“Mission accomplished” is how the Egyptian government views its economic success, comprised of developing many parallel projects financed by international loans, followed by the government’s celebration of its achievements as it hands over operation of the projects to its bureaucrats, who are committed neither to being driven by profit, nor to sustaining good service. Meanwhile, the government moves on to identify new projects to develop (without performing any feasibility studies), neglecting to work on improving the performance of its existing projects.
The Egyptian government manages its economy in circles that are completed by many projects. The government’s objective is not to optimize the projects’ circles, or to harmonize them with one another, but to add more projects to the pipeline; it measures its accomplishments in terms of realizing numeric growth on a year-to-year basis. The functionalism of projects or their return on investment is of little concern to the government that tends to forget projects almost immediately following their inauguration.
The deterioration of previous projects (for which the government often blames former cabinets) becomes a clear burden on the state budget and the Egyptian economy, leaving the state to wonder whether it is worth injecting extra money into these projects to keep them afloat or whether it would be better to let them die peacefully. Our social commitment to workers eventually prompts the government to keep injecting some funds into projects that are running on losses, only to safeguard its employees – knowing perfectly well that those projects will never turnaround.
The Egyptian government believes that reducing project completion timelines is an achievement on its own, denying the fact that this incompetent act (the result either of faulty initial forecasting or of compromising on project quality) is nothing to be proud of. The Suez Canal expansion is a clear example; the government was proud to complete the project in just half of the estimated timeline – obviously by renting international equipment at a substantially higher cost. This additional investment is apart from questions regarding the project’s feasibility and priority, subjects that are widely debated internally.
Our government is allocating significant funds and efforts to develop the New Administrative Capital, ignoring the fact that there are millions of unoccupied apartments available in Egypt and hundreds of thousands of unfinished ones. Adopting a policy that promotes the occupation of those vacant apartments would save the billions of dollars that the government is spending on developing the new capital city, provide good returns on investment for many landlords and reduce rents – as opposed to the current policy of constructing more unused houses and keeping prices high.
The Egypt 2030 vision illustrates how Egypt is shaping its vision in terms of advancing digits without explaining how these new goals are to be attained. For example, on the issue of fighting corruption, the government claims that it intends, by the year 2030, to move Egypt’s rank from 35th (currently) to 70th (on a scale of 100 where higher ranks indicate less corruption). That said, the government does not specify the exact measures it intends to apply to realize this ambitious goal when corruption is so rampant today.
The Egyptian government thinks in numbers without giving any meaning to those numbers. In its view, new is better than old, and more is certainly better than less. This is reflected in the tearing down of many small historical houses to build residential towers in their place. The government is neglecting the fact that a few small historical houses, if smartly managed, could provide higher economic returns than high rises. Likewise, instead of spreading our limited resources among many dysfunctional projects, operating a few functional ones could raise the Egyptian economy to a better standing.
The Egyptian economy is struggling to develop a relevant vision and to apply appropriate economic policies. Both objectives require minimal costs, but they certainly need an appropriate mindset. Our challenge is that the Egyptian government not only wants to play a parental role; it also insists on capitalizing on its obsolete mechanisms. We should work to enhance our competitiveness, which can’t be done only by establishing better economic goals. Egypt needs to revisit its thinking pattern first, and then develop new projects.