The government manages its economy in circles that are completed by many projects. It’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. Whether projects actually function, or provide a return on investment, are of little concern to a government that tends to forget projects almost immediately after 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 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 funds into projects that are running at a loss, to safeguard their employees — knowing perfectly well that those projects will never turn around.
The government believes that reducing project completion times is an achievement on its own, denying that this incompetence (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 the estimated time — obviously by renting international equipment at substantial cost. This additional investment is apart from questions regarding the project’s feasibility and priority, subjects that are widely debated.
The government is allocating significant funds and effort to develop the New Administrative Capital, ignoring the vast number of unoccupied or unfinished apartments throughout the country. 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.
Egypt measures its development with statistics, but they are worthless without clear goals and better thinking on how to achieve them.
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 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 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 economy to a better standing.
The economy is struggling to develop a relevant vision and to apply appropriate policies. Both objectives require minimal costs, but they certainly need an appropriate mindset. Our challenge is that the 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 cannot be done only by establishing better economic goals. Egypt needs to revisit its thinking pattern first, and then develop new projects.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir