Soon after his pointed remarks he made to Parliamentarians early this week in which he underscored prevalence of corruption in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) announced the establishment of a national anti-corruption committee tasked with coordinating the government’s campaign against corruption, identifying the actors involved in the scourge, and bringing them to justice. In a statement he issued on the committee’s establishment, Abiy described corruption as “… a termite that hollows a country and labors day and night to bleed it dry.” Saying the epidemic level of corruption in Ethiopia constitutes a national security risk and rivals security threats as the primary impediment to the country’s journey to prosperity, the premier noted the public was fed up with corrupt practices in government service delivery services, procurement processes as well as the justice and finance sectors, among others.
The PM acknowledged that while an investigation targeting government officials, public servants, bribers and middlemen is underway, it was impossible to stamp out corruption solely by bringing the identified perpetrators to justice given corruption by its nature is carried out in a sophisticated manner using technologies and sometimes behind the façade of legitimate acts. He disclosed that the measures the committee takes and the results they bear will be communicated regularly to the public, adding regional governments are slated to follow suit soon and establish their own committees. He also entreated the public to play an active role in the campaign by providing information on anyone enmeshed in corruption. He further underscored that aside from undertaking legal and operational reforms, it was imperative to take measures intended to make everyone forsake corruption in order to root it out.
Successive Ethiopian governments have always admitted that corruption is a bane and vowed to combat it resolutely. The patchy measures they have taken thereafter, however, have miserably failed to bring about the desired outcome, leaving the nation in even greater peril than before. There is no denying that resolving to fight corruption is a commendable step in the right direction. Nevertheless, a considerable number of people wonder if the latest anti-corruption drive is another publicity stunt fated to flounder as well due to a raft of critical issues. Chief among is the level of the political leadership’s commitment to suit its word to action. The principal issue of concern is the composition of the 7-member national committee, the majority of whom occupy senior positions in the federal government and the ruling Prosperity Party. The real or perceived absence of impartiality of the members has left many doubtful if they have the courage to do what is needed without fear or favor in the event comrades-in-arm have to face the music or wield their power to attack political opponents, casting a shadow over the committee’s credibility.
Another question that has been raised is whether the national committee can carry out its duties effectively in view of the fact that it’s an ad hoc body lacking the institutional structure needed to function properly. True, there are various federal and regional structures which are entrusted with spearheading the fight against corruption and enable Ethiopia to discharge its continental and global obligations in this regard. However, the scope of the committee’s authority is not adequately defined. It’s unclear if the committee will take the lead in identifying and prosecuting public officials and accomplices mired in corruption or it will work in close cooperation with the entities legally mandated with the prevention, investigation and prosecution of all forms of corruption in Ethiopia. Though the heads of these institutions are members of the committee, it’s of the essence that they act in a manner which does not undermine the mission of the organizations they helm.
As the late U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan once said corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It erodes trust in the political system; weakens democracy and the rule of law; hinders economic development; enables conflicts, terrorism and other acts that destroy peace to thrive; and entrenches poverty and inequality. Preventing and combating corruption requires a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach involving a host of actors at the local, regional and federal levels. The current anti-corruption drive the government has embarked on is a small but vital part of a nationwide effort to significantly deter, if not totally eradicate corruption in Ethiopia. But there is long to go before it can bear fruit. Though there are several factors on which its success depends, the most important is inarguably a display of genuine political commitment. Without it Ethiopians’ aspiration for the rule of law, good governance and prosperity they aspire for will never be realized.