Problems on hold
So much legislation is direly needed in Egypt today to adjust her societal course. But in many cases, such legislation stumbles either owing to lack of political will or absence of a sound vision for reform. The sad outcome is that justice is waived; development suspended; and progress on the economic, social and health fronts delayed.
Among such legislation is the bill for rentals of old buildings; ‘old buildings’ denotes all buildings built before the 1960s, and those built after that but governed by the 1960 rental law. The bill was expected to put an end to the injustice inflicted on landlords of old buildings the rental values of which have been frozen by law for the past seven decades. The bill was shelved owing to lack of political will, for fear of ‘angering’ tenants. A study related to the bill and published some 18 months ago, on the criteria of recalculating the rental values of old buildings, was fair and objective. It took into account the predicaments of the various sectors and categories of tenants of old buildings, be they residents or commercial or business entities. It set a ten-year transition period during which rentals would gradually rise until they attain realistic figures. In fact, the bill did not suggest rental values alien to the Egyptian market; current legislation governing rentals of post-1960-law buildings have allowed their value to be agreed upon by tenant and landlord, and have specified time frames for the expiry of rental contracts. In this light, the bill for rentals of old buildings does not apply unheard-of reform; it simply lifts the injustice suffered by landlords of old buildings, and frees millions of unused housing units kept by tenants who find it foolish to dispense with them when the law allows keeping them at meagre rental. Many of these tenants do not even live in the old houses but have chosen to move to new urban settlements, yet they keep the old units at a yearly rental that costs less than a takeout meal rather than return them to their landlords.
Another direly needed legislation concerns garbage recycling. I do not mean the recycling of paper, wood or glass or such like since this goes through the well-established investment and recycling channels. I talk of organic waste that is left to disintegrate, pollute the environment and threaten health. For ages, organic waste went into supplying fodder for Egypt’s pigs, until a virus that passes from pigs to humans appeared in the 2000s in Central and South America, threatening lives. At the time, Egypt’s government hastily decided to kill all the pigs in Egypt and ban pig raising, even though the World Health Organisation had announced Egypt free of the fatal virus. The hasty move resulted in two catastrophes: first, the termination of a huge industry on which hundreds of thousands of garbage collectors and pig raisers depended for a living, without providing alternative opportunities. Second, towns and urban communities were awash with millions of tons of organic waste. No alternative plan was put forward to recycle the organic waste which many countries have turned from a scourge into a blessing.
Whereas direly needed legislation is not passed, a hasty bill was announced earlier this month. It concerned banning the slaughter of poultry outside official slaughterhouses. Parliament quickly decided to postpone discussing it, since it lacked adequate study, and appeared doomed to be anathema to the public. From time immemorial, mainstream Egyptians have prided themselves on eating freshly slaughtered poultry which they either bred at home or bought live from poultry sellers on the market. They saw frozen poultry as substandard nourishment. I fully comprehend and appreciate the health requirement that led to the new bill, but I cannot discount time-honoured food tradition at the blink of an eye. Yes, it is time to give up customs that jeopardise public health, but the bill had in no way been introduced to the public, nor does it appear to have taken into account a few economic predicaments. What would the countless poultry breeders do if their livelihoods are taken away? Does the government have a substitute plan to relocate this large segment within the new system of slaughterhouses that should cover all Egypt? The legislation may be spot on, but the political groundwork is totally inadequate.
25 November 2018