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22 June 2013 Written by 

New Ministry for environment, forest

Activists welcome government’s move but demands more power

The Prime Minister's Office presented a new draft bill to the House of People’s Representative on Tuesday, which proposes the transformation of the Environmental Protection Authority to the Ministry of Environment and Forest.

In its preamble, the draft bill says, “When we make our economy clear from carbon emission, we can gain support from rich nations who can support our effort. Our effort is gaining praise in the international arena, so if we have more praise for our achievements on the economic front we can pull more foreign investment into the country.”

“Our participatory process of making our economy green and climate change resilient is being undertaken under the coordination role of EPA. However, this effort has not been given the necessary attention either at a federal or regional level,” according to the draft bill.

“Similarly, since Ethiopia has no specific organ which is directly responsible for environmental affairs, its effort has not gained any significant attention at a global level” it further explains, while justifying the need to elevate the EPA to an executive level.

“It desperately needs to establish an entity structured under ministerial level, which is mandated to take the technical responsibility of our venture to build a climate resilient economy,” it added.

According to the draft bill, a contradicting interest exists between farmland expansion and forest coverage maximization.

Therefore, it is not appropriate to have agriculture and forest under the same ministry, and they should be administered under separate ministries.

It also indicates that the rights and obligations of the EPA, re-established under the existing proclamation No. 295/2002, will be transferred to the newly proposed Ministry of Environment and Forest.

Million Belay (Ph.D.), Director of MELCA-Ethiopia, a local think-tank working on environment advocacy, told The Reporter that the move to establish a ministry is the right move, but questions the draft bill arguing that it lacks clarity concerning forest and related issues.

Million is concerned that the bill does not have specific details, such as the issue of timber forest, non-timber forest and rivalling factors such as the spiritual activities of the people usually associated with forest resources. 

He argues that unlike other ministerial offices or executive bodies, which are under the council of ministers, the newly proposed Ministry of Environment and Forest should be accountable to the HPR.

“If this ministry is given a regulatory role it would have more power on other executive bodies too. The environment or forest is directly or indirectly connected with other ministries, such as water and energy, mining, agriculture or health ministries” he told The Reporter, adding that the new office should act like the Office of the Auditor General. 

As an alternative idea, Million suggested that it could also be established as an independent agency, which could have a regulatory role on issues regarding biodiversity, forest, water and mining.

In a related development, the Parliament also discussed two draft bills on the same day regarding plans to amend the powers and duties of the executive organs of the federal government.

The two bills tabled before Parliament propose the amendment of the designation of the Ministry of Urban Development and Construction (MoUDC), and the Ministry of Water and Energy (MoWE). The bills need the parliament’s endorsement in order to enlarge theirto be able to replace with new designations, the Ministry of Urban Development, Housing and Construction and the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy respectively.

According to the draft bill, since one of the missions of the Ministry of Water and Energy is linked with the expansion of irrigation, it is necessary to amend its designation to reflect this activity.

Meanwhile, the bill also explains that the amendment of designation and extending the power and duty of the Ministry of Urban Development and Construction is necessary since it has to go further to include rural housing development.