Problems on hold
Rumours that owners of holiday homes in beach resorts on Egypt’s North Coast would be required to pay a tax for the “use of beaches” have created an uproar on social media during the last two weeks. While I believe that the term “use of private beaches” best describes the tax, others have come up with terms that I find unreasonable, even outrageous, such as a “tax for enjoying the quiet of the beach and view of the sea”. No one can impose a tax on natural elements such as air or scenery; but a tax may be imposed on monopolising beaches, thus restricting their use to holidaymakers at resorts and depriving others from their use.
I explain this as a matter of principle, not to confirm rumours that private use of resort beaches is being taxed since, in rule-of-law States, a tax may only be imposed through legislation and subsequent laws. In case of the alleged “beach use” tax, there have been no news whatsoever that parliament has passed any legislation to impose such a tax on any resort on any Egyptian coast, whether north, east, or in Sinai.
Worse than the alleged tax, however, is the rumour that this tax is cumulative and retrospective, and that it is to be applied for the period since the resorts were first operated some 15 years ago. Which begs the question why the tax was not explicitly mentioned in the contracts between the developers or owners on one hand, and the Ministry of Housing, Construction and Urban Communities which planned, divided and sold the North Coast land to developers on the other. If the tax was included in the contracts, why has its collection been delayed until today? And why do the homeowners in these resorts claim they knew nothing of this tax which is now being demanded of them? Unless there never was legislation in the first place to impose the said tax which ought to be collected once legislated, not retrospectively since that would be unconstitutional.
Most probably, the entire issue of the alleged tax on beach use is but a rumour. The Cabinet, however, should have urgently issued a statement to deny the rumour, since Egypt’s domestic front cannot sustain unnecessary controversy.
Talk of the North Coast beaches brings to mind another issue which concerns all beaches in Egypt, even privately owned ones. That issue is the upkeep and maintenance of the beaches, which more often than not require construction work that the homeowners can ill afford. Holidaymakers at beach resorts must have noticed that maintenance of their beaches has for years been restricted to periodic manual cleanups. They must have noticed the erosion of the sandy beaches owing to the tides; in some instances the sand has almost been completely depleted, exposing the underlying rocky bed. This has been especially prominent in resorts that overlook the open sea where, in the absence of bays, tidal forces are to be reckoned with. Maintaining such beaches is no easy or non-costly matter; it requires that a special State authority be tasked with it in order for our national natural wealth to be preserved. Works required would include erecting wave breakers and regularly filling the sandy beaches. Such projects go far beyond the capacity of private resorts, in terms of construction and financial considerations, thus should be undertaken by the State. Accordingly, the State might ask for legislation to impose a tax to cover the expenses of the upkeep projects.
If this vision is adopted, the tax for beach use would become legal and acceptable, and it would be imposed as of the date the legislation is passed. Otherwise, we are before a very curious situation that requires an official explanation to set things straight.
8 September 2019