Ethiopia: Commission Delays Long-Awaited Prosecution Mandate

The draft Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission law tabled to parliamentarians last week has excluded a mandate to prosecute -- the addition that initiated the revision. Forwarded to the standing committee for legal, justice and democracy affairs at parliament, the draft instead includes changes intended to align the Commission with the country's ongoing reforms and strengthen its institutional independence.

The draft proclamation, which had been under amendment for nearly a year, proposes to have its budget and the salaries of its employees approved by the parliament instead of the Ministry of Finance and the Civil Service Commission, respectively.

The revision, which initially intended to bring back the powers of prosecution from the Police Commission and the Office of the Attorney General to the Commission, was postponed until after a study takes place, according to Tesfaye Shamebo, research & training director at the Commission.

"The study will assess which body is more suited for the role," said the Director, who explained that the Commission's work had slowed down since the mandate was shifted in 2015. "It was also intended to restore public faith in the institution, but it will have to wait until the study is conducted."

The ethics liaison or directorate established across all public offices, which used to report to the head of the institution it is located in, will also now report to the Commission. The latest draft proposes to assign the Commission full administrative control over these directorate offices.

The Bill also aims to bring clarity and strengthen the mandate of some other issues that have been blurry in the past. Preparing a National Anti-Corruption Policy & Strategy has been explicitly listed as the duty of the Commission. The mandate has been unclear in the past, and this has been a major reason for the lack of a national policy, according to Tesfaye.

The Commission is tasked with administering a software database that will enable not only asset registration of public officials but also access to the register. If approved, it will enable the Commission to present this data upon request from law enforcement authorities.

Presented to the parliament in June, the draft law proposes the creation of Commission offices in the administrative zones of Addis Abeba and Dire Dawa and the regional states to ensure comprehensive work.

Among its other tasks, the Commission will be reporting on the country's overall status to the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC). The UNODC, which heads the organisation's efforts against illicit drugs and international crime, assists states that are signatory to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in implementing this convention.

"Ethiopia was undergoing an assessment by Egypt and Greece," said Tesfaye. "It was paused due to the pandemic, but we're compiling the reports at the moment."

Measures that the Commission can take against improprieties it observes or against those that fail to implement its recommendations will be outlined under a following regulation. A Code of Conduct for elected public officials is also nearing completion by the Commission, according to Tesfaye.

"The Code will no longer allow elected officials to receive presents and offerings from other parties," he said. "If so, they will be requested to report or return it."

The strength and independence of the Commission will be affected by the individuals that will be appointed to lead the institution, according to Sisay Mengiste (PhD), a human rights and federalism researcher at Addis Abeba University.

"The individuals heading this institution should be experienced, confident and capable," he said. "If they are in a position where they're just seeking job security, it will be easy to look the other way."

The commissioner and deputy commissioner's appointment, through the selection of the Prime Minister, would create more confidence if done through a nominating committee of the parliament, he added. However, the lawyer stressed that this is not as essential as ensuring the implementation of the law.

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