The Trade and Tourism Standing Committee of the House of Peoples’ Representatives slam the Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration for its futile efforts to tame the inflationary pressure haunting the country.
Inflation in the country has averaged 30 percent this year due to supply-side gaps, the fast depreciation of the birr, and rising import prices on the international market, among others, sparking fear among citizens.
In a meeting convened by the standing committee to examine the ministry’s quarterly performance report, dozens of MPs have decried the ministry’s efforts to deal with the growing costs of essential commodities such as sugar, wheat, edible oil, and cement – items that have played a big role for the inflationary pressure in the country.
During the meeting, it was reported that of the 835,000 quintals of sugar the ministry had planned to distribute in the last four months of the budget year, it had only achieved to distribute 284 quintals throughout the country except for the Tigray region.
However, importers with Franco-Valuta privilege imported 1.8 million quintals of sugar in the same period.
Similarly, ministry officials stated that, despite an initial plan to distribute 17.8 million quintals of cement produced by the factories, only seven million quintals were distributed during the same period.
Yeshimebet Demisse (PhD), a Member of Parliament, slammed the ministry, claiming that it demonstrated a lack of impartiality in distributing wheat and edible oil, which are imported with the government’s scarce foreign currency.
She said that besides the mismanagement of the imported commodities, the public has become accustomed to the continuous price increases. “It appears that the public has gone mute as a result of officials’ failure to address the problem.”
Concerning the ministry’s performance plan and report, Yeshimebet said, “We have received two types of performance plans from the ministry, and those reports are different, shallow, and miss the main issues that were expected to be addressed.”
Another MP, Nejat Girma, stated that the public will continue to be informed that security and conflict are the root causes of supply shortages and commodity price increases.
“While the factory price of cement is 450 birr, it is being sold on the market for 2000 birr, and you’re giving an undesirable justification, how do you assess it? Do you believe there are no corrupt networks? Where is the issue? Why don’t you modify your directives and regulations if the ministry’s existing methods don’t work?” Nejat said.
For Nejat, the ministry has to examine and cross-check to determine whether or not its actions are bringing the desired outcome.
“The public is crying, and the ministry is explaining to us its raw plans and directives, but there should be a practical change, and the public has to get some relief. You are just telling us a process,” Nejat said.
Aschalew Almire, another MP, also questioned ministry officials, claiming that commodity prices will rise and supplies will become scarce as a result of the ministry’s directive or laws to handle and manage the market situation.
“What is the guarantee of having these institutions if the public continues to complain and problems persist? Aschalew asked.
Aschalew says that the main reason for dividing the former trade and industry ministry and establishing a new trade and integration ministry was to solve this current market problem, but the results have not been as planned.
“We are witnessing dissatisfied public faces, and the ministry should seriously assess its approach,” Aschalew added.
“The government imported sugar at a high cost and anticipated it would be distributed fairly and equally to the people, but shockingly, the way we are obtaining sugar is from an illegal market at a high cost,” Ferida Shemsedin, an MP said. “We did not even buy it from the intended stores with our money.”
She expressed her disappointment, stating, “We can at least get a spoon or a scoop, but people in rural Ethiopia couldn’t even get access to procure it anywhere.”
Responding to MPS questions, the Minister of Trade and Integration, Gebremesekel Chala, stated that “corruption and mismanagement can only be cured when public awareness is changed, and corruption will be avoided when there is a healthy thinker.”
Corruption and mismanagement have become more and more complicated, according to Gebremesekel. “The ministry applied new directives and procedures to eradicate this problem, but the directives have become a means to exacerbate the situation.”
Gebremesekel believes the government was involved in the cement market because it was dominated by agents and buyers that were unable to find the product. Regarding the performance plan, he claimed that except for the format, there is no difference in substance.