Friday, September 29, 2023

Accountability foremost guarantor of rule of law!

The rule of law can be genuinely upheld if and when the principle that each and every person, regardless of his station in life, is equal before the law and is entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law is respected. In the absence of the rule of law the select few who yield executive power will be able to subjugate the defenseless masses. This is bound to encourage and eventually lead to lawlessness. Consequently violations of rights and miscarriage of justice will become rampant. If legal limits in particular are not placed on persons holding the reins of power and their subordinates, the very survival and unity of a nation will be imperiled. Ensuring accountability and transparency is the surest mechanism to avert the passing of such a dire prospect. 

Article 12 of the constitution of Ethiopia stipulates down that the conduct of affairs of government shall be transparent and that any public official or an elected representative is accountable for any failure in official duties. It also provides that in case of loss of confidence, the people may recall an elected representative. Regarding the structure and division of powers Article 50 states that the federal government and [regional] states havelegislative, executive and judicial powers. It affirms that the House of Peoples’ Representatives (Parliament) is the highestauthority of the Federal Government and isresponsible to the People. Likewise the State Council is the highest organ of State authority and is responsible to the People ofthe State.Moreover, according to Article 54 Members of Parliament are representatives of theEthiopian People as a whole and are governed by the constitution, the will of the people and their conscience.It is further provided for under the constitution that the entity in which the executive powers of the federal government are vested is accountable to Parliament and is entrusted with managing the day-to-day affairs of the country. Are these constitutional provisos being faithfully? A lot leaves to be desired.

Aside from the stark problems besetting the country daily as well as the destructive unrest that occurred in some parts of Oromia and Amhara in 2016, a recent study released by the Policy Study and Research Center(PSRC) underscores the extent of the challenges Ethiopia is facing. An analysis of the findings of the study, which covered different regional states and institutions, laid bare the proliferation of a host of grave failings of the executive branch of the government including, inter alia, belittling the duties and responsibilities of lawmakers, a demonstrable unwillingness or ignorance regarding the oversight power of the legislature and the resulting penchant to enfeeble it so that it may not exercise this power effectively. Can the rule of law be deemed to be upheld when both federal and state legislatures are under the control of the executive? Why don’t they do something when their constitutional powers are encroached upon?

Another finding of the study pertains to the attitude problem pervading the entities through which public participation is assured. According to the study this is primarily manifested in the low regard lawmakers hold themselves and the legislature in, neglecting the solemn responsibility that comes with being elected representatives of the people, dissatisfaction with the perceived lack of perks for elected representatives and a general perception that the executive is all-powerful. Why do lawmakers show undue deference to the executive despite the provisions of Article 72 of the constitution which read, “The highest executive powers of the Federal Government are vested in the Prime Minister and in the Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers are responsible to the House of Peoples’ Representatives…”?What guarantees does the public have that the constitution will be faithfully obeyed and enforced if the separation of powers between the legislature and the executive are blatantly flouted? How long should this anomaly be countenanced?

The rule of law is all about imposing checks and balances on state power so that no one may do what he pleases with impunity. In other words it precludes governing the populace by enacting laws favoring rulers alone. The study revealed that the on top of meddling with the operations of the legislature the executive resorted to such objectionabletactics as inconveniencing and intimidating parliamentary standing committees whose job is to supervise its activities. If lawmakers, who by virtue of the constitution are representatives of the ultimate repository of power—the people—are under the thumb of the executive, what hope is there for the rest? The study also showed that the executive wields unwarranted influence over professional and mass organizations as well as the media and does not view them as partners. The findings of the study generally center on the notion that the executive is an epitome of lack of transparency and accountability. It’s indeed quite reprehensible to see the executive carry out various undemocratic acts including harassing and labeling anyone who “dares” to question it.

It’s of paramount importance to put a stop to the egregious abuse of power by the executive and build a democratic order reflective of the will of the people. Needless to say this calls for an unwavering commitment to paythe necessary sacrifice. If the rule of law is not anchored in a solid foundation and legal limits are not placed on holders of political office even deadly protests than those that rocked certain parts of Ethiopia last year are bound to recur. If the undemocratic tendenciesrearing their head are to give way to democratic governance the government must lead by example by using political power as an instrument to fulfill the public’s demands. Citizens should be able to have confidence that the rule of law will always be upheld. This requires a radical shift in the current mindset. Government power should be assumed only andonly through free and fair elections. Practices which are sources of widespread public discontent have to be eliminated.  Social justice must prevail. And most of all the will of the people needs to be respected. It’s by implementing these principles that a democratic system which assures public participation and an equitable use of national resources can be brought about. As the foremost guarantor of the rule of law, the fundamental prerequisite to the realizationof this ideal, it is imperative to enforce accountability at all levels of government!


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