The true economic challenge confronting Egypt today does not concern either our fiscal or our monetary policy – both are well addressed by our economists and are advanced further by international experts.
Egypt s fundamental economic challenge, which our government is not addressing efficiently, is the Egyptian workforce s low productivity. As a society, Egyptians need to adopt a work ethic that truly values hard work, diligence and productivity.
Culturally, Egyptian society is probably one of the few societies that does not resort to working more when subjected to financial stress. Instead, Egyptians tend to rely on casual loans from friends and relatives or to apply for formal loans from their employers or the banks.
The options of seeking to extend working hours or take a second job are rarely explored. What our country needs is to raise the current low ceiling of people s willingness and capacity for work.
The creation of public policy in Egypt is often the outcome of a technical economic debate that does not address our workforce s competence and attitude towards work, yet even so we tend to eventually blame the workers for the failure of our economic policies.
The government needs to reverse its approach: it must view the workforce s capabilities and willingness as an initial platform and then produce policies that will stimulate it to be more productive.
Nowadays, most casual home repairmen charge an average fee of LE200 for a small maintenance job completed in half an hour, thereby certainly earning more than many famous academicians and thinkers.
These high-earning careless workers are fully-fledged beneficiaries of the state s fuel, food and transportation subsidies. They don t pay taxes, and they expect the government to cover their medical expenses when needed. This is a social status that must be altered.
Meanwhile, the government could apply policies that would incentivise young people to train as professional technicians and compete with these amateur workers for the better of society.
Providing vocational training, endorsed with a state license, for our unemployed young people and enabling them to purchase the necessary tools through easy installment plans would introduce better-qualified technicians into a stagnant market.
The job of security guard on EgyptAir flights is an essential one, but it is currently performed by unproductive workers.
By creating a new “steward/security” position, the airline would benefit from a full-time steward who could also act as a capable security guard should the need arise.
Our national carrier would be better off assigning a single employee to undertake two jobs, and an undercover security guard is probably more effective than a uniformed one.
Similar working arrangements certainly exist in many commercial enterprises.
Many Egyptian economists anticipated that Egypt s exports would increase substantially following the devaluation of the currency over two years ago.
This did not occur because our industries are not competitive enough, even after devaluation. Our incompetence has led to additional subsidies on exports, which should in fact have been waived after the devaluation.
Penetrating international markets requires highly competitive companies that should not need government compensation.
We need to tackle our socio-economic challenges as a package with an eye to stimulating people to work more.
For example, Egyptian hotels located in isolated destinations could easily offer single-room housing accommodation to young couples who are eager to get married but cannot afford to rent a house.
Such a business proposition would privilege the hotels with two young committed workers who would do their best to keep their jobs.
More than one million graduates join the Egyptian workforce every year – young people who are eager to settle down by getting a permanent job, buying an apartment, and having access to free medical care.
Yet, once they have achieved their goals, they become dissatisfied and complain that their incomes are not sufficient. This cultural trait should prompt the government to break this vicious work cycle by expanding citizen productivity.
Those nations that manage to achieve rapid progress tend to rely on their most promising industries and their most motivated citizens who have a true desire to excel.
The combination of both acts as a catalyst that lifts up the entire society. Our government must create policies that will privilege productive citizens, enabling them to advance more rapidly. Offering equal incentives to all is a waste of resources that will not move us forward.