16-October-2021

Weekly Press Columns Digest (National Economic Conference)

Weekly Press Columns Digest (National Economic Conference)

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - This week’s digest reviews certain journalists’ views on the recent national economic conference (NEC) that was held in Khartoum from 26th to 28th September 2020.

In an article published in ‘Alrakoba’ e-magazine, columnist Othman Mohammed Hasan commented on NEC’s recommendations describing them as promising in terms of ‘confirming the finance ministry’s control over public monetary supply, adjusting of monetary expansion, control of monetary supply and demand through provisional government’s funding by central bank, down-sizing of government’s borrowings from the banking system, reviewing of government-controlled companies and gold concession companies with the government playing active control role in gold trading and export markets through the establishing of strict control mechanisms to counter cross-border smuggling and protect local producers’ interests, etc..’.

However, based on previous experiences of hiccups and hurdles placed on the roads of reform by the military component of the transitional government, writer Othman does not sound hopeful that these promising recommendations would bear fruits, at least not under such roof of conflicting interests within the transitional government’s quarters, as the writer does not see any signs of the ruling generals’ willingness to let go of the military-controlled companies, and therefore he urged the civil component of the transitional government to insist on implementing the conference recommendations even if such insistence would lead to the revocation of partnership with their military counter party.

The writer states that the implementation of the recent NEC’s recommendations requires a strong political will aimed at finding ultimate and decisive solutions to the country’s harsh economic crisis and the consequential deterioration in people’s livelihoods. Otherwise, the only foreseeable option is an all-out popular rising, the sparks of which have been clearly witnessed in the solid stances and applauded interventions by resistance committee representatives during the conference sessions.

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Mozn Elnayyal describes, in ‘Eltaghyeer’ e-magazine, the three-day conference as platform for the government’s adjusted recommendations along the way to its pre-set economic trends and objectives. The writer finds examples of such pre-set objectives in the wording of generalized, broad and loose-end recommendations like ‘formulation of motivating policies’ and 'activation and promotion’ of non-priority objects. According to the writer, the government’s original intent behind holding the conference was to garner publicly televised and broadcast popular support for its policies concerning the lifting of subsidies to certain basic goods, but that intent proved to be mere wishful thinking on part of the government, because of the strong opposition by resistance committee representatives and other activists.

Then the writer went further to bring into focus the main question that represented the cornerstone of all discussions throughout the three days of the conference regardless of the session themes: Does the government have an obligation to secure the provision of basic goods to its citizens at reasonable rates or not? In other words: Would there be subsidy or not? Unfortunately, speakers representing the government side totally failed to provide a clear definite response to this question, claimed the writer.

The writer also blamed the finance ministry speakers for ignoring and giving deaf ears to certain accusations and allegations by some preparatory workshop attendants to the effect that the finance ministry had actually falsified the recommendations of the ‘subsidy alternatives’ workshop by adding a clause providing for ‘rationalization of subsidy’ while this specific wording had not been approved by the workshop. Rather, the workshop had recommended that subsidy to basic goods should remain in place, at least until the establishing of proper mechanisms to control and subdue the present market inflation.

Ms. Mozn also highlighted what she called ‘futile’ arguments by ‘subsidy-lifting’ supporters such as the customs director who emotionally talked to the conference audience about the need to put an end to cross-border smuggling of basic goods and fuel; or the employers’ union representative who called upon the audience to think and act rationally, claiming that the poor segments of the community are not the actual beneficiaries of subsidized goods and services. The writer then wondered what would be of great benefit to the poor segments: to increase taxes and levies upon the rich, or to lift subsidies to basic goods and services directed to the poor.

Another futile argument by the ‘subsidy-lifting’ supporters was to ask the resistance committees to provide accurate figures while all speakers representing the government side and employers’ union had failed to provide reliable accurate figures to support their claims and arguments. It is also noted that out of more than 500 recommendations of the conference, only 20 recommendations contained figures. Actually, Mr. Sidqi Kaballo, member of the economic committee, frankly stated that they could not come out with a definite figure as regards the number of government companies operating outside the umbrella of the finance ministry, giving a rough estimate of 100 to 400+!

Despite the lack of response by government speakers to many queries and questions raised by resistance committee members and other participants, and in spite of the inequitable distribution of debate opportunities, the resistance committee members and revolutionaries have managed to steer the conference vessel to their favour and hindered the government’s efforts to garner popular support to some government’s pre-set recommendations that were meant to satisfy the transitional government’s covenants and obligations to the IMF and the European Union (EU), stated the writer.

In view of the above, the writer concluded that in light of its failure to employ the conference podium to garner popular support to its policies, the government opted to close the conference without issuing final concluding recommendations, raising only initial recommendations to a wording committee to work upon after the conference conclusion.

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A third review column on the national economic conference by journalist Zuhair Elsarraj appeared on ‘Eljareeda’ newspaper. Mr. Zuhair expressed his wish that the conference recommendations would turn into work plans instead of being drawn out in nice folders and kept into lockers, as usual, for pests and white ants to feed upon.

The writer also called, in a sarcastic note, upon relevant officials to take out-of-lockers all recommendations of previously-held economic conferences, ever since independence, in order to see how they could apply to our present situation. Along this same note, the writer allotted a specific remark to a similar national economic conference held in 1986 following the uprooting of Ja’afar Nimeiri regime, and also to a routine Arkaweet conference that has been held by the University of Khartoum for over 55 years now, stating that had the preparatory committee explored the archives of those conferences, it could have found much in common with the themes and outcomes of the recent conference and accordingly saved unduly spent money, time and effort. This indicates, in the writer’s opinion, that ever since independence Sudanese politicians, government executive officials and policy think-tanks have been caught up in a vicious net of inability, inefficiency and conflicted interests, in spite of Sudan’s great natural and other potential.      

In conclusion of his article, Mr. Zuhair hailed the Prime Minister’s concluding remark, where the PM stressed the need to evaluate the conference, both in form and in content, as first step upon conclusion. Mr. Zuhair thinks this evaluation would be very important in deciding whether the conference’s level of participation, submitted papers and recommendations are valid, well-informed and doable or not.

 

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