.
The new law maintains compatibility with the 2014 Constitution in terms of increasing the representation of women and youth under the age of 35 in the composition of elected LPCs and in allowing 21 year-olds to vote in elections (whereas it used to be restricted to those above 25 years old), and in stipulating representation for those with special needs and Copts.
The situation remains unchanged – the local administration draft law left LPCs as they were under the 1979 law – without effective power. These amendments to the elected LPCs have proved disappointing, particularly when compared to the new powers given to governors (appointed by central government) in terms of overseeing the activities of elected councils. The draft law gave the elected councils some powers of interrogation, requesting information and the formation of fact-finding committees but it has given the final decision to the supreme executive council when it is deliberating over the results of these investigations. In addition, the law did not resolve the problem of dual administrative and technical dependency of service sectors (such as health, education and youth), which come under the remit of the central ministries as well as LPCs.
In fact, the law maintains compatibility with the minor local administration reforms introduced in the 2014 Constitution, but we still have a long way for this law to achieve the genuine and effective changes in the system of public and local administration in Egypt that would live up to our ambitions.
Featured Photo from: ONA
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