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Covid-19 and sustained development
Published in Ahram Online on 07 - 04 - 2020

As Covid-19 throws the global economy into havoc, international financial institutions have warned of a sharp decline in economic growth rates and a possible recession that could take years to recover from. At the same time, UN officials have voiced their concern that the focus on the fight to contain coronavirus could derail developing countries' pursuit of sustainable development goals, which could have detrimental repercussions lasting beyond the current crisis.
Egypt's Minister of International Cooperation Rania Al-Mashat held a videoconference Sunday with more than 100 representatives of international and regional development organisations in Egypt to discuss available funding, strengthening cooperation with development partners and the repercussions of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
During the meeting, Al-Mashat unveiled a new strategy for partnering with international financial institutions. The three-pronged strategy outlines frameworks for future cooperation between Egypt and its partners in development beneath the headings “Focus on the citizen”, “Ongoing projects” and “The aim is momentum.” Together they highlight essential facets of a development partnership that promotes sustained development.
Egypt has long given high priority to investing in the individual citizen, the essential focus of any development strategy. As human capital is an integral component of the comprehensive development process, Egypt has been keen to foster private-public sector partnerships that work to identify gaps and disparities, furnish support through diverse sectors to millions of beneficiaries, raise standards of living and help people unleash their full potentials.
Education, transportation, water desalination, renewable energy, entrepreneurship and women's empowerment are among the key sectors covered by the “ongoing projects”, many of which are already in progress. The Ministry of International Cooperation has been as transparent as possible in its efforts to demonstrate how the impacts of these projects on society have served and continue to serve the aim of achieving the UN's 17 sustainable development goals.
The new strategy highlights the concept of “targeted partnerships” as a means to give momentum to the drive to realise comprehensive growth and sustained development and to keep pace with rapid global changes. They will also bolster ties with our development partners since the projects undertaken by these partnerships will achieve important strategic functions that will boost the efficacy of cooperation in the framework of multilateral and bilateral partnerships, thereby stimulating greater potential and facilitating more diverse means for growth and development.
Al-Mashat also explained to attendees of the videoconference how the Egyptian government's financial and fiscal policies sought to mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19 on the most vulnerable households and to help the private sector offset the slowdown in economic activities. Among these are the actions the government has taken to alleviate the virus's impact on irregular workforces, such as worker safety net legislation and LE 500 an unemployment benefit to workers registered with the Ministry of Manpower. Already more than a million persons working in construction, agriculture, fishing, plumbing and other fields have been registered with the ministry's database.
As Al-Mashat pointed out, one impact of the virus has been to accelerate structural reforms related to social protection, informal labour and financial inclusion, as recent Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) directives indicate. Another 60,000 households were added to the beneficiaries of the Takaful and Karama programmes, which offer immediate cash benefits based on certain conditions, she said. Another 100,000 beneficiaries will be added soon while the budgetary allocation to the programme has risen to LE 19.3 billion from LE 18.5 billion last year. The government has also raised allowances to women community leaders in rural areas from LE 350 to LE 900 per month.
With the onset of the coronavirus crisis, the CBE has taken major steps to facilitate financial inclusion and digitalisation. It has exempted all domestic money transfers from fees and commissions in order to reduce the use of cash, raised the ceiling of mobile phone wallet transactions to LE 30,000, issued pre-paid phone cards free-of-charge for six months, promoted the wider use of QR codes and promoted automated customer enrolment for internet banking services.
All such measures taken to mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19 help to keep development efforts on track towards the realisation of sustainable development goals.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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