Thursday, February 2, 2023

Wising up to the dangers of whitewashing!

One of the three fundamental reasons, which by its own admission compelled the ruing Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to set in motion a process of deep renewal late last year, was the entrenched tendency to use state power for the advancement of personal interest and as a basis of livelihood. The Front has acknowledged that the misuse of state power for nefarious purposes has imperiled the very survival of not only itself, but also of the government it leads. The gross negligence displayed by the government in terms of discharging its obligation to safeguard itself against corruption has opened the door for the scourge to assume alarming and pose a serious threat to the political establishment at the hand of elements both within its rank and outside. The fact that the government undertakes or commissions numerous mega projects has led to rampant corruption in such areas as procurement, contract administration, tax collection, loan approval, land provisioning and use and the like. The government’s apparent lack of enthusiasm to take legal measures in the face of all this has naturally been a topic of heated discussion among the public and as such requires an unambiguous clarification from the government.

In a press conference he held at the start of the week with local journalists, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn affirmed that the measures being taken byhis administration against government leaders mired in corruption and rent-seeking are set tobe ramped up. He said credible allegations implicating any government official in corruption would be thoroughly investigated and no mercy would be shown to those the accusation against whom the allegationis corroborated with evidence. Asked why no high-ranking government official has been brought to justice to date he answered that nothing can be done if the required evidence is not produced.

However, the September-October 2016 issue of Addis Raey, a bi-monthly Amharic-language magazine published by the EPRDF providing analysis on various topics, had in part the following to say about the nature and extent of the problem. “…It opened the door for the perception that assuming public office somehow has very rewarding benefits thereby intensifying the race to ascend to power by hook or crook. It is obvious that the path to political power lies through the EPRDF. Hence, those who coveted for government posts began to work hardat becoming party leaders. The organization thus gravitated towards becoming not only a source of power but also an instrument to procure undue benefits endangering the integrity of its leadership. As the increased opportunity for hypocrites and power mongers to make their way into party leadership positions made it easier for them to assume the reins of government it started to jeopardize our stated goal of building a developmental democratic government.”

A party which in cognizance of the seriousness of the problem has pledged to critically assess its tenure over the past fifteen years should see to it that the government it leads has a similar outlook as well. It is perplexing to hear it concede the gravity of the problem but at the same time cites the absence of evidence as justification forinaction against party heavyweights. The public raises questions when the EPRDF loudly proclaims that it has taken steps against mid- and low-level officials and yet is evasive when it comes to the top brass.  It will wonder what is going on when officials removed from top-level positions are appointed to newly created posts with all the benefits they used to enjoy or free to do whatever they please in their private life without fear of legal consequences. The EPRDF’s recognition of the gravity of the banethat poses a threat to itself and the constitutional order should have been matched by firm executive action on the government’s part against individuals determined to be culpable. The adoption of a double standard in the treatment of the seemingly “untouchable” bigwigs and the small fry has consequently engendered a credibility gap that the EPRDF would do well to address.

Other sins were attributed to senior government official at the deep renewal forums organized by the EPRDF. Among these areembezzlement of public funds, mistreatment of citizens seeking service, unnecessarily frequent overseas travel and habitual absenteeism from the work place. The public, however, levels even more serious accusations against them including:carrying on lucrative businesses together with family members; tax evasion of gargantuan proportions;securing procurement from the government worth millions; engaging in land speculation as well as renting or sale of commercial and residential buildings. The veracity of these grave claims needs to be ascertained. After all the officials owe the duty to prove that they are squeaky clean. Why is the government loath to bring to justice wrong-doers despite the EPRDF’s unequivocal admission that state power was used for personal gain? Or is mutual fear and turning a blind eye, as the public suspects, a feature of the deep renewal exercise? These questions very much require an honest answer.

There can be no overstating the dire consequences of unchecked corruption, rent-seeking or failure in official duties for both the political establishment and the nation. We have reached a stage where the threat cannot be tolerated anymore. Misgoverning the public is akin to stirring up hornet’s nest. This has been witnessed unnecessarily time and again in the past. Evidently the objective of the deep renewal is to ensure the very survival of the EPRDF and the government. However, the exercise is bound tocause even graver danger if it is not informed by the long-term interests of the country. Consolidating the democratuzation process underway and protecting basic freedoms is crucial in averting the danger. It would be counterproductive to cover up each other’s back or procrastinate in responding to the legitimate demands of the public. In this regard the findings of a study conducted by the Policy Study and Research Center into the prevalence of corruption and bad governance in Ethiopia and the solutions thereof, which was released late 2015, provide adequate information justifying action against top-level party and government officials. In the interest of guaranteeing durable peace and stability in Ethiopia it is of the essence to enforce the rule of law. Therefore, the government should wise up to the dangers of whitewashing in the deep renewal movement and take credible measures that restore confidence in it.

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