After dragging its feet so much, and with little back-and-forth with Ethiopian authorities, the World Bank released its much talked about survey on corruption in Ethiopia late last week.
The conclusion gives muscle to those inside the administration of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who push for surrender in combating its vices, under the guise that Ethiopia is a far better place than many other countries in its league.
One of the eight components of the survey is indeed the provision, through leases, and the administration of land.
Land claims 40-pages of the total 417 in the survey, with it being identified as an enormously valuable asset, accounting for up to half of national wealth, in a developing country like Ethiopia. Thus, land creates an opportunity for corruption on the part of those with the legal authority to assign, revoke or restrict rights to it, says the survey.
This cannot be further from the truth in Ethiopia, gossip observed.
Land, particularly urban land, is a battleground between those who have the power to grant and revoke it on the one side, and those who are denied or granted, on the other. This is truer seeing the recent standoff, behind the scenes, between authorities at the Addis Abeba City Administration and two businessmen with a vested interest over plots in an area popularly known as Senga Terra, gossip disclosed.
One of the businessmen who could not absorb the daring of city officials to revoke his title deeds for lease is none other than Mohammed Ali Al-Amoudi (Sheikh). A middle ranking official in the administration of Kuma Demekssa, the mayor of Addis Abeba, wrote him a letter announcing the revocation of his lease rights over a plot that has not been utilised for over a decade.
Ironically, it is Al-Amoudi's holdings of land, in different parts of the country, which the World Bank survey visibily featured in the section it named, 'Urban Land Speculation in Ethiopia'.
The survey identified the Bahir Dar Resort Hotel, the Hora Ras Hotel, a resort hotel planned in Arbaminch town, and the expansion of Sheraton Addis Hotel, as the ones fenced off despite a requirement under the lease law, which states that developers ought to start construction within 18 months of lease agreements being signed. Despite the survey's reluctance to name names, it is abundantly clear that all of these projects point their finger at Al-Amoudi's business empire and its failings, gossip observed.
The middle ranking officials in the city administration cited the case of plots remaining idle for over a decade to justify their letter of revocation, on the plot in Senga Terra, and their subsequent threat to do similar on an additional plot in Piazza, according to gossip. Those around the Sheikh claim otherwise, rather pointing to mischief committed in the interest of others, claims gossip.
But granted, the letter prompted a fierce protest from Al-Amoudi, who was here a few weeks ago talking to senior officials, including the Prime Minister, gossip learnt. The result is easy to contemplate, claims gossip. Although it is true that the plots have remained fenced off for over a decade now, authorities at the city administration have now quietly retreated from their aggressive demand, displayed a few weeks ago, gossip disclosed.
It seems, after all, that Al-Amoudi's MIDROC Ethiopia will continue to enjoy its hold on the plots, and no one in the city administration can do anything about it, gossip disclosed.