The Palestine Chronicle
By Mona El-Fiqi
Nations only prosper when they have a common dream that governments and citizens can work together to fulfill. That, in a nutshell, is the position adopted by the authors of Egypt's human development report for 2005, entitled A Vision for Egypt.
What the goals of economic policy should be are succinctly outlined by Heba Handoussa, the report's editor: "A future where quality services are within the reach of all citizens and where every household is protected by secure employment, health insurance, a solid pension system and access to affordable housing."
That the vision is a long way off does not mean that the goals cannot be pursued: indeed, it lends urgency to the devising of strategies that bring them closer.
During the launch of the report, issued by the United Nations Development Program and the Institute of National Planning, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif lauded its calls for a new social contract which includes developing mechanisms to better articulate the rights and obligations of citizens. Nazif praised the report's emphasis on balancing economic growth and social security, a concern which he said the government has already taken on board in its plans for reform in the next six years.
The authors of the report insist the necessary balance will come about only if all citizens are empowered to take part in the decision-making process as Egypt comes to terms with an increasingly competitive and rapidly globalizing world.
A Vision for Egypt offers a strategic framework for human development, able to enhance both people's capabilities and the state's capabilities in the quest to realize Egypt's full potential. It represents, says Antonio Vigilante, resident representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) , an invitation to forge a common and explicit understanding within Egyptian society of the nature and scope of the reforms required: "its many recommendations aim at enabling Egypt to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, not only in terms of national average but in every region of the country."
Government officials insist that social concerns already inform all government decisions. Minister of Planning Osman Mohamed Osman stressed that continuous improvement in the macro-economic environment and the government's stress on pursuing the momentum of structural reforms had enabled the economy to grow from an average of three per cent annually for the period 2000-2003 to nearly five per cent in 2004-2005 and almost six per cent this year, while reforms in public spending and a revision of government investments had enabled the redirection of a significant portion of the state budget towards health, education, housing and other public services. In 2004-2005 spending on education, health, social services, subsidies insurance and pension schemes amounted to LE76 billion, i.e. 43 per cent of total public expenditure and around 15 per cent of GDP.
Egypt, said the report, had engineered a 17 per cent rise in its human development index, which rose from 0.589 in 1994 to 0.689 in 2004, pulling the country out of the lowest ranks. Yet Egypt still languishes at 119th in international human development league tables, a result, says the report, of high levels of illiteracy and of population growth. Egypt ranks in the bottom 10 of international illiteracy tables despite literacy having been a pressing development issue for three decades.
In order to improve its human development rankings Egypt must exceed the minimum targets outlined in the Millennium Development Goals for 2015. To this end the report suggests comprehensive reforms including a new social contract whereby, in a paradigm shift, the state reduces its central control and promotes political, social and economic participation; economic restructuring better capable of generating employment and sustained growth; greater emphasis on the values of participation, entrepreneurship, innovation and transparency within an enabling environment and, finally, a radical shift away from the intensive concentration of population along a narrow strip in order to better utilize scarce agricultural land.
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