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  • Sunday ,25 October 2009

Egyptians' monthly endless nightmare


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Saturday ,24 October 2009

Egyptians' monthly endless nightmare

Each month, Egyptians have to bear the burden of soaring phone, water, electricity and trash-collecting bills, while their salaries remain unchanged.

There's one word to sum up this situation - it's a nightmare,'' says Hoda Abdul-Hameed, a Cairo housewife. Hoda explains that Egyptians' problems are many, ranging from high electricity bills to unclean water that makes them sick in their thousands. Many Egyptians blame the Government, accusing it of mismanagement and doing nothing to reduce the prices of these goods and services. "The costs of communications and electricity services in Egypt are higher than that in the United States and Europe, despite the Government's investments in the phone and energy sectors," complains Engineer Talaat, an IT expert. People complain that they have to pay phone bills four times each year for their homes and their offices. That's why so many have switched to mobile phones. "This shift shows that people cannot afford the phone bills," adds Talaat, regretting that telecommunications is a dynamic utility sector that could have been very profitable for the Government, if only it had reduced the call rates. ?Egyptians also face skyrocketing electricity bills because the Government has a monopoly of the energy market which is why it's been able to raise the prices,? Hoda points out. However, governmental officials deny that the liberalisation of the economy has made the people poorer. ?The Ministry of Electricity has liberalised the energy market and allowed many private-sector companies to build power-generating plants nationwide," says Aktham Abul Ella, a high-ranking Ministry official. These companies sell the electricity according to the Government's set prices, Aktham stresses, denying that there are no plans to raise the prices again early next year. "Since wages and salaries have not increased in proportion with the cost of telephone calls and electricity, it is becoming more and more difficult for the Egyptians every month," says Doha Abdel-Hameed, a professor of economics and a member of a Cairo-based NGO concerned with protecting consumers' rights. Each month, the Egyptian citizen dreads another 'mad' rise in electricity and water bills, she continues. ?This monthly nightmare?, Doha explains, ?is coupled with the payment of another constitutional bill [factored into the electricity bill] for collecting the rubbish from the streets and people's homes, and shops.? Although Egyptians have to pay this bill, the rubbish keeps on piling up everywhere in Cairo, a megalopolis of at least 18 million people. A few years ago, the Government hired multinational companies to collect the trash and paid for this by factoring the cost into the electricity bills. In the meantime, Egyptians have to pay a lot for their water, whose quality hasn't improved yet. Over the past decade, the drinking water in hundreds of thousands of homes across the country has been found to contain unsafe levels of lead, pesticides and dozens of other toxins. The contamination is most apparent in villages, where farmers and their families have gotten sick from drinking water from pubic fountains. "There is just no excuse for this as long as the people pay their monthly bills. The very least they deserve is a glass of clean drinking water,"