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Parliamentary oversight
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 26 - 01 - 2016

The 25-member ad hoc committee that will amend parliamentary bylaws decided Saturday to hold its first meeting on Tuesday after MPs submitted their proposals to change current regulations, according to Bahaaeddin Abu Shuka, secretary-general of the liberal Wafd Party and an appointed MP.
On 21 January a majority of MPs voted to form a 25-member committee to reinforce the supervisory and watchdog roles of the House of Representatives. The committee is being formed in line with Article 118 of the constitution, which mandates the new parliament to upgrade its supervisory and legislative roles.
MPs agreed the committee should comprise nine MPs representing political parties with more than five seats, nine independent deputies and seven MPs selected by the House's internal bureau on the basis of their technical experience.
The committee is expected to complete its work before the House holds its 7 February plenary session. “The ad hoc committee's report should be ready for discussion by MPs by this date,” said parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al.
Deputy Speaker Soliman Wahdan told parliamentary reporters on Saturday that MPs had requested that the committee amend the 37-year-old internal bylaws and code of conduct in line with the new constitution and review MPs' proposals seeking to reinforce parliament's watchdog roles and increase the number of the House committees from 19 to 30.
The ad hoc committee will be led by Abu Shuka, the House of Representative's most senior parliamentarian.
“We will be drafting new bylaws rather than amending the current ones,” Abu Shukka said after the committee's first meeting. “We want a supervisory role as powerful as that of the American Congress.”
The committee includes leftist parliamentarian Kamal Ahmed, lawyers Mortada Mansour and Suzi Nashed, Saad Al-Gammal, Al-Azhar cleric Osama Al-Azhari and novelist Youssef Al-Qaeed. The existing 419-article bylaws were passed in October 1979.
“The new constitution requires changes to at least 20 articles,” said Wahdan. “Current bylaws state that the speaker and two deputies be elected at the beginning of each parliamentary session for one legislative season while the constitution says the speaker and his two deputies be elected for parliament's five-year term. These are the kind of anomalies that must be dealt with.”
He added that two chapters will be added to the bylaws outlining the conditions under which the president could face impeachment and the prime minister be referred to trial.
Independent MP Mohamed Abdel-Hamid says up to 150 articles of the existing bylaws may need to be eliminated.
“There are many articles that refer to the now dissolved Shura Council. Others deal with how parliament should assess election appeals the conditions under which MPs can be referred to the ethics committee.”
The committee will review all proposals submitted by MPs to strengthen the supervisory and watchdog roles of the parliament.
Former minister of information Osama Heikal told reporters that many MPs have proposed new regulations to allow the formation of parliamentary blocs.
“This was not possible in the past because of the way parliament was dominated by the ruling political party,” said Heikal, an MP affiliated with a pro-government Support Egypt Coalition.
Proposals also seek to delineate the new relationship between the speaker and MPs. “Current bylaws, a hangover from the former authoritarian regime, give the speaker tremendous power. These powers should now be devolved to MPs acting as spokesmen for political parties and independents and to chairpersons of committees,” said Conservative Party MP Ihab Al-Khouli.
“We need to reduce the powers of the speaker in favour of referring every crucial decision to MPs,” he said. “The new bylaws should also help MPs exercise their watchdog and supervisory roles more effectively. They must make it easier for MPs to direct questions and interpellations at cabinet ministers who should be required to deliver statements to the house on a regular basis.”
Ayman Abul-Ela, parliamentary spokesman of the Free Egyptians Party, said his party had proposed that each parliamentary committee include a vice president alongside the posts of chairperson, two deputies and one secretary-general. “This,” he argued, “will help the political parties that won the most seats to exercise their influence.”
Proposed new committees will cover African affairs, Muslim world affairs, the elimination of all forms of discrimination and the affairs of expatriate Egyptians. Wahdan also suggests it is possible for “committees dealing with sectors such as culture, media and tourism to be divided into three to allow MPs with specialized knowledge to play a role in supervising government performance”.
The Conservative Party has proposed establishing committees to oversee maritime, river and railway transport and an expansion of the House of Representative's steering office to include representatives of political parties and independents rather than just the speaker and his two deputies.
“The change would help democratise parliament and prevent the speaker and his deputies from monopolizing decision-making,” said Al-Khouli.
Abu Shuka told reporters on Saturday that once they are endorsed by parliament the House's new internal bylaws will be referred to the State Council for legislative and constitutional revision.

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