Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good Riddance to the Billionaire Minister of Transport

Transport minister resigns after train crash
27/ 10/ 2009
By Saif Nasrawi & agencies

Egyptian Transport Minister Mohamed Mansour resigned on Tuesday, three days after two trains collided in the town of Ayyat south of Cairo, killing 18 people, official news agency MENA reported.

“President Hosni Mubarak accepted Minister Mansour’s resignation,” according to an official presidential source quoted by MENA, adding that the latter had taken responsibility for the accident.

“I resigned from a sense of political responsibility,” Mansour said at a Tuesday press conference after personally submitting his resignation to Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.

Opposition groups have called for the impeachment of Mansour, in office since 2005, on various charges, including negligence and misuse of public spending.

Zakaria Azmi, leading MP for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and Mubarak's chief-of-staff, accused Mansour on Monday of misusing state funds allocated to the transport ministry.

“What was the final result of all the money spent on advertisements?” Azmi asked, in reference to a costly ad campaign for Egypt's national railway system broadcast on Egyptian television last Ramadan.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s General Prosecutor has charged three railway workers with involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the disaster. He said that the two drivers, along with a third man who was supposed to be monitoring the tracks but allegedly left his post, were also charged on Monday with "damaging the public interest."

In September 2002, a criminal court acquitted 11 low-ranking railway officials tried for negligence for their roles in a train crash that killed 361 passengers, also in the town of Ayyat. The presiding judge at the time claimed that the government had "only referred low-ranking officials to courts while leaving the big ones untouched.” He added that the causes of the 2002 accident were to be found "within the entire railway authority system,” which he described as "dysfunctional."

Last Saturday's crash was caused by an errant water buffalo that wandered onto the tracks, authorities and eyewitnesses said. The first passenger train stopped after hitting the animal before being rear-ended by a second train traveling at full speed.

Mansour’s admission of responsibility -- and subsequent resignation -- represents a first in Mubarak’s 28-year rule.

Spokesmen for the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, called Mansour’s resignation “insufficient."

“Mansour should be impeached for the accident," spokesperson for the group's parliamentary block Hamdy Hassan told Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition. "Although we know very well the regime would never put one of its own ministers on trial.”

Hassan went on to describe the minister’s resignation as “a cosmetic move" ahead of the NDP’s sixth party congress, scheduled to begin on Friday.

Mansour has been widely perceived as a member of an inner circle of technocrats and businessmen known for their closeness to Mubarak's influential son, Gamal. The upcoming party congress will be held amid widespread speculation that Mubarak is grooming the 46-year-old Gamal for the presidency.

Before his appointment as minister, Mansour was CEO of the Mansour Group, one of Egypt’s top private-sector conglomerates, boasting over 11,000 employees and annual turnover in excess of $1 billion, according to the group’s website.

The group’s most prominent international franchises include General Motors, Caterpillar construction, Philip Morris/Marlboro and McDonald’s. It is also a local distributor of IBM, Microsoft, HP, 3COM and Compaq products.

Since Mansour's appointment, Egypt has seen a number of transport-related disasters, of which the 2005 sinking of a ferry boat -- the "Salam 98" -- en route to Egypt from Saudi Arabia was the deadliest, killing 1033 passengers.

In February 2002, Transport Minister Ibrahim el-Demiry was dismissed over Egypt's worst ever train crash, when the bodies of at least 361 passengers were recovered from the wreckage.

Egypt's national railway system is the biggest in the Middle East with almost 5,000 kilometers of track, according to official figures from the Egyptian National Railway Authority, which employs some 86,000 people.

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