The arrest of Egypt’s agriculture minister, just minutes after he resigned from the Cabinet, was featured prominently by nearly every local media outlet.
Citing security sources, the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper published dramatic details of Salah Helal’s arrest. Officers from the Administrative Control Authority reportedly stopped the minister’s car at the entrance to Tahrir Square, where they were waiting for him in four vehicles. After searching his car, they informed the newly resigned minister of the arrest warrant issued against him. The officers then asked Helal to accompany them in one of their vehicles.
Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that prior to his arrest, “officials from security agencies were dispatched to Ettehadiya Presidential Palace on Tuesday, where they presented the results of an investigation to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and briefed him on the individuals involved in the case.”
Sisi then reportedly asked officials to take all legal measures necessary, while at the same time informing the prime minister that he had accepted the resignation of the former minister of agriculture.
A detailed statement of the criminal charges leveled against the minister and others was issued by the acting prosecutor general. They reveal that both Helal and his chief of staff accepted bribes from businessman Ayman Refaat al-Gameel.
Gameel offered Helal real estate in 6th of October City, in exchange for his facilitating the official registration of a plot of land (2,500 feddans) in the town of Wadi Natrun.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb appointed Helal as minister of agriculture during a cabinet reshuffle in March this year, just days ahead of the Economic Development Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, in order “to inject new blood into the government’s arteries.”
Sources in the president’s office announced at the time that they had selected new ministers “in light of reports on the transparency of their previous work.” These reports were prepared by the Administrative Control Authority.
The Authority was established as an independent body in 1964 by decree of then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser. According to Amr Adly, researcher at the Carnegie Institute, the establishment of this authority in the early 1960s came about because of a struggle between Abdel Nasser and the government at that time, which the then-president had accused of harboring “regressive members.”
Adly believes that this authority was established with the goal of controlling the state’s administrative apparatuses, along with Nasser’s opponents, in addition to weeding-out corruption, so as to keep the state apparatus in line with the regime’s social and economic plans.
According to the law under which it was established, the Administrative Control Authority falls under the jurisdiction of Egypt’s prime minister, while the authority’s chairperson is appointed by the president of the republic, which in turn renders this regulatory body dependent on the executive authority.
Assem Abdel Moaty, former deputy chief of the Central Auditing Agency and current director of the Egyptian Center for Transparency and Countering Corruption, says that the authority “is not independent and cannot exercise oversight upon those who appointed it.”
Adly adds that appointments within the Administrative Control Authority are largely limited to high ranking officers from the security services — both the police and Armed Forces. Adly says amendments to the law governing the authority were made in 1983, stipulating that officers transferred to it from the police or military are to retain their rank.
He adds that the Central Auditing Agency is relatively more independent, an opinion shared by other analysts and observers.
In July, Sisi made amendments to the legislation governing the Administrative Control Authority and other regulatory bodies, with a decree which grants him the authority to dismiss members of such independent regulatory bodies from their posts.
According to Osama Diab, a researcher in economic rights at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the decree strips such regulatory bodies of their independence and indicates the absence of any desire to actually fight corruption.
In August, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights published a statement regarding Sisi’s July decree, stating, “it raises many question marks about the conditions under which it was issued, in terms of its timing, and the intentions of the presidency, which decided to grant itself such authority at this time. This authority further consolidates the powers of the executive branch, which runs against the principles of the separation of state powers, and which harms efforts to combat corruption.”
The statement pointed out that Sisi’s presidential decree stands in violation of the Constitution, which stipulates the jurisdiction of the state’s regulatory authorities.
Article 215 of the Constitution stipulates that such regulatory bodies have legal, technical, financial and administrative autonomy. “They shall be consulted regarding bills and regulations related to their fields of work. These bodies and agencies include the Central Bank, the General Financial Supervisory Authority, the Central Auditing Agency and the Administrative Control Authority.”
Article 216 also states: “A law shall be issued defining the competencies of each independent body or regulatory agency that is created, that also regulates its system of operations, and stipulates guarantees for its independence and the necessary protection of its staff and other employment conditions, in order to ensure their impartiality and independence.”
In late November 2014, Mehleb’s government issued the “National Strategy to Confront Corruption,” the objectives of which include: “Enhancing the performance of the state’s administrative authorities, improving public services, and upholding the principles of transparency and integrity amongst employees of these authorities.”
Other objectives include, “Drafting legislation to fight corruption, and developing the judicial process, in order to achieve prompt justice, and to support agencies involved in combating corruption.”
The government announced that it was launching the national strategy in a ceremony on December 9, 2014, to celebrate international Anti-Corruption Day, and the 50th anniversary of the Administrative Control Authority.
In his speech, Mehleb announced that the state would expand its electronic services to fight corruption, while appealing to media personnel and citizens to persevere in the struggle.
But Adly believes that the fight against corruption in Egypt requires more than this national strategy. For him, other elements are required, such as an independent media, a better-organized civil society, a parliament that exercises oversight and a more independent judicial system.
Adly concludes that these elements are practically “non-existent” in Egypt, and the existing system acts to facilitate corruption. This makes the corruption case in which the minister of agriculture fell from grace, along with others, a “publicity stunt” more than anything else.
Diab agrees with Adly, adding that, “in the absence of independent anti-corruption campaigns, the regulatory authorities will remain confined to the efforts of just a few individuals.”
Diab, presents the example of the Presidential Palaces case, in which former President Hosni Mubarak and his two sons were charged with misappropriating funds from state bodies to the tune of more than LE125 million — a corruption case which came to light in 2011 by Moatassem Fathy, a former officer at the Administrative Control Authority, via communication with the prosecutor general.
Before being stripped of his rank and transferred to a civilian post in the legal affairs department of the Trade Ministry, Fathy had accused Mohamed Fareed al-Tohamy — former president of the Administrative Control Authority — of ignoring incriminating evidence and refusing to consent to the dispatch of reports to judicial authorities.
However, Tohamy would re-emerge on the political scene, in the capacity of chief of general intelligence, following Morsi’s ouster in July 2013.
Fathy’s memorandum of preliminary investigations, presented in March 2013, mentioned Mehleb by name as a partner in Mubarak’s misappropriation of public funds for the president’s personal gain.
Diab believes that the fight against corruption in Egypt is “a political issue,” and that the Administrative Control Authority has no real will to confront genuine governmental corruption.
Meanwhile, Abdel Moaty believes that Egypt’s mechanisms to confront corruption are still sorely lacking, and that the state needs a new set of laws for the protection of witnesses and whistle-blowers in corruption cases.
Abdel Moaty says new laws are also needed to ensure the accountability of governmental officials, along with freedom of information.
Transparency International ranked Egypt 94 out of 175 states in its 2014 worldwide corruption index.