The erosion of public trust in the government gives rise to the kind of bloody unrest that roiled Ethiopia for the best part of 2016. The government’s abject failure to listen to the public, which it admits to be the ultimate repository of power, seriously jeopardized its tenure and subjected the country to a horrifying destruction. Though relative peace is prevailing following the imposition in October 2016 of a state of emergency in the wake of the death of hundreds, several developments which threaten to undo this stability are unfolding. The practices making life an ordeal for the Ethiopian people always keep on resurfacing in various forms; they have never been dealt in a manner fostering consensus. As the new 2009-2010fiscal year gets underway the nation and its people can no longer afford to countenance problems that have been rolling over for decades and continue to constitute testing challenges. Let’s discuss some of the more important examples that illustrate why the public’s trust in the government has eroded.
Presently the single critical need of city dwellers that remains unmet is housing. As explained time and again in this editorial housing shortage is a major source of loss of public confidence in the government. The number of city residents suffering from spiraling rental prices owing to the government’s inability to deliver on its promise to build and hand over affordable condominium housing is at an all-time high. Close to a half million citizens who registered for the housing development program in Addis Ababa some thirteen years ago and began to make the minimum deposit mandated by the city administration beginning 2013 along with hundreds of thousands of more who enrolled for the program then have no idea when they will receive the keys to the houses they were promised. Meanwhile,individuals who had effected full payment for the 40/60 scheme (a scheme whereby applicants are expected to save 40 percent of the cost of the condominium to qualify for a mortgage by whichthe remaining 60 percent is financed) were greeted with frustrating news. On the eve of the date on which the lottery by which the lucky entrantswould be drawn was due to be held,it was announced no 1-bedroom condominium was built, that contrary to the contractual obligation the builder entered4-bedroom type apartments were builtand destined to be delivered to a third party, and that the government was eyeing the condos to house its appointees instead of building separate houses or acquiring them from real estate companies for this purpose. The news led to confusion and resentment in equal measures. Consequently the public is fast losing confidence in the government. This begs the question how long the government can afford to hemorrhage political capital.
Over the past decade or so a slew of industrial parks have been built across Ethiopia while several more are in the pipeline thanks to the particular attention given to industrial parks development. Though visibly commendable achievements have been accomplished in terms of realizing the government’s strategy to build an industry-led economy, practices that cause the country to hang its head in shame still thrive. For instance, the construction of around ten sugar factories, one of the mega projects being executed by the government, is saddled by a plethora of shortcomings that have dented the government’s credibility in the eyes of the public. These include long delays, cost overrun and questionable payments. Why is nothing of substance being done despite the poor execution capacity of the government entity undertaking the project being a perennial fountain of public disgruntlement? This is precisely why the government is not only berated by, but also losing the confidence of the public.
The government has repeatedly vowed to institute good governance, reform the justice sector, and combat corruption resolutely. And last year it launched with much fanfare a “deep renewal” exercise in the midst of the unprecedented political unrest. The reality on the ground, however, is no different than before as the maladministration by government structures from the local up to the federal level continues apace. Officials and employees of practically all government agencies are not providing the services taxpayers are entitled to due to interminable meetings which are keeping them away from their desks. This has compelled clients to resort to corrupt brokers to acquire the services they seek for steep bribes. Given that corruption has assumed epidemic proportions as if it is a legally sanctioned act is one if not the foremost factor that is robbing the government of credibility. To make matters worse the fact that government institutions are by and large staffed with executives lacking the requisite competence and are not brought to justice for their offenses has deepened public mistrust in the government.
Much has been said about the justice system since the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) came to power in twenty-six years ago. The government’s record in fulfilling its oft-repeated pledge to build a broad-based democratic order, enable citizens to fully exercise basic liberties, reform the justice sector and ensure access to justice by all leaves a lot to be desired. A substantial section of the public is still unable to enjoy the rights to freedom of thought and expression, association and assembly. In a country where the rule of law is said to be upheld many are aggrieved by the failure of the justice system to safeguard their constitutionally enshrined rights and feel disenfranchised. The absence of an environment that does not lend itself to a civilized and constructive dialogue has polarized the public and the government. How long can this state of affairs tolerated?
The government is at loggerheads with the people for the patently clear reason that it is loath to listen to what they have to say. The death and destruction that took place last year when the youth, frustrated by the lack of economic opportunities and violation of rights, took to the streets to vent their anger, are the clearest indication yet of the perils of shutting the public out. It’s inexplicable why the government cannot grasp the fact that it cannot govern effectively if it does not engage the public in seeking solutions and is apt to steer itself on a collision course with the people if it is bent on advancing its agenda alone. If the rule of law is to prevail and the right of citizens to equality before the law is to be respected the government has to submit to the will of the people. Otherwise mayhem and anarchy are bound to ensue. That is why anybody perpetrating act which rankle the public must cease and desist from such misdeeds. The people crave justice, equality and freedom; everything possible ought to be done to help them realize this aspiration. It should always be kept in mind that erosion of public trust in the government spells trouble for the nation.