Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

20 January 2013

Ethiopia: One of the Favourite Targets for Cynics in the Rank of Public Institutions

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One of the favourite targets for cynics in the rank of public institutions is the nation's highest legislative body of 547, housed in a 75-year old structure up in Arat Kilo. Partly it is understandable, for, it has yet to reject a single bill tabled to it by the executive branch of government event after its existence of 18 years, gossip observed.

Not even the near complete political hegemony Revolutionary Democrats gained in the House following the 2010 national elections changed the way things have always been run. But there were promises they had made in the aftermath of such political victory their leaders had foresaw little, claims gossip.

Realising that their electoral gains were as staggering as controlling 99.6pc of seats in the House, their late leader pledged to equally serve those who had voted for his party alike those who did not. EPRDFites had also promised to introduce what they had termed as "constituency based" politics, whereby each MP works to promote the interests of the constituencies which they come from as opposed to voting along a strict party line, gossip recalled.

On both cases, EPRDFites have waned; and many of their top leaders recognise that these promises have remained unfulfilled, says gossip. Now they want to shift gears, and instead hope to create a House that has a grip in holding the executive accountable, according to gossip. In the absence of the all-too-powerful and dominant Meles Zenawi, Parliament wants to be "one notch" above its average being, and take ministers and their deputies to task, claims gossip.

Despite its desire to flex its legislative muscles, its own capacity to play the artful game of holding others accountable is one major area of concern; the House does not have such level of expertise and resources to scrutinise the executive branch - least the many chiefs of state enterprises - beyond consuming their reports jammed with jargon and technicalities, claims gossip.

Nonetheless, the signs are emerging, according to gossip.

Take, for instance, a growing tension between the House's Standing Committee for Legal & Administrative Affairs, chaired by Asmelash W. Sellasie (MP-EPRDF), and senior officials at the Ministry of Justice, gossip disclosed. It followed the legislation of a bill to criminalise the financing of terrorism and money laundering, claims gossip. Prompted by a threat from countries in the west listing Ethiopia as one of the seven countries where the risk for their banks is high, the bill was a battleground between some legislators and drafters behind the scenes.

It is not that the country never had laws criminalising money involved in acts of terrorism. There is one in Article 684 of the Criminal Code; and there are defendants fighting charges from federal prosecutors while in jail, gossip disclosed. Ironically, the recently legislated bill skipped from incorporating a transitional article, while nullifying all other laws issued before and contradicting it, claims gossip.

Drafters at the Ministry of Justice came to recognise this gap way after the bill has passed Parliament with all but one vote from Girma Seifu (MP-Medrek) abstaining. This in effect would absolve those charged under Article 684, for the recent legislation cannot be used to prosecute suspects in retrospect, claims gossip.

Sadly, Parliament has had a bad habit of inserting new provisions and changing the composition of some after bills were voted before the legislations are sent to the printing press, gossip noticed. Senior officials at the Ministry now hope to rectify their oversight in the same old manner, and this attempt will make EPRDFites in the House furious, gossip disclosed.

Gossip sees that this too is an issue which would inevitably be resolved in the good old ways of Revolutionary Democrats backroom politics. Theirs is not a culture that entertains dissent out in public, gossip observed. Yet, such is an incident which shows the changing of times, even for a political force as powerful and highly centralised as the EPRDF, gossip claims.

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