Interview Fatma El Ashmawy

Hello, my name is Fatma El Ashmawy, and I live in Egypt. In 2017 I enrolled in the Shiraka Training Programme on Public Financial Management. The first week was held in The Hague and the second was held in Amman, Jordan. At that moment I worked for the Ministry of Finance of Egypt as an economist in the Macro-Fiscal Policy Unit with focus on the expenditures side of the budget. Currently I work for the World Bank in Egypt.

How did you come across this training and what made you decide to attend it?
Having had already enthusiastic colleagues and team-leaders who attended this training before, made me also curious about it. I already had a major interest in the way other countries organized their public financial management (PFM). Thus, I read many books and articles on different country experiences when it comes to PFM. The Dutch Public Financial Management system is internationally acknowledged as a best practice, so I wanted to hear more about it, and it was a great opportunity that I was nominated to attend through my work.

Why is the Dutch Public Financial Management system interesting you think?
The Dutch decentralized Public Financial Management system sets a great example, and though the Egyptian system is rather centralized, I still think we can learn a lot from the Dutch experience. The Netherlands has a strong fiscal framework, is famous on its fiscal transparency and has many independent institutions. At the same time, it is also able to decentralize its financial management without losing its adhesion to fiscal discipline. A very interesting combination. My aim of attaining this course was to find out how I can learn from it and see what can be applied in Egypt, not only learn from the successes but also from the failures.

How was it to visit the Netherlands?
For me it was the first time I was in Europe. We stayed in the Hague and had a full week program. There was not much time left to see other places, except for a visit to Amsterdam. Whereas the Hague was very quiet, Amsterdam was so energetic and vivid. Such a difference. I enjoyed both very much.

The instant most visible difference with Egypt was the number of bikes in the Netherlands. I kept looking at them in the streets.

What is the main difference and similarity between the Dutch financial management system and the Egyptian?
I do think that the level of decentralization is the biggest difference with Egypt. I also noticed throughout the course that Dutch PFM efforts were mainly focused on the expenditure side. For Egypt, I think working to mobilize more revenues is also a very important aspect of public finances.

All the Dutch government employees we met in the course were so much enthusiastic about what they do. They carried over their knowledge with much passion. I saw this in my experience in the Egyptian civil service as well. Here, in Egypt, we have many young civil servants who start their career with passion and enthusiasm to develop their country. They work together and they receive guidance from their seniors. In my eyes, the combination of enthusiasm, fresh eye, and out-of-the-box policy making, coupled with significant experience in the public sector is a great recipe for work harmony and success.

What was an eye opener for you in the training?
The earlier mentioned fiscal discipline, adhering to expenditure ceilings while having so much decentralization is the biggest eye opener. Moreover, other participants sharing their experiences was another eye opener. This was empowered by the fact that during the course there was always an opportunity to ask questions and share opinions which enriched the discussion.

The budget simulation we had in Jordan in the second week of the training was also very valuable for all of us. Not only were we able to practice our negotiation skills, we were also able to place ourselves in another position such as a member of the parliament or a civil servant in a line ministry. This gives the opportunity to understand other positions much more in real life.

Finally having many participants from countries that face similar challenges as Egypt was very helpful. We learned a lot from each other.

Looking back for a while now, what did this course bring to you personally?
I learned that there are different ways to do things. You have to pick the one that suits your country the best. It also made me eager to listen to more discussions and be sure that there are always different policy alternatives that we can learn while exploring experiences of other countries. I highly recommend young starters to attain this course at the beginning of their career.

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