The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights credits the efforts of the Egyptian government to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, but we assert that the socioeconomic priority in this crisis must be protecting individuals’ income, ensuring the provision of strategic goods to the market, and maintaining price stability. Only after that should the state step in to support companies and factories with measures that do not risk individuals’ health, impinge on allocations to citizens, or eat into taxpayer funds.
The EIPR is monitoring actions by the government and Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to mitigate the economic and social impact of preventive measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. We are assessing such action in light of the protection of citizens’ lives, health, and income and the imperative not to endanger workers’ health and lives for the sake of running the economy at full capacity. The EIPR proposes a set of measures that will ensure that the poorest groups do not bear the brunt of the crisis.
Over the past week, the Egyptian government took several steps to mitigate the economic impact of measures designed to slow the spread of the virus and contain the anticipated economic fallout. But the government gave precedence to support for Egyptian factories and firms, using expansionary monetary and fiscal policy to shore up the stock market and encourage industry and the private sector, some of which working in non-essential sectors. This will reduce the tax and non-tax revenues needed both by the treasury and citizens. At the same time, the government has been slow to use these same levers to protect the health and income of individuals, particularly the neediest. It did not direct a stimulus package to individuals, and it continues to risk the health of most individuals by continuing to allow non-essential private businesses to operate at full capacity. This policy stands in stark contrast to the laudable measures taken for workers in the government and public sectors.
If the government has prioritized continued production in order to confront an epidemic whose containment requires workers to stay home to avoid infection and contagion, this support for industry and business should at least be coupled with a prime ministerial decree requiring reduced crowding in private workplaces and paid leave in the private sector. Non-essential sectors should operate at half-capacity and rotate staff for onsite positions.
The Egyptian government must adopt expansionary fiscal policies for individuals like several other states. These policies include exceptional payouts to informal or gig workers and unemployment assistance to people who lose their jobs due to the crisis. In addition, it should suspend the collection of insurance payments, taxes, and electric, water, and gas bills from low- and medium-income groups, increase cash and in-kind benefits for holders of supply cards, and offer rent and social housing subsidies.