Who should drive Egypt’s economy: Bureaucrats or entrepreneurs?
Being a successful physician or teacher does not normally qualify a person to run a hospital or school efficiently. Singlehandedly managing a hospital or school in a remote area differs completely from doing so amid rival institutions. Relying on one’s talent to earn a decent income involves a completely different dynamism than running a commercial entity with a workforce of thousands.
“Why should my family pay a hefty portion of its profits in taxes to careless people who are reluctant to work?” a friend asked recently on social media. He said he and his family work very hard for their money, which then goes in part to subsidize fuel and food items for people who refuse to exert equal effort.
This leads us to question whether the large portion of Egypt’s population that is less fortunate is born into this condition, or if it is less fortunate because it constitutes indifferent workers. The fact that young people account for two-thirds of the population prompts me to lean toward the latter option.
Egypt’s economic dilemma is not only about spending roughly half of our national budget on government employee salaries and subsidies. Primarily, it is about appointing executives and ministers who spend their entire careers in secure bureaucratic positions to drive Egypt’s economy.
The combination of never experiencing a business crisis or even a market slowdown, and knowing nothing about innovation, is a clear leadership deficiency. The steady government careers of Egyptian bureaucrats enable them to survive on limited incomes, barely managing their debts. But they have no clue about engendering economic growth.
Egyptian newspapers reported that our tourism minister often declines to meet with tourism stakeholders (hotel owners and travel agencies). This prompted me to wonder why the management of an industry operated exclusively by the private sector is handed to a person with a bureaucratic mindset.
The combination of never experiencing a business crisis or even a market slowdown, and knowing nothing about innovation, is a clear leadership deficiency.
For all airline companies, the number of flying hours is the essential criterion when hiring senior pilots. Interviewing candidates about their flying knowledge is often secondary to their proven flying experience. Any moderately well-read person can spend a few hours enhancing his knowledge on any given subject. Sadly, in Egypt we mostly hire executives with no real field experience, who excel at sponging up knowledge and passing it on to their subordinates.
There is an ongoing debate in Egypt about who is better able to serve our nation: Politicians, technocrats or businesspeople. The Egyptian state usually keeps at a distance politicians who are eager for power. The state used to appoint ministers, defined as technocrats, who in their ministerial capacities often exhibited a lack of stamina and managerial talent. As for businesspeople, Egypt’s media has labeled them “rotten fruit” whose only objective is to fulfil their personal interests and ambitions.
After discarding the above three categories, the state recently settled for bureaucrats. They are by default well-trained to obey their superiors blindly, but they lack ambition, motivation and creativity. If they had any of these skills, they would have resigned from government decades ago to explore their ideas. A bureaucratic position is not only a career, it is also a mindset.
The debate is not about privileging one category over another. It is about appointing executives with genuine entrepreneurial skills. Ministers need to demonstrate their success clearly, or at least adopt an open-minded attitude and a genuine willingness to listen to others.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. He can be reached on Twitter @MohammedNosseir