26 February 2006
Problems on hold
Last week’s editorial brought to light the orders issued by Assiut governorate officials to counter the presidential decree 291 of 2005 which eased the procedures of pulling down, rebuilding, restoring and renovating churches. I wrote that the governorial orders deliberately confused the different tasks tackled by the presidential decree, in order to baffle the authorities charged with looking into applications for permits to execute these tasks. This confusion provides the authorities a ready pretext to delay the processing of an application, and corners them into referring back to the governorial authority for the required permits. Given that the presidential decree transfers the licensing process from the governors to the local building authorities, it is obvious that the governorial authority was loath to cede its power.
Sadly, my wariness was validated. A letter I received from a lawyer in Assiut—whose name Watani prefers to withhold—included a complaint of the difficulties he faced while applying for a voter card, and his consequent referral to Assiut security director. “Upon entering the administrative director’s office, I found four men grouped around his desk, a pile of papers placed before them. There was a heated discussion, and they did not seem aware of my presence. The discussion centred round an application presented by the village church of Ballout, Assiut, for the expansion of a social services building. It amazed me to hear the administrative director ask his men to look for an “elastic” phrase to use in the reply to the application, so that the authorities concerned would never be able to execute it. I present this incident to Assiut governor and the Interior Minister, hoping it gives them insight as to what goes on in their offices.
As for our lawyer friend, he wrote that he had headed to the police station in the district where he lives in Assiut, in order to apply for a voter card. Upon presenting his ID to the clerk on duty, he was told he was in the wrong place; he had to go present his application to the police station at his birthplace, and not at his place of residence. When he did just that and went to his birthplace in the village of Moteea, the official in charge told him he should apply for the voter card at his place of residence. At this our friend protested in anger, and asked to meet someone responsible. He was directed to the vice-superintendent who, when he heard our friend’s tale, advised him to take his complaint to Assiut governorate’s administrative director. Our lawyer friend went to the said official’s office—where he happened upon the afore-mentioned discussion—and explained his predicament. He was referred to the ‘elections supervision committee’ where he was ordered to go back to the administrative director for approval of his application. At this point our friend lost his temper, and loudly threatened to take all these officials to court for their role in delaying his application for a voter card till it was too late to obtain one—the deadline for submitting applications being 10 March. This had the desired effect of producing the required approval from the administrative director, and the next day our friend submitted his application to the police station at his place of residence, and is now waiting for his voter card.
Our friend says that the obstacles placed in his path only served to make him all the more adamant to acquire a voter card but, he asks, would the average person, who is usually pressed for time and effort, take the trouble to do so? He strongly denounces the apathy and disdain with which he, and so many others, are treated.
The deadline for applying for voter cards—10 March—is steadily approaching. For the last few months, Watani has joined civil society organisations in pressing people to apply for voter cards. We hope that the largest possible number of eligible voters would hasten to get registered on the voter lists, in order to be part of the hoped-for future political change. It would be beneficial if, after 10 March, the interior ministry would announce the numbers and locations of the new voters registered, as well as their age groups and gender, since this will bear considerable implications on the political level.