06 March 2016

Egypt's sustainable development strategy aims to see the country ranked among the 30 largest economies worldwide by 2030, reports Sherine Abdel-Razek

Egypt will step into the fourth decade of the 21st century with a 10 per cent economic growth rate, a national income of $10,000 per capita and a highly competitive economy, according to the country's recently released sustainable development strategy for 2030.

The strategy was drafted jointly by the government, the private sector and NGOs and took two years of meetings and discussions to finish. The cases of several other countries drafting similar strategies were thoroughly studied in putting together the strategy, including those of Malaysia, India and the UAE.

"We also looked at the EU, especially the Eastern European countries which have several socio-economic similarities with Egypt. The Polish experience was very helpful as it was similar to ours 20 years ago," said ]Nihal Al-Megharbel, first assistant to the minister of planning and one of the main authors of the report.

Other development plans have been revealed in the past, but these only focussed on the economic aspects of strategy, which this time around is complemented by social and environmental dimensions. The report dedicates an important section to upgrading education and improving Egypt's ranking in competitiveness indicators related to primary education, for example.

"The previous plans were also in some cases just wishful thinking as targets were set without the measures to reach them, or the challenges they might face. There was also not enough attention given to monitoring implementation," Al-Megharbel said.

A very important factor in the new strategy is monitoring and evaluation. "We are copying the experience of Brazil here, where the monitoring of the implementation of the strategy was given to an independent unit affiliated to the president with full authority to oversee the progression of the plan," she said.

The main goal of the strategy is for Egypt to be among the 30 largest economies in the world by 2030.

"We looked at different pillars that could describe the economy as a whole, like the economic growth rate and income per capita. We based our calculations on a conservative scenario for the population growth rate, putting it at 2.4 per cent," Al-Megharbel explained.

With a population of 140 million people by 2030, Egypt should have an economic growth rate of 10 per cent and an income per capita of $10,000 per year compared to $3,200 at present.

To reach a 10 per cent growth rate, Egypt's investment rate should increase from the current 15 per cent of GDP to 27 per cent. "It is the role of the private sector to finance the projects the strategy recommends," said Al-Megharbel.

Ayman Ismail, head of Mountain View, a real-estate developer and a representative of the private sector during the draft of the strategy, told a TV talk show on Sunday that an integral part of the strategy had been choosing the most promising sectors to focus on.

"We looked for sectors in which Egypt has a competitive advantage. Investing in car assembly is nonsense, as we will never have a competitive edge there, while spinning and weaving, being a labour-intensive industry, is a very promising investment," he said.

Other sectors with high potential are logistics, notably in the Suez Canal Development Corridor, in order to make use of the country's location and use its thousands of English-speaking university graduates.

However, such investment should be preceded by the government's helping hand, through investment-friendly regulations and needed infrastructure, according to both Al-Megharbel and Ismail. The two also said that the strategy will not succeed without administrative and institutional reform.

For Osama Mourad, chairman of Acumen Holdings, a local investment bank, the strategy is "doable" and most of the targeted indicators could even be realised in a five- to ten-year span.

"The whole point is how to sell it to the people, so that they believe in it and stick to it. What we see on the ground should be the same as what is included in the programme blueprint," he added.

"We can't say that we are involving the private sector and NGOs in putting the strategy into effect when in fact we are leaving the private sector to face the problems of the lack of dollars and energy scarcity and shutting down NGOs," he said.

The private sector's contribution to GDP is decreasing, and the credit it has been accessing has been dropping.

Mourad stressed that there needs to be an integrated system to adopt the strategy and that this needs to be binding in the sense that any project outside its framework should be relegated.

The launch of the strategy saw President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi shed light on the achievements of the last 20 months, pointing out that infrastructure projects have been given a lot of attention as 6,000 roads have been paved and 6,000 more are underway. Some 123 bridges had also been built in an expansion of the transport network that will save much time and money.

Al-Sisi said that the eight-year power shortages that made the lives of people harder than ever had been dealt with in just one year, at a cost of LE150 billion. He said that the country's power supply now also covers the needs of industry.

However, Mourad said that while he does not have the whole picture, infrastructure should not have been the only focus at this stage.

"This should be taken into consideration in the early stages of the strategy. But mega-projects are not what we need in the short term. We should have productive service projects that regain their investment in a shorter period of time," he said.

The new strategy will be reviewed in two years and then every five years until 2030.

© Al Ahram Weekly 2016