Public comments on Ethiopia's fiscal policies by Ken Ohashi, former country director of WB, earn him PM Meles Zenawi's ire.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was outright dismissive, if not elusive, when addressing a question from an MP representing his ruling EPRDF on comments made by Ken Ohashi, former country director of the World Bank to Ethiopia.
"We need to see this from how the World Bank and other development partners view our plan," Meles said last Tuesday, July 5, 2011, in response to the MP who wanted to know what the Prime Minister would say on the series of OP-ED commentaries Ohashi had in this newspaper on the macroeconomic management of the country. "After thorough deliberations, both the World Bank and other development partners may believe the plan is very ambitious; but, they all agreed that it is doable."
Meles told Parliament, during his session in defense of his administration's budget for the fiscal year 2011/12, that he takes this view as an institutional position towards the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP); and not comments made by the former Country Director.
Ohashi, who believes Ethiopia's economy has deeply structural flaws in competitiveness and is trapped in a low productivity quagmire, has had a series of three commentaries published in this newspaper before he concluded his four-year tenure in Ethiopia last month. He was different from his predecessors for his decisions to engage policymakers in Ethiopia in public debates, publishing his views in newspapers.
He was known for his scepticism on the viability of the administration's signature plan outlined in the GTP. The former World Bank Country Director believes that no country - not even China - except those with "explosive increase in natural resource extraction," could sustain an economic growth espoused in the high scenario of Ethiopia's government plan.
In one of his recent commentaries, Ohashi criticised the government for its failure in identifying the economy's comparative advantage and its inabilities in "reducing cost of transactions." He is also a firm believer that "national ideologies" are a recipe for "national blinders," and argued that Ethiopia lacks the culture of debate and dialogue in the market of ideas.
No other country director of the World Bank dared to challenge the administration's ideological underpinnings before Ohashi.
Meles was not pleased with all these comments made by a high profile official from the World Bank.
"The individual was on his way to retirement," Meles told Parliament, while his appearance was televised live to the nation. "He has no accountability in distorting the institutions positions and in settling his accounts."
Meles was observed to be dismissive of Ohashi in his series of criticisms. He was rather elusive of why he believes the former Country Director's comments have no substance. He was, however, very personal in his attack that Ohashi was not a man content in his "job."
"The individual is used to giving directions along his neo-liberal views," said Meles. "The Ethiopian government has its own view that is different from the individual."
The Prime Minister told Parliament that Ohashi could not succeed in imposing his "neo-liberal views" on the Ethiopian government, hence the source of his frustration.
Ohashi, now retried from the World Bank, denies these allegations. He argued that his motives were to provide ideas that would benefit the people of Ethiopia.
"I had no intention of imposing any ideas of my own, which is not a useful exercise in any case, no matter what the country we are talking about," Ohashi said in an email response to Fortune's request for response.