Sunday, July 21, 2024
In DepthRebukes ring out

Rebukes ring out

Economic woes, insecurity exposed

Parliament erupted in stunned silence as opposition MP Desalegn Chanie issued a stinging rebuke of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s leadership.

Slamming the PM’s “failed leadership”, Desalegn painted a bleak picture of the nation under Abiy’s watch: “Citizens can barely walk the streets. Inflation has plunged many into hand-to-mouth existence. Jobs are scarce. Youth see migration as the only way forward. Kidnappings are commonplace and ransoms the only hope. Amhara and Oromo have become war zones. Tigray, Afar and Amhara suffer the horrors of war with the TPLF. For this, Prosperity Party must assume responsibility.”

Desalegn urged Abiy’s party to “hand power to an interim administration” and pave the way for new elections.

It marked the second time an MP from Chanie’s National Movement of Amhara party had called for Abiy to resign, citing conflicts, political woes and rampant living cost. Last time, Christian Tadele issued a similar demand.

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Abiy responded sarcastically this time around: “Though the idea of elections is well-intentioned, we must wait three years,” before the next legally scheduled vote.

Desalegn was not the only who challenged Abiy during the session. 

From security problems that led to abductions of citizens even not far from Addis Ababa to economic woes, including inflation, was among dozens of issues raised by parliamentarians during the session held to approve next year’s budget. 

Lawmakers criticized the government’s failure to address rising insecurity, with some members recounting stories of constituents who had been abducted for ransom.

The legislators slammed the deteriorating economic situation under the ruling party’s watch, pointing to high inflation, lack of job opportunities, and difficulty for citizens to meet their basic needs.

GDP heralded, hardship harbored

Prime Minister Abiy appeared confident as he touted the economic achievements of his administration, though some of the figures he cited were exaggerated.

Abiy boasted about his administration’s ability to control the growth of debt relative to Ethiopia’s gross domestic product. The debt-to-GDP ratio, which had reached as high as 59 percent before he assumed power, had now dwindled to 38 percent under his watch, he claimed. He forecasted that the debt ratio would continue to fall and reach as low as 30 percent.

“We have managed to achieve this while facing an inflation, which is commendable,” Abiy said. 

Prime Minister Abiy’s confident portrayal of Ethiopia’s economic prosperity stood in stark contrast to the grim realities described by parliamentarians. They painted a bleak picture of soaring inflation, lack of jobs and citizens struggling to make ends meet.

In contrast to the Prime Minister’s celebratory tone, opposition politicians and experts painted a portrait of an economy beset by challenges: prices soaring rapidly, qualified job-seekers unable to find work and acute shortages of foreign currency – issues that GDP growth alone cannot mask.

MP Senayit Asradew questioned, “Though the economy is growing, runaway inflation is making life difficult for citizens.”

Economist Arega Shumute agreed, “GDP growth does not mean the economy is healthy. By all metrics, Ethiopia’s economy is in poor shape.”

Arega listed several reasons for his assessment: “With inflation over 30 percent, many skilled workers unemployed and a forex shortage, GDP growth is meaningless.”

The economist also doubted the GDP figures presented by PM Abiy, who claimed Ethiopia’s GDP had surged to 6.2 trillion birr – triple the 2.2 trillion birr reported by the central bank for the last fiscal year. Arega found such a massive, near threefold increase implausible.

He explained, “The government is multiplying the GDP value in USD by the current exchange rate while also adding the annual premium change. However, actual production remains unchanged.” 

Rebukes ring out | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

This suggests the government’s methods are flawed, according to him.

The economist added that “only the exchange rate of the local currency against foreign currencies is growing.” The outsized GDP growth figures may therefore be misleading.

Safety sought, silence met

Ensuring citizens’ safety emerged as the dominant topic raised by parliamentarians during Prime Minister Abiy’s appearance at the legislative body. Not only opposition legislators but also lawmakers representing the ruling party repeatedly questioned the head of government about why security agencies had failed to maintain law and order. 

Members of parliament from across the political spectrum cited citizens’ inability to travel and work around the country safely as a major issue, demanding answers from the Prime Minister about the deteriorating security situation. The chorus of criticism and calls for improved security appeared to leave Abiy silent, as he dodged addressing the questions.

However, many parliamentarians seemed dissatisfied as they presented their questions, underscoring the public’s growing frustration with the lack of security and surge in criminal activities like abductions and attacks.

“Just after we concluded the North Ethiopia war with a peace deal,  citizens are facing sudden attacks causing killings and putting citizen safety in jeopardy,” said Adane Teshome, a parliamentarian.

Another parliamentarian echoed the same sentiment.

“What is the government doing to stop the mass arrests and killings of people ordered by autocratic officials?” asked MP Abraham Amoshe.

Funds trail runs cold

For over a month, lawmakers have questioned the viability and funding of Prime Minister Abiy’s expensive megaprojects, with controversial “fancy projects” becoming a flashpoint in Ethiopia’s Parliament.  

For the third time in a month, lawmakers have grilled the Prime Minister over the costly projects. First, Prosperity Party MP Seid Mohammed confronted the finance minister about financing for the expensive megaprojects. Then earlier this week, Finance Minister Ahmed Shide sparred with opposition MP Christian Tadele who chairs the public expenditure committee. The dispute centered on funding for the so-called “fancy projects”, which the minister claimed were entirely financed through grants and did not use public funds.  And the third one is during the latest appearance of Prime Minister Abiy.

However, scholars, politicians and lawmakers have criticized Abiy’s large infrastructure initiatives—ranging from billion-birr parking lots to trillion-birr palaces—questioning whether the projects are necessary and affordable. They argue limited resources would be better spent on basic services and development priorities but Abiy argues the funding comes from donors, off budget.

A constitutional expert commented: “There has been absolutely no transparency on how decisions are taken on these projects, who is part of it, and crucially lack of accountability.” 

The expert said “Any use of public resources, including public land and any money that govt officials may receive as ‘donation” must be properly appropriated by Parliament…”

The expert added “At the moment, Abiy doesn’t seem to care much about rules and institutions – he seems to only care about his intentions, whatever that may be.”

The expert concluded” I don’t understand  why Abiy doesn’t want parliament to properly appropriate the land and funds, as he can easily get parliament to support his plans, in view of the PP dominance.”

Prime Minister Abiy appeared flippant and dismissive in his response to parliamentarians who asked for the controversial megaprojects to be subjected to proper audits and oversight.

The lawmakers had questioned Abiy about the funding and financing of projects like Unity Park, and the Chaka Project, which is even more expensive than the five billion dollar Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, demanding transparency and accountability for public resources.

In response, Abiy claimed that the United Arab Emirates, China and France had paid for developing Unity Park, Friendship Park and the Jubilee Palace respectively. “Those of you who want to do financial audits can go to these countries and check for yourself,” he said sarcastically.

His tone appeared to further “irritate” some lawmakers who opposed the projects as he added: “We’ll buy you tickets.”

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