UPDATE: PM resigns Cabinet, Egyptian Minister of Agriculture arrested on suspicion of corruption

Mon 14 Sep 2015

UPDATE: PM resigns Cabinet, Egyptian Minister of Agriculture arrested on suspicion of corruption

UPDATE September 14th

September  12th Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab submitted the resignation of his Cabinet to President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, despite earlier claims by Cabinet spokespersons that there would be no Cabinet Reshuffle. Al-Sisi has asked the Cabinet to continue in a “caretaker role” until a new administration is formed, while he has asked Oil Minister Sherif Ismail to form a new Cabinet. The reason for the resignation is still unclear, although concerns over wide spread corruption and the mismanagement of several Ministries have been prevalent. Oil minister Ismael is seen as one of the best performing Ministers.

Egyptian Minister of Agriculture arrested on suspicion of corruption

The Egyptian Minister of Agriculture, Salah El-Din Helal, was arrested on September 7th as part of an investigation into corruption in his ministry, as authorities believe he “requested and received” bribes. He immediately resigned “on orders from the president” and is currently under investigation.  Helal is not the first high ranking Egyptian political figure to be arrested on allegations of corruption and with parliamentary elections coming up next month, the case has received much attention.


Case details

Last week the Deputy Agriculture Minister was arrested on allegations of taking bribes, but Helal denied any involvement and said he did not know about the allocating of state lands to businessman. Two others working at the ministry were also detained. On the same day the prosecutor released information about the bribes, which were handed to members of the Agricultural Ministry in exchange for the issuing of legal documents of a 2.500 acres agricultural plot in Wadi el-Natrun. The bribes consisted of residential property, membership to an exclusive sports club, expensive clothing, mobile phones and travel expenses. In August workers of the General Authority for Reconstruction Projects and Agricultural Development (GARPAD), an institution affiliated with the Agricultural Ministry,  accused Helal of covering up corruption. Helal later told that he had referred GARPAD senior leaders to court. The Ministry of Agriculture is an important ministry in Egypt. With Egypt being the world’s largest importer of wheat, agriculture is vital to the economy. Critics question the government’s grip on the economy and the management of the agriculture. According to an Egyptian official the government might had problems with the minister’s policies because “he wasn’t taking full charge of his ministry and decisions coming out of it were often at odds with other ministries”.


Corruption

Corruption is a wide spread problem in Egypt, which is manifested by the building on agricultural lands that are not intended for that use. In 2014 more than 7.000 cases of illegal building and construction violations were reported according to the administrative prosecution. This corruption does not only take place at the Agricultural Ministry, but transcends into other ministries and local administrations. According to NGO Partners for Transparency (PFT) the Agricultural Ministry is among the top three most corrupt institutions and there were 7 cases of corruption reported in August. But in other ministries corruption  is also prevalent as PFT head Walaa Gad speculated that the Ministry of Local Development and the Ministry of Supply could be next. On July 8th officials of the Ministry of Religious Endowments were accused of corruption and it was reported this week that their Minister, who was dismissed by the Ministry, was prevented from leaving the country..


No Cabinet reshuffle

Because of these speculations a media gag has been imposed on the case, allowing media to only publish official statements from the prosecutors. Egypt’s Prime Minster Ibrahim Mahlab commented that his cabinet “would fight all forms of corruption and tolerate none”, adding that “no one is above legal accountability”. He has appointed the Minister of Irrigation, Hossam Moghazi, to be the acting Agriculture Minister until a replacing Minister has been found. Currently in Tunis, the PM is expected to hold ministerial meetings when he returns to the country, adding that there are “no current consultations” to make changes in the new Cabinet. Spokesperson Hossam Kawish said he expects no further resignations of ministers. On September 6th, a day before the arrest of Helal, state media reported a possible Cabinet reshuffle, although Kawish denied the claims. Egypt’s Parliamentary elections, spanning over a number of rounds, will start in October and end in December.