Egypt 2011/2012 Budget

So Zeinboia gives me the heads up about an invitation from the ministry of finance to discuss the new budget proposal with Dr. Samir Radwan and his advisers. Apparently invitation was made to some of the youth coalitions and some of the twitter economists. I had whined on twitter all morning about wanting to attend and has lost all hope, then an hour before the event the perpetually awesome TravellerW comes to the rescue and my name is at the door.

I race through Cairo traffic to the IDSC building downtown. Naturally, anything that can go wrong goes wrong, cabbie gets lost, doesn’t have change and to top it all off we get into an accident on El Kasr El3einy street and he can’t continue. I walk the remainder of the way and arrive 30 minutes late only to discover that his excellency has even worse timing than I and we end up waiting for him for another 30 minutes.

Meeting is attended by Dr. Radwan, his deputy for international relations, the deputy director for Al Ahram Center for Political & Strategic Studies (I’m not positive of his reason for being there, yet he acted like an advisor to the minister would), five IMF representatives, two of which were Egyptian, and us youth (word used VERY loosely).

While I must say, I LOVE the initiative, the format needs major tweaking, I don’t feel the group was representative of the nation at large at all, nor were most of those attending experts on the issues. Also the way the discussions were conducted lacked any sort of organisation. Why the IMF was privy to the discussions is also beyond me.

Dr. Samir opens by telling us that this draft is currently being discussed with all the different groups, that he’d met the business community earlier that day and that all views will be looked into and possibly incorporated and that the final budget should be issued by Monday. He goes on to say:

that in the absence of a people’s assembly the budget approval will be obtained from the SCAF.

He then takes us through the document outlining how he sees it, this goes on for 30 minutes. He stresses income & wages, converting fiscal policy into a tool to guarantee social justice and continuity as his three main pillars and focus areas. He then talked in depth about his plans to reform the public wage structure, his plans to centralise all SME support in a new entity which will also manage a 200 million US$ Saudi Arabia grant, and finally his plans for reforming the taxation structure in Egypt.

I will not bore you with the details cause it would serve you well to go through the document which they’ve been kind enough to share on the ministry website and which I’ve linked to in the previous paragraph. Instead I will highlight some areas some of the attendees and I found troubling. Worth noting, if you are expecting his responses you are in to for a disappointment. You see, he HEARD us, he took notes, he nodded and made jokes when appropriate, yet he then rushed off to another meeting thanking us for our time.

  • TravellerW made a very valid point regarding the new tax bracket, an extra 5% will be charged to all those earning more than 10 million LE a year, sounds fair, no? Only it applies to both individuals and corporates, so basically a large group of medium sized corporates will be attached to another object by an inclined plane, wrapped helically around an axis (BBT reference).
  • A renewable energy engineer pointed out that the budget is built on a very unrealistic assumption that a barrel of oil will cost $100.
  • Budget has 2 billion LE allocated to training youth. When pushed for clarification Dr. Samir says that the plan is to have corporates agree to take them on for on-the-job training for 6 months during which the Ministry of Finance will pay their salaries from that 2 billion LE fund, with the hope that at the end of 6 months the corporates will hire them. Not only do I think this is a bad plan, I think it is naively optimistic and lacks long term vision. I actually asked him to kindly stop crowding out the NGOs and civil society and step up and do what only the government can do. Rather than train, leave the training to us and you instead focus on job creation, invest in projects and hire those individuals.
  • Budget proposal has a very vague item regarding upping the investments in the field of R&D. I would have preferred to see some sort of incentive scheme to drive the private sector to innovate, I’m sceptic of the fact that pumping funds into government R&D will change much. I say this because I’ve seen brilliant ideas get completely shelved at the National Research Institute because those heading it don’t see the business viability of these ideas.
  • Education and health spending grew at below the average growth of budget spending. Spending on education in the new budget is only 11% and the spending on health is only 5%.
  • 13.5 billion LE have been earmarked to EGPC (Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation) (which for some reason suddenly has no web presence) for restructuring purposes to assist it in reform efforts. This is alarming to say the least. EGPC is a money making establishment and one of the government’s most prominent revenue centres. It is also an inefficient institution, so as attendees pointed out, wouldn’t it be better to reform it first rather than toss money at it. Especially that the opportunity cost of these funds is extremely high right now. Dr. Samir’s explanation was that these funds are going to ensure that no shortage in Solar and Butane gas occur, yet this contradicts with another item 2 pages down regarding increasing subsidies to oil products by 31.3 billion pounds.
  • Attendees asked repeatedly about the 63 billion in special funds or private funds صناديق خاصة but we were given a roundabout answer and didn’t come out with much.
I also couldn’t resist the opportunity to complain about how difficult the government is making the lives of those working in the micro-finance field in Egypt. Some of those attending pitched in and even suggested dismantling the SFD all together. Enough with the rosy plans and the technical assistance, SMEs need better access to finance, it is that simple, please do something about it.
Also made it a point to stress that if we stand any chance to attract any investment for those PPP projects the Ministry of Finance is pitching, they’ll have to do a much better job of studying these projects and providing investors with real and tangible indicators to assist them in making the investment decision. It is hilarious really, projects have no declared return on investment nor payback periods for that matter.

All in all, while I appreciate the initiative, I really think he should have taken more time to answer the questions and more thought needs to be put into that budget.

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On “Delicate”

I follow the blog of one of my more charming younger friends. Her blog is a reflection of a carefully hidden side of her, one that has been unknowingly and gently seeping into her look, attitude and daily communication.

Having read one of her posts, I had described her writing style as “delicate”. Stunned at the scale of the reaction and how much offence she had taken, I explained that we probably have different definitions of “delicate”.

Consulting a dictionary I understood why she took offence, she had interpreted “delicate” as fragile or easily damaged. I, on the other hand, used the word with a completely different intent. So I promised her a post, on my interpretation of the word, a post that is now long overdue but which I now have the joy of gifting her on her birthday.

“Delicate” is a term I would use to describe the most fine and most intricate, the highest quality, the best texture and construction. It is the term used to refer to the finer lace or design. Delicate is profound and strong yet subtle, like the most scrumptious of flavours. It is a softness that is paired with a richness, it is light to read and easy on the eye, like shades of colour. Delicate is about precision, the extent to which one is calibrated and to which an instrument performs something difficult and accurate.

To me delicate is a reflection of how rich writing is, how flavorful, how strong without being obvious, how detailed oriented it is, how precise, how beautifully it conveys the imagery and carries the idea across with no cliche nor excesses.

Delicate is a fine bohemian vase, rather than a run-of-the-mill glass one. Delicate is about being sensitive, about being exquisite and refined in one’s perception and in one’s feeling. It is about caring about the reader and the other, and their feelings and perception. It is about doing a post or a story justice.

Always remember that the finer thing in life, and in food for that matter are “delicacies”. Please don’t shy away from being delicate. It is just you being the “choice” person that you are, writing the sensational posts that you do.

Happy birthday my delicate one!

Reflections from the office – Kiki

Was sitting in Cilantro Zamalek talking about the future when I got asked if I knew Kiki. Naturally I know Kiki, she only sits on the desk right behind mine. We share a partition which is a lovely thing really.

So here goes nothing, the start of a series of reflections about the people in our office.

Kiki is young, turning 23,  but probably one of the oldest and most mature 23 year olds you’ll ever meet. Extremely old and wise for her years, something that has manifested magically into her looks. Lady Kiki.

I get the distinct impression that she tele-ported here, from another time, from the era of the King. She gives off the air of a revolutionary woman from that time. Driven, rebellious, calm, cool and collected, analytical, creative, deep and incredibly PROFOUND. Back in her previous life she was a journalist, a university professor or headed an NGO and brought welfare and enlightenment to the masses.

Looking at her I can completely see the woman she will grow up to be, the change she will bring upon the world.

Funny thing is, when you meet her, she’ll throw you off by how chilled out and non-melancholic she will come across as. Yet you will be mistaken. Behind the extreme diversity of interests, eclectic choice of music, varied reading list, shopping and BBMing activity lies a woman with “development” at heart, one way more intense than you can imagine.

There it is ladies and gents, my shout out to the Girl from the One Long Road.

Updates on the Bucket List

Original list here.

  • Bike through Italy, Safari in Kenya, dance in the streets of Brazil, snorkel around the Australian reef, pray in Palestine and take a photo sitting cross-legged on the floor in the square in front of the Kremlin.

Update: Spent 3 months living on my own in Dubai, but no such luck on above countries just yet.

  • Learn a new language (flexible on what the language is, although leaning towards Spanish due to the abundance of practice buddies).

Update: Have commenced French classes.

  • Learn to play one jazz song on my piano or Sax.

Update: Have commenced guitar classes, learned “Autumn Leaves” on the guitar! I love that song.

  • Write and publish a book that means a lot to me and which becomes a worldwide (ok, fine! regional or local) best-seller.

Update: AIWA BA2A 🙂 See you all at the launch tonight!

  • Jump out of a plane (preferably with a co-conspirator who understands the beauty of that experience).

Pending.

  • Drive a fancy sports car (hopefully my own) on a clear highway at more than 220 KM/H. (Yes, once a gaming junkie forever a gaming junkie; feel free to roll your eyes!)

Update: Bought Marlboro red two seater 🙂

  • Start my own business consultancy firm.

Pending.

  • Have an interesting conversation with Queen Rania of Jordan. (I’ve already heard her speak live and that was very inspirational.)

Pending.

  • Get cited as someone’s role model!

Update: Jessyz and Gjoez rock!

New Items:

  • Write a hit rock song.
  • Study abroad.
  • Speak at an international (economic) forum.
  • Be the best boss that I can.
  • Inspire people.
  • Climb Kilimanjaro with Sara 🙂

What is on your bucket lists?!

On Getting Published

OK, those who know me know that it’s been on my new year resolution lists and on my bucket lists since 2005. This ambitious dream has met with some interesting setbacks, my inability to write anything longer than 10 pages, fact that I got bored easy, laziness, upon actual completion of something the difficulties of getting published in English in a city like Cairo. Publishing houses will tell you that people barely read, those who do, read Arabic, what little English people bother to buy must have been on the NY best seller list for a while.

This discouragement was the reason I started this blog, Ramblings of a Disoriented Mind, the name of the short story I had at the time. I’ve written others since, you’ll find a couple on this blog broken up in pieces and some of my closer friends have actually read a draft of a working progress of a novel. Their feedback has been generous, sweet, supportive and instrumental. I hope to someday have that story see the light.

Meanwhile, in the real world, established published authors are going through hell. I couldn’t fathom the extent of the damage, yet when an author feels frustrated and ripped off enough to throw a coup d’etat you know something is amiss.

Marwa Rakha has decided she has had it with it all and is making her book available for free online in a digital format. So for all of you who had read my review and were reluctant; for all those who couldn’t get their hands on a hard copy; for all who appreciate the ability to read off your monitors at work, here you go an easy access freebie! Download it, read it, let her know what you thought.

For more on how Arab writers are being mistreated see here.

To download Rakha’s book, click here.

Would love to know what you all think? To e-book or not to e-book? Are publishing houses obsolete? Would you pay for electronic media you could get for free?

Fadfadation’s tag

Blog name: Ramblings of the Disoriented Mind

Reason:Named after the story the blog was created to market. Almost a year later, the story remains unpublished. It’s my modest attempt at a short story.

Tag line: Is this real? Or had this been happening inside my head?

Reason: It’s a line from the final installment in the HP series. I hated the book, but this scene got me thinking.

Nickname: Juka

Reason:Carried over from reality… courtesy of the girls at MTI.

Profile pic:Juka on the sand

Reason: I’m Alexandrian 🙂 what did you expect?

Home Sweet Home

My Harvard grad posed an interesting question on his blog this week.

When things go dark and you ‘want to go home’, if only in your thoughts.. where is that home exactly?

Write in, would love to hear your answers.

Personally; in the 16 years I spent in the UAE, Alexandria was home, when I got upset at the world I just wanted back to Alex and the comfort of my grandparents house. Now that I’ve been in Cairo for almost 9 years, I’ve to admit, when the going gets tough, I wish I was back in that sea-side room in Abu Dhabi (building’s probably been ripped down and replaced with something taller, better and more luxurious); and for a second it feels like home.

Tempted by the blogging world

Forsoothsayer (one of my favourite bloggers) opened all doors to hell with her post on vocabulary. Nevertheless it’s tempted a couple of bloggers to test their vocab against such fine knowledge of the language. I was challenged to post my list. So here goes nothing.

“The words we suggest,” says senior editor Steven Kleinedler, “are not meant to be exhaustive but are a benchmark against which graduates and their parents can measure themselves. If you are able to use these words correctly, you are likely to have a superior command of the language.”

I bolded the words I know:

abjure
abrogate
abstemious
acumen
antebellum
auspicious
belie
bellicose
bowdlerize
chicanery
chromosome
churlish
circumlocution
circumnavigate
deciduous
deleterious
diffident
enervate
enfranchise
epiphany
equinox
euro
evanescent
expurgate
facetious
fatuous
feckless
fiduciary
filibuster

gamete
gauche
gerrymander
hegemony
hemoglobin
homogeneous
hubris
hypotenuse
impeach

incognito
incontrovertible
inculcate
infrastructure
interpolate
irony
jejune
kinetic
kowtow
laissez faire
lexicon
loquacious
lugubrious
metamorphosis
mitosis
moiety
nanotechnology
nihilism
nomenclature
nonsectarian
notarize
obsequious
oligarchy
omnipotent
orthography
oxidize
parabola
paradigm
parameter
pecuniary
photosynthesis
plagiarize
plasma
polymer
precipitous
quasar
quotidian
recapitulate
reciprocal

reparation
respiration

sanguine
soliloquy
subjugate
suffragist
supercilious
tautology
taxonomy
tectonic
tempestuous
thermodynamics
totalitarian
unctuous
usurp
vacuous
vehement
vortex
winnow
wrought
xenophobe
yeoman
ziggurat

Not bad, not brilliant. The ones I didn’t bold I have no clue. I either know the word or I don’t.

Forsoothsayer and OpeRon… all I can say is I’m VERY impressed.

To Whom It May Concern

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

That’s why I have not been blogging or reading blogs. Have 12 hour work days for the coming period. Hope to see you all soon, no promises though. Midterms coming up, pray for me.

The Thinking Blogger AWARD

Nousha spoils me! Earlier this week one of the most informative and fascinating bloggers I know was kind enough to look fondly upon this humble blog and mention it in her list. Hence it is with great pride and pleasure that I announce to you that as of this week “Ramblings of the Disoriented Mind”” has been awarded a which shall be displayed proudly . )

It all started with one blogger, Ilkar Yoldes, who decided that all the tags out there are mindless and the blogs useless.

Too many blogs, not enough thoughts!

He started a new tag “5 Blogs that make me think”.

The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).

I must admit, it was extremely difficult to come up with 5 blogs, more so cause several of my blogging comrades have been tagged before and they’ve awarded it to most of the blogs I would have chosen. Yet I will strive to avoid repetition and give blogs their fair dues.

Here are the 5 blogs that made me think:

1. Greg Mankiw’s Blog: I’m an economist, I couldn’t help myself. Greg Mankiw is an Economic’s professor at Harvard. His amazing blog provides insight on famous economic debates, updates on new theories as well as up to date figures on changes in the US economy, his views on these changes and how they will impact the rest of the world. I was introduced to his blog through The Traveller Within (another great blog, but he’s been already tagged).

2. Soosa Elmafrousa: A victim of our times, a young lady who blogs anonymously and holds a cynical and genuinely helplessly frustrated attitude towards Egypt, politics, society and on occasion the entertainment industry. She cracks me up only to remind us that for real “Hamm yeda7ak we hamm yebakky” (translates to some burden/ordeals cause laughter and others bring on tears).

3. Fadfadation: A  young man with a passion for Islam, Egypt and the history of Arabs. His posts are informative, controversial and most enlightening.

4. Hearing Myself Speak: By far one of the most sarcastic people you’ll ever meet/read. I love her take on the public transportation system, politics, education, health as well as her vigilant updates on the entertainment industry.

5. Nforme: I love her poetry, her way of thinking, her articulation. The way the words flow on paper leave me pondering and often in awe.

Ok, that was my list, in the words of AAB “Dear bloggers, you’ve been tagged. Choose wisely!”