Last week, the Speaker of HoPR, Abadulla Gemeda, closed the House for a two-month recess according to the rules inscribed in the parliamentary regulation of Ethiopia. As MPs start packing to visit their constituencies Yonas Abiyeof the Reporter sets out to summarize the activities of the 5th Ethiopian parliament, which is also the first House with 100 percent of MP are pooled either from the ruling party or its affiliates.
Following the sudden passing away of the former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, a person least anticipated to fill the hot seat some years back, rose to take the challenge. Meles’s departure was all too sudden by all counts. And the announcement of his death came only two years into his 4th terms as prime minster of Ethiopia. By the time Hailemariam was sworn in, around October 2012, Meles’s term and his much publicized five-year development plan (GTP I) still had a good three years left in them. Hence, first order of business for Hailemariam was to see through most of the plans and activities started by his predecessor and his cabinet.
Although both the ruling party and the new PM insisted on importance of ensuring the continuity of the policies and programs formulated under the former PM, a number of things changed in political, economic and social governance of Ethiopia. Nevertheless, the biggest shifts started to appear only after PM Hailemariam won his first mandate as leader of the country in the national and regional election in 2015.
For one, the PM and his team managed to sweep all-547 parliamentary seats between them and few affiliated parties. For the first time, PM Hailemariam sat in an all-ERDF House without a single opposition or independent MP in sight. Recently, the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HoPR) and the House of Federation (HoF) have both concluded the first year of their five-year term as all-EPRDF lawmaker. Going back to October, the two Houses started off their five-year tenure by holding a joint session where the President of the republic, Mulatu Teshome (PhD), delivered a speech outlining the major focus area of the state machinery for the coming five years. That was followed by an independent session of both Houses where they named their respective speakers and deputy speakers for rest the of the parliamentary term. Abadulla Gemeda, the Speaker of the previous House was elected to lead the HoPR for the second time, while Yalew Abate, Speaker of the Amhara regional state, was named as Speaker of HoF, replacing Kassa Teklebirehan, who took over the Ministry of Federal and Pastorial Development Affairs in the cabinet reshuffle announced later by the PM. The elections of the two speakers were followed by the election of Hailemariam Desalegn as the Prime Minister of the country who later presented his government’s cabinet for endorsement.
But the EPRDF and its affiliates’ 100 percent victory at the election held during the previous year (according to Ethiopian calendar) which entailed total domination of the ruling party in the HoPR as well as regional councils were not welcome by the opposition groups and the political observers based locally or internationally. The electoral result rather sparked sharp debates regarding the future of the political system in Ethiopia and the fate of the multiparty system in the country.
Meanwhile, the government insisted that the electoral result is a demonstration of the ruling party’s success that it has delivered economic development and stability, while critics maintained that the election result has come at the cost of human rights and the narrowing down of the political space.
Hence, the 5th Ethiopian parliament launched its session with much anticipation and a shadow of doubt.
According to commentators, Hailemariam’s new cabinet reflected the same old concerns and relatively heavy political weight of ethnic and interparty balancing which have influenced political appointment for many years. Unlike the EPRDF Executive Committee, cabinet positions were allocated in proportion to the demographic weight of the respective constituent parties, commentators argue. Hailemariam’s first cabinet, for example, assigned eight ministerial positions (31 percent of total) to the Oromo People Democratic Organization (OPDO), an EPRDF-member party with the largest constituency, seven (27 percent) to the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), Seven (27 percent) to the Southern Peoples ‘Democratic Movement (SPDM), two (8 percent) to Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front and two to affiliated parties representing peripheral regions (Afar, Benishangul Gumuz, Gambella, and Somali). The ethnoregional and party composition of Hailemariam’s cabinet is virtually identical to that of the cabinets of Meles Zenawi which he formed both in 2005 and 2010. The most important ministerial portfolios are likewise distributed evenly among the main parties. Largely, commentators contend that Hailemariam followed a pattern set by his processor in forming his new government at the start of the year.
Apart from naming the new cabinet, one of the fits piece of legislation that appeared before parliament was also one of the most debated and harsher proclamation targeting the country’s overseas employment sector. To be fair, the overse as employment sector has been under scrutiny by the Houses since the draft bill was first tabled in the previous parliamentary term.
In general, the new parliament had its strong and weak moments during its first year of operations. It was during this period that parliament endured stern public criticism over its late reaction to the Gambella incident where the Murle community of South Sudan slaughtered hundreds of Ethiopians and kidnapped over 110 children crossing the Ethiopian border. A lot of people questioned the HoPR for not convening immediately to discuss and issue national mourning.
This was also a year when members of the new parliament showed their claws to the officials of the executive branch of government. MPs attempted to be a bit harsher on a number of officials representing the executive. Among them, the minister of Industry and the Minister of Works and Urban Development, Ahmed Abitew and Mekuria Haile, were two offcals who were grilled most in the Houses regarding the audit findings reported by the Federal Auditor General and other issues indicated in the report of the related ministries.
Unexpected and controversial bills like the establishment of the Federal Attorney General, the Computer Crime Proclamations were also among the stock of new laws and proclamations that was approved by the House during the fiscal year. The newly-formed Attorney General Office was said to have fully replaced the former Ministry of Justice, an entity that stayed in the Ethiopian government structure for many years. Getachew Ambaye, former Minister of Justice, was immediately elected to lead the new institution.
Standing committee meetings as well sparked controversy during the year in question. A case in point is the report presented by the Ethiopian Sugar Development Corporation which indicated that projects worth over 77 billion birr were either delayed or did not achieve their stated goals. The officials of the corporation accused the contractor, Metal and Engineering Corporation (MetEC), for failing to complete most of the project on time.
Ratifying and approving various cooperation agreements that Ethiopia had signed with several foreign governments was also another task in Parliament’s roster this year.
It was also this year that the Houses heard a report presented by the Ethiopia Human Right Commission (EHRC) focusing on the recent political unrest and security forces handlings of the unrest in Oromiya and Amhara Regional states. In this landmark report, the House was questioned by commentators as to why it has accepted a report that said the force employed by security personnel in both region was ruled out as proportional and disproportional at the same time. According to the report, security forces in the Oromia region were vindicated in their use of force to curb the political unrest while the ones in Amhara were criticized for being too aggressive.
In fact, the HoPR was also criticized for its slow response to the unfolding violence around the country.
As part of its major lawmaking tasks, the House also took its supervisory and followup jobs one notch up during the year. Apart from that, the House had planned to get involved in the building of change agents (army), strengthening of good governances, bumping export and foreign currency earnings, following up on the major measurements taken and findings reported on the Auditor General report to the House, supervision to identify whether the infrastructure developments are under way based on their plans, following up on the activities undertaken in agriculture and developing productivity and other muti-sectoral activities.
The House also had a special dedicated session where MPs can raise any questions they have by themselves or those they gather from the public and seek answer from the PM. The very purpose of this session has given access for MPs to raises issues for the leaders of the executive body based on the public demand which at the same time enables to ensure transparency, accountability and also provides inputs for further supervisory undertakings on the sectors which are identified as not being performing as per the plan.
“Though we have been able to achieve good progress regarding the usage of question and answer sessions for questioning the executives and listening to their responses, we have still a lot to do to bring about better transparency and accountability as far as public demand is concerned,” Abadulla told MPs in his final report he presented to parliament before declaring it closed for two months.