The House of Peoples' Representatives (HPR) in its regular session on Tuesday questioned the government's agreement that was signed in 2012 regarding allowing the tiny neighboring nation, Djibouti, to develop
and transport over 103,000 cubic meters of ground water free of charge from the Shinile Zone of the Ethiopian Somali regional state.
The draft bill presented on Tuesday for parliament's endorsement stirred tough questions from MPs regarding the content of the agreement, which incorporates both the government's responsibility as well as obligation vis-à-vis the water development that would allow Djibouti to transport the potable water for at least 30 years.
Ethiopian and Djiboutian ministers of finance and economy, Sufian Ahmed and Ilyas Moussa Dawaleh, first signed the agreement in January of 2013 providing the latter accessing partial water resources from the Shinile Zone.
"Ethiopia agreed to supply to Djibouti the water under this Agreement free of any charge," an agreement was stated in the bill.
"Ethiopia shall designate 20 hectares of land in Shinile area from which Djibouti shall supply water to its territory, in addition to the 400 hectares of land in the proposed groundwater well field area." However, the agreement states that "Djibouti shall pay compensations for residents of the area and for residents of some areas inside its territory who may be affected by the project."
According to the draft bill and the 2013 agreement pact, Djibouti shall have the full and exclusive right to draw water within the designated land of up to a maximum of 103,000 cubic meters per day.
A government representative explained to MPs that the government signed the agreement by putting political and economic advantages in consideration.
The document says that the Republic of Djibouti has been suffering from deep- rooted and longstanding shortages of potable water. According to the document, around 95 percent of the water Djibouti gets is ground water. However, it has serious quality problems as it is a highly salty water. In addition, the Djibouti city has faced an impending challenge in its development efforts due to the shortage of water.
The document also reveals that a study has proved that there is a vast potential of ground water in the eastern part of the country, particularly in the Shinile Zone. "It has been proved by the study that there is a huge amount of ground water reservoir in this area, which is sufficient enough for the area's development activities as well as beyond to provide for Djibouti."
According to the bill, Djibouti has committed to hiring a construction company for the construction of a water-supply plant.
Similarly, both Djibouti and Ethiopia have their own respective responsibilities to finance the cost of consultancy to be paid for each consultant company during the construction period.
Both also have to ensure security of each part of the project within their respective territories during the construction as well as operation periods.
In addition, as stipulated in the bill, Ethiopia has the commitment to ensure exemption from tax and duties, goods and vehicles imported for the project.
Ethiopia has the responsibility to ensure the safety of the pipeline within the Ethiopian territory.
It also states that Ethiopia's government should "consult the Government of Djibouti before taking any measures that affect the pipeline."
After the construction of the project, Djibouti may set up its own company to manage the operation of the water supply system in Ethiopia's territory with the right of outsourcing it to a third party.
The sole Independent MP in the House, Ashebir Woldergiorgis (Ph.D.), challenged the bill as it is not in favor of Ethiopia's benefit despite the importance of Djibouti for Ethiopian economic and political significance beyond the good-neighborhood in the region.
"It is not less underestimated than simply handing over parts of the sovereign land", he said.
Taking the economic as well as political advantage that Ethiopia benefits from Djibouti into account, we have no problem providing Djibouti the water supply. But they can be treated like any foreign company that is granted licenses and investment projects in Ethiopia. Maybe they can be granted special privileges such as tax and duty exemptions but allowing access to water resources free of charge is nonsense," Ashebir criticized the agreement.
Ashebir, usually known for his pro-government and critical views during the House's regular sessions, in a rare move denied his voice to the bill opting to remain abstained while it was given the motion for referring to the Natural Resources Standing Committee and for the Budget and Finance Affairs Standing committees.