Following a stormy inaugural session last week in which constitutional law professor Ali Abdel-Al was elected speaker, Egypt’s House of Representatives is set to tackle a host of controversial issues on Sunday, including a top auditor’s claims of government corruption.
Topping the list is a request submitted by around 100 MPs asking Abdel-Al to open an investigation into auditor Hisham Geneina’s recent statement that state corruption led to the loss of LE600 billion.
The House’s internal bureau – led by Abdel-Al and deputies El-Sayed El-Sherif and Soliman Wahdan – held a meeting on Saturday to decide whether the request should be discussed in a plenary meeting or by a specialised committee first.
Wahdan told reporters on Saturday that the meeting of the House’s internal bureau has reviewed all requests submitted on Geneina’s statement on corruption.
“We have two options in this respect,” said Wahdan. “The first is that some believe that a specialised parliamentary committee including legal, financial and economic experts be formed first to review both Geneina’s statement as well as an independent report made by an investigative committee on this statement.”
The second option, Wahdan said, is that “speaker Abdel-Al allow MPs to open a debate on Geneina’s statement in a plenary session on the grounds that this issue has become a priority for the public and the media.”
Wahdan disclosed that in their request, MPs not only urged Abdel-Al to open an investigation into Geneina’s statement, but also refer Geneina to prosecution authorities for questioning.
“There is no denying that by claiming that corruption has led to the loss of LE600 billion in 2015, Geneina has shocked all Egyptians,” said Wahdan, adding that “Geneina’s claims have left all Egyptians greatly confused and wondering how parliament can tackle this critical issue.”
Wahdan accused Geneina of inflating figures about corruption in Egypt for “political reasons.”
“We all know that Geneina belongs to the [now-banned] Muslim Brotherhood and he is doing his best ahead of the anniversary of the 25 January revolution to serve their agenda,” said Wahdan, who is a member of the liberal Wafd party and was affiliated with former president Hosni Mubarak’s now-defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
“I think MPs will be able to expose the complete reality about Geneina’s corruption claims and to tell all Egyptians the truth about his statement,” said Wahdan.
MPs who requested that an investigation be opened into Geneina’s statement are divided into two camps over how their request should be discussed.
The first, led by journalist Mostafa Bakri and other MPs affiliated with the bloc entitled the Pro-Egyptian State Coalition, believe that Geneina, who was appointed by former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi as chairman of the Central Auditing Agency (CAA) in September 2012, is loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood and should be dismissed as soon as possible.
Geneina said in a statement last December that if he were dismissed from his position it would represent a first step towards putting an end to any serious investigation into corruption in Egypt.
The other camp, led by chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party Anwar El-Sadat, believes that “the discussion of Geneina’s statement should not be retaliatory in nature.”
“If we give the impression that we want to dismiss the top auditor simply for a statement on corruption, it would be bad for the reputation of our newly-formed parliament and Geneina would emerge as the winner,” said El-Sadat, adding that “the best thing is that speaker Abdel-Al put the issue to an objective debate, and I recommend that Geneina himself be summoned [so we can hear] his defence instead of attacking him.”
All MPs agree that parliament in its capacity as the country’s main watchdog institution has the full mandate to summon Geneina for questioning.
Geneina’s CAA had been under the control of parliament since the 1970s, but since October 1998 it has become under the purview of the president. Its main roles are to investigate corruption in state authorities, make regular independent reports about their financial positions and refer them to parliament and the president for discussion.
Justice minister Ahmed El-Zind announced that an independent committee formed by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to investigate Geneina’s statement claims it is largely based on inaccurate information.
El-Zind told Al-Ahram journalist Makram Mohamed Ahmed that the president is within legal his rights to dismiss chairpersons of watchdog institutions in cases where they “deliberately cause damage to the state’s interests.”
“The independent committee’s report fell short of recommending whether Geneina should be dismissed, and it is now up to parliament and the president to decide his fate,” said El-Zind.
Meanwhile, the House will begin on Sunday reviewing the first batch of 341 presidential decrees that have been issued since the removal of president Mohamed Morsi from office on 3 July 2013.
Deputy speaker Wahdan told reporters that a preliminary list of 32 political laws will be up for review on the House’s agenda of debates on Sunday. These include a number of laws that were passed in the last two years to regulate presidential and parliamentary elections, the Supreme Constitutional Court and military justice, as well as laws addressing money laundering practices, illicit gains, terrorism, terror entities, retirement of military officers, the president of the republic’s monthly salary, and criminal procedures.
It also includes the law on dismissing heads of independent and watchdog authorities from their positions (law 89/2015), naming village mayors and sheikhs, and around 10 laws related to the armed forces and police.
Wahdan told reporters that parliament’s 19 committees have almost finalised preparing reports on the 341 laws passed since the removal of Morsi.
“Batches of these reports will be submitted for discussion by parliament each day and MPs will have concluded them all before 25 January,” said Wahdan.
Wahdan indicated that in their preliminary debates, MPs have approved most of the laws.
“The civil service law was the only one that was rejected by MPs, although state officials insisted that the rejection could cause disruptions to the state’s new budget,” said Wahdan, adding that the final say on this law will be left for MPs to decide in a plenary session.
MPs affiliated with the Labour Force Committee, which is reviewing the civil service law rejected on 13 January, with Khaled Youssef, an independent leftist MP and a film director, described it as doing damage to state employees.
The list of laws up for discussion Sunday came short of the controversial protest law, which was passed in November 2013. Although Wahdan said the laws reviewed start from the first day former interim president Adly Mansour took office, he was not clear on the protest law.
“This will be left for parliament to decide,” he said.