13 January 2013

Ethiopia: Corruption On the Rise - Survey

Five years in the making and two years later than the scheduled launch time, a survey conducted to gauge the level of corruption in Ethiopia was released last week, by the World Bank.

Nonetheless, it falls short of settling a rather lingering debate on whether corruption is getting as bad as many people think, which the nation's anticorruption czars describe as mere 'perception'.

Launched on Friday, January 11, 2013, at the Hilton, where Muktar Kedir, minister of Civil Service, under the rank of deputy prime minister, was absent, the survey focuses on eight sectors, compartmentalised as 'new', 'old' and 'service sectors'. A man entrusted by the administration to ensure that the deteriorating governance issue is addressed, Muktar had confirmed his participation at the launch, but cancelled at the last minute, according to a senior official of the Federal Ethics & Anticorruption Commission (FEACC).

The launch was not short of state ministers, however, with Ahmed Shide, for Finance & Economic Development, Kebede Gerba, for Water & Energy, and Tollosa Shagi, for Mines.

They were all greeted by a rather watered down report that pronounced Ethiopia fares far better, among its peers, when it comes to corruption, for, in many of the sectors surveyed, incidences of corruption were not as pervasive as in "many developing countries".

It is a survey the World Bank launched five years ago, commissioning a group of 11 researchers, from the United Kingdom, South Africa and the United States, led by Janelle Pliummer, senior governance specialist at the World Bank. Neither Pllummer, nor any of those who took part in the survey, were present at the Hilton last week, when her predecessor, Rupert Bladon, reported the findings in the presence of predominantly anticorruption czars from regional states.

"We've nothing to hide as long as the initiative [by the World Bank] is genuine," Meles Zenawi, the late prime minister, was quoted as saying by Ali Sulaiman, commissioner of FEACC, and author of the forword in the book, which was originally meant to be written by the late Prime Minister.

The late Prime Minister did have knowledge of its conclusion, though. Long before the survey was completed, eight months ago, the part that deals with the construction sector was used by Meles to defend the records of his government, at a press conference, three years ago. He had argued that corruption in Ethiopia is far less pervasive than many people think it is.

The message was no different last week.

"There is big gap between perception and the reality on the ground," Ali said. "The perception is rather high."

He retreated, though, with a disclaimer that his view is not to underestimate the challenges posed by corruption, but instead to reflect on the facts.

The facts Ali chose to reflect on come from a series of surveys conducted by institutions, such as; the Addis Abeba University and Kilimanjaro International Plc, which have conducted two national surveys on incidences of corruption. Both concluded that despite the alarming rate of increase in corrupt practices in Ethiopia, there is, however, a perception of it, which is higher than what is evident on the ground.

It is confirmed by Transparency International (TI), an international organisation that has published a Corruption Perception Index, since 1995. With 33 points, TI put Ethiopia 113th in its index for 2012, alongside Albania, Niger and Timor.

Ali partly blames these international organisations indexing corruption for people having such perceptive attitudes toward corruption.

"These reports are produced by others who have no relationship to the facts on the ground," he said last week.

But an organisation on the ground, Transparency Ethiopia, had close to 400 people respond, up until January 11, 2013, to a question of whether incidences of corruption are increasing in the last three years; a staggering 84.3pc answered that they were.

The survey, released last week, too warns that "unless confronted, this [corruption] will result in new levels of corruption across the board".

Yet, officials of the World Bank acknowledge that the survey has failed to include other areas perceived to be prone to corruption, such as; tax, customs, state contracts given to private contractors by the state power monopoly, city housing projects, the Railway Corporation and the state owned Metal & Engineering Corporation (MeTEC).

Among its areas of scrutiny, the sector picked up as most vulnerable to corruption, the telecom industry, alongside the pharmaceutical sector and the procurement and distribution of drugs for HIV/Aids. Officials from the state owned ethio-telecom dismissed the report as contradictory and out of date. The survey claims "week accountability and ETC monopoly" have led to a "high perception of corruption".

"Monopoly by itself cannot be the mere cause of corruption," Abdurahim Ahmed, public relations head of ethio-telecom, told Fortune. "The study came out two years after it was completed, there will be many changes in the industry since then."

The construction industry, perceived by the public as the most corrupt, is painted by the Plummer survey as a sector with an extremely complex picture, hence mixed perceptions. Poor implementation of standards and low public sector pay are said to be the causes for corruption.

Mining is also another industry that Plummer's findings say is gaining ground in corruption. The risk areas undermining the industry, include; licensing, operations and mining revenue, whilst the absence of policy and regulatory framework in land management deterred regional states from implementing the law in the same way. But this has changed since the time Plummer and her team conducted the survey, according to senior officials of the Commission. They argue that land management is one of the four areas of intense focus in fighting corruption, including; tax and revenues, and the justice system, as well as public procurement and sales.

"It's difficult to say there is high corruption in land administration, since the lease law is in full force," an official who asked for anonymity, for he is not authorized to speak to the media, told Fortune. "We're the main actors in proposing the revision of the law that we hope will address the problem of corruption in this."

In part, they attribute changes, such as this, to the marginal decline other surveys reportedly noted on corruption in Ethiopia. The latest findings by Kilimanjaro International, grades Ethiopia a little above three points out of five, where it showed an improvement for points below one, when compared to the previous national survey.

But it is only a mere 8.1pc of those polled, by Transparency Ethiopia, who shared this view; that incidences of corruption have declined.

Ethiopia's chief anticorruption czar, Ali, says even this is no reason to be complacent.

"I should not be relaxed," Ali said.

It was a voice echoed by Justin Y. Lin, the World Bank's country director for Ethiopia, who said his organisation commissioned the study to move the perception to the reality on the ground. Regardless to the result of the survey though, Lin told Ali, and his army of anticorruption officers, that there is no ground for complacence, as the "incidence of corruption is on the rise".

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