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Egyptian MP proposes compulsory citizen donations to fight COVID-19

An Egyptian parliamentarian is planning to submit a bill obliging citizens to make donations to a government fund in order to help in the fight against the coronavirus, with some saying mandatory donations are illegal and a form of taxation.

CAIRO — Bahaa Abu Shaqqa, legal adviser and head of the parliamentary Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, announced April 4 his intention to present a draft law to parliament stipulating that citizens be required to make donations to the state-owned Tahya Misr Fund (Long Live Egypt) in a bid to support the government’s effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Abu Shaqqa said in a statement that the project’s goal is for citizens to share with the state the burden of the coronavirus pandemic, provided that the donations be commensurate with a citizen’s monthly income.

He explained that people who earn more than 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($317) would donate 5% of their income, and those earning more than 10,000 pounds ($635) would donate 10%, those making over 15,000 pounds ($952) would donate 15% and those with a salary of more than 20,000 pounds (about $1,270) would donate 20%.

The bill sparked great controversy and an angry outcry among Egyptians, especially since some private sectors had already slashed salaries by 50%, namely in the hotel and tourism sector.

On April 5, Mohamed Fathi, a journalist, commented on the bill, condemning it as a “provocative” measure at a time when most Egyptians suffer economically due to the pandemic that has affected most businesses.

In a video posted on his Facebook page, Fathi said, “We call on Abu Shaqqa to stop suggesting such bills. Parliament ought to make donations to assist the state in fighting the outbreak of COVID-19, instead of asking people to make forced donations.” He considered mandatory donations through legislation a form of “taxation.”

Fathi’s message seemingly prompted parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal April 6 to call upon parliament members to contribute a three-month bonus, amounting to 15,000 pounds in total, to the Tahya Misr Fund in order to help the government in the fight against the virus that causes COVID-19 and support Egyptians who are affected.

Egyptian parliamentarians receive a monthly bonus of 5,000 pounds, which is less than 20% of the total allowances they receive. 

On April 7, parliament issued an official statement, saying members of parliament promptly responded to the calls to donate their bonuses to support the government in its effort to safeguard the safety of Egyptians, and announced the donation of 20 million Egyptian pounds (about $1.2 million) for the fund.

Meanwhile, parliamentarian Mohammed Abdel-Ghani released an urgent statement April 4 addressed to the prime minister and the minister of housing, raising questions about the government’s intention to resume the normal operations of construction companies as of April 11. Abdel-Ghani considered this to be in direct conflict with the government’s plan to curb the virus.

In the statement that was submitted to parliament, Abdel-Ghani said, “The construction sector includes between 3.5 million and 4 million workers, technicians and engineers. The decision to have them resume work would be in direct conflict with the government’s efforts to stop the spread of the virus.”

He noted that several countries around the world are applying a full lockdown to achieve social distancing and preserve the health of citizens, wondering if the government is heading toward tightening measures or easing the lockdown as a prelude to the resumption of work in all sectors. 

The decision to resume work in the construction sector raised questions about its links to Abu Shaqqa’s bill. If approved, the bill would also force the millions of construction workers who returned to work to make donations to the fund, although Abu Shaqqa said it will only target high-income workers. 

On April 7, Abu Shaqqa issued a statement clarifying that his project was aimed at the social classes with high incomes, to make donations to the fund, which would support the state to provide assistance to the poor that are mostly affected by the pandemic. He stressed that he will submit the bill to parliament after a comprehensive study and review.

In a phone interview with Al-Monitor, Abu Shaqqa said that the government’s decision to resume work in the construction sector, which encompasses 4 million workers approximately, has nothing to do with the bill he intends to submit to parliament. He stressed that his bill will not affect low-income employees.

He added that the bill targets only citizens with high incomes and that the poor and those relying on daily wages will not be affected.

A salary of 5,000 pounds is considered high in Egypt, where the minimum wage has only recently been increased to 2,000 pounds (about $127) from 1,200 pounds ($76). 

“I did not go back on the bill but I am carefully studying and formulating it before I submit. I believe Egyptians ought to support the state in this current phase according to their capabilities. We are not calling on the poor to donate but we will take from the rich to help the destitute,” Abu Shaqqa said.

He added that the bill is not temporary and that people would continue making donations even after the coronavirus crisis ends, to help the Egyptian government confront any other catastrophe that may occur in the future.

Abdel Khalek Farouk, an economic expert and director of the Nile Center for Economic and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor that the government’s imposing compulsory donations on its citizens contradicts the law and “does not make any sense.”

“Such legislations are issued when governments seek to deduct a part of the citizens’ income in return for a service it provides, like income taxes or progressive taxes, within the people’s economic conditions in such a way not to burden them. This compulsory donation is considered illegal taxation under the guise of donation,” Farouk said.

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