By Engidu Woldie
The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front, (EPRDF) has recently televised a high level meeting that deliberated on a study conducted on good governance in the country. Government experts who conducted the study say their findings show corruption and bad governance were the hallmark of the government at various sectors and levels of the bureaucracy.
The study, jointly carried out by the Policy Research Center and the Ministry of Public Service and Human Resource Development, has focused on what it called rent-seeking, a practice by middle-men and fixers as well as government officials at all levels who are engaged in bribery, kick backs and favoritism, even for the conduct of mundane official duties by government offices. The study, which government officials claim to be scientific and representative, has met serious criticism by Ethiopians at large and political analysts.
Critics say the meeting, where officials of the government were seen preaching about good governance, was just political posturing and empty rhetoric. They say it is a public knowledge that the same officials sitting at the meeting and their cronies are involved in high level and widespread looting and embezzlement of public and private properties.
Many agree the ostentatious commitment shown by the officials at the meeting in fighting corruption was a pretence; and one that is aimed at creating the perception that they are serious in combating widespread and massive corruption and plunder of the resources of the state and the people such as eviction of citizens and communities from their homes and land, a widespread practice throughout the country.
The televised meeting was just staged to divert the attention of the Ethiopian public away from the real issues at hand, namely the famine, freedom of the press, democracy and the rule of law.
Former Minister d’état for Communication Affairs, who lives in exile in the US, currently a political analyst with ESAT, Ermias Legesse, says the study ignores the main dimensions of good governance. He cites rule of law, transparency and most of all, freedom of the people, as the main areas that the study deliberately missed. Ermias further mentions the the private sector and opposition political parties that have huge following in Ethiopia, did not take part in authoring the study.
The focus of the study, according to Ermias, was only on the economic dimension of the problem of good governance in Ethiopia. Most of the attention was given to corruption linked to the lease and sale of urban and rural land, on which army generals who are members of the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and high level government officials were involved in unbridled plunder in a broad day light. He underscored good governance would never be attained where fundamental freedom and rights of citizens, the rule of law, a vibrant free press as a watch dog, accountability and transparency do not exist.
He further questions the legitimacy of the government saying the people of Ethiopia do not have confidence on the government and they don’t trust officials are serious about ending corruption. He said the claim by the government that the study was a representative study does not hold water. And that the same staged show of ending corruption and instituting good governance has been undertaken by the regime at high levels time and again. The former minister said the study should have been done by independent think- tanks, not by an institution that is run by the same people who also run the government, de facto.
Ethiopian political commentators who also agree with Ermias say they believe the aim of the recent bravado by the ethnocentric government is to cover up and divert the attention away from the political and economic crises it is facing. This is yet another show to impress and hoodwink the Ethiopian people and the international community that the regime is handling the multidimensional crises it is facing. They say it could also be a show staged in a bid to get good ratings by the international community, particularly the WB and IMF.
The three month study conducted by the government that covers the Amhara, Tigray, Southern Ethiopia, as well as the capital Addis Ababa finds rampant corruption by government officials at various levels who work with middle men in the sale of land, services and other properties. The study that covers land, trade, investment, justice, transportation sectors has found lack of competence on the part of the officials who run the sectors. The finding by the study makes it clear that the officials, through the middle-men, receive kick backs from investors who come to their offices for routine paper work. The government experts who present the study say people are now forced to pay bribes even to obtain government issued ID cards and driving licenses.
The justice sector was also highlighted in the study as a major failure. Tardiness on the part of Judges and failure to give the proportionate sentence on convicts who give bribes were mentioned. Prosecutors and judges work hand in glove in accepting bribes in high profile cases of crimes. People with money and connection with the higher-ups do not serve their prison sentences fully. A case in point was a wealthy businessman from Tigray who was sentenced to prison terms, but conducts his business in the day and goes back to his cell at night. He was brought back to the court after he hit a pedestrian in a traffic accident.
Goods and food products meant to be rationed to the people have been illegally sold to traders who then sale the items to the public at sky high prices. Businessmen with connections to government officials do not pay taxes while huge taxes were levied on petty traders, who live hand-to-mouth. There is no quality control on imported products and people have no option but to buy goods that fall far below the standard, according to the government study.
The study, however, does not mention nor specify any government official or their cronies by name for the massive corruption and pervasive plunder that has become the hallmark of the Ethiopian regime . For this reason, Ethiopians wonder whether the government is really genuine to fight corruption this time around, when the very people involved in rampant plunder were also the ones sitting at the helm and even among those at the meeting chaired by Hailemariam Desalegen, the prime minister, and a fact admitted by him during the same televised meeting.
In the past, it is well known that a number of studies on fighting corruption and instituting good governance were conducted by the EPRDF government with no action taken against the perpetrators. Many believe no amount of studies and meetings would do away with the root cause of systemic corruption and the all around economic and political crisis plaguing the country. The remedy against systemic corruption, many agree, is to remove the regime and replace it with a popular representative government; and establish institutions that are pillars of genuine democracy and rule of law in Ethiopia. Only the presence of transparent and accountable institutions with a vibrant free press can stop corruption.
By Engidu Woldie