In a rare gesture from the House of People’s Representatives (HPR), Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) was summoned to appear before the House and defend the decisions made by the Executive Committee (EC) of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). And, to his credit, Abiy defended the Executive Committee’s decision to the delight of some and the dismay of others, writes Brook Abdu.
In its meeting held on June 5, 2018, the Executive Committee has decided to fully or partially privatize government enterprises including the cash cow Ethio Telecom and Ethiopian Airlines as well as fully implement the Algiers Accord and the decision of the Ethio- Eritrean Border Commission (EEBC) without preconditions.
This decision was received with much confusion and surprise by the public. Because of the unexpected public reaction, especially in the contested border areas in Tigray Regional State, the regional party, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) issued a statement that questioned the EC’s rationale to make such a decision without any consultation with the public. It also contradicted with the decision on the Ethio-Eritrean border and demanded discussion with the public before the implementation of the said decision.
In order to discuss the matter further, the party also called for a meeting of the executive committee and the council of the ruling coalition, a move that is uncommon in the history of the revolutionary democrats.
With these developments at hand, the parliament, which is 100 percent controlled by the ruling coalition and its affiliates, decided to call the PM for a question and answer session an hour after it deliberated on the subject matter on Thursday June 14, 2018. Although the Prime Minister is required to deliver his reports to the parliament twice a year, the House has the power to call on the Prime Minister to appear and explain current developments and publicly demanded issues.
The current decision of the EPRDF’s Executive Committee was what the House found to fall under this category and summoned the PM for an explanation. As much as the extraordinary session of the parliament was curiously followed by the public both online and broadcast means, it was also received with mixed feelings.
Overwhelmed by his rhetoric and his use of simple language while addressing the House, the message was easily understood by the general public and majority of the followers were happy with his delivery as observed on many social media posts.
After delivering his most concise report, an abridged version of the report given to the members of parliament (MPs), Abiy was invited to sit facing MPs while answering the questions from parliamentarians.
The questions from the MPs dealt with economic, political and security issues.
Reporting his government’s activities over the past three months since his inauguration on April 2, 2018, the Prime Minister indicated that the security situation in the country has improved compared to the past three years when widespread protests lead to the resignation of a Prime Minster and announcement of two states of emergency.
In the diplomatic realm, he asserted that the country is maintaining traction in building relations with different countries both in the neighborhood and middle eastern countries. In this regard, he mentioned the deal made with the government of Saudi Arabia to use their port in addition to the growingly congested ports in Djibouti. He also mentioned his discussion with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates where he learnt a lesson of thinking for the future generation.
He also addressed the Ethio-Eritrean deal to resolve the longstanding no peace – no war situation between the two Horn of Africa countries.
In terms of economic aspects of the country, since the country is becoming debt distressed and needs economic reforms, the government has taken measures to reform the economy so that it will have sustainability.
The parliament’s questions were mainly geared towards the decision to fully or partially transfer most prized state-owned enterprises to private investors and the decision to fully implement the Algiers Accord and the decision of the Border Commission.
For the question on privatization, mentioning that it will not be rushed to transfer the enterprises and it will take at least two years to begin the process, he said that the transfers will help improve the services in publicly-owned enterprises like telecom, power, and air transportation.
He also said that the privatization will not be a means to transfer the properties from public monopoly to private monopoly. He further added that buyers will not buy shares just because they have money, but, the transfer of the shares will be made in an equitable manner. The transfer will also give opportunities to Ethiopians at home and abroad to buy shares in the said enterprises. But, other investors in the shares need to have required experiences in the fields of the enterprises up for sale. Hence, any interested investor will be evaluated in terms of its experience and the value it will add for the enterprises.
One concern from the MPs was the effect this privatization will have on the country’s flag carriers like Ethiopian Airlines and Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Services Enterprise.
Mentioning that the performance of the shipping lines is very low compared to similar 160 enterprises across the world, he said that the coming in of experienced investors will improve the performance in the Enterprise. When it comes to Ethiopian Airlines, he admitted that the Airlines is the pride of the country. But, the privatization will help its expansion as it is acquiring stakes in different aviators on the continent. Hence, the additional finance that it gets will help it expand more.
Ethiopian Airlines has acquired 49 percent in Malawi’s national carrier; it also has 45 in Zambian Airlines, 49 percent each in Guinea, Togo and Chad Airlines.
In addition to the reasons above, he said that the country’s piling debt is also another push behind this decision. The PM said that the country has been borrowing from different countries in the past years and it is not paying back; and a country that does not pay back its loans will not be trusted and it will not be able to borrow more.
This session of the parliament was also a rare one and the first for Abiy to admit that government commissioned state terrorism has been practiced in the country, which was, in his words, apologized for.
Although the Prime Minster’s explanation on the economic matters was taken as unripe by many who have been commenting on social media, as he talks of sector liberalization while speaking of privatization, the admittance of the state sponsored terrorism shocked many following the live broadcast of the extraordinary session.
Tamrat Gebregiorgis, the managing editor of Fortune newspaper tweeted immediately during the PM’s address, “Holy cow! Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s passionate pronouncement against torture instituted in Ethiopia over the years. I believe it is the most powerful indictment on the EPRDF government.”
Dessalegn Chanie (PhD), President of the newly formed political party, National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), who spoke to The Reporter on the Prime Minister’s address to the Parliament on Monday June 18 said that he remembers no platform where a leader from the EPRDF has admitted wrongdoings and spoke vehemently regarding the wrongdoings and said he liked the address.
“The Prime Minster gave direct responses to the majority of the questions and he did not externalize problems as the previous leaders used to do,” Dessalegn said. “The address was an inward looking at the wrongdoings of the government.”
But, he has reservations on some of the unrelated responses that the PM gave, for instance on the analogy of the questioned territory with the decision to giving away Assab, which was done decades ago.
“I would prefer if he did not frame his answer that way,” he said.
But, Dessalegn pinched the MPs since he believed that they looked to be reading questions they were handed by somebody else.
But, the President of NAMA said that he is disappointed that the Prime Minister has not addressed the displacement of Amharas separately.
He also said that there were inappropriate questions like that of Mulu Gebregziabher who demanded the reason for the release of prisoners which she said was against the anti-terrorism, anti- corruption, government finance control, and other proclamations.
In his response, the PM said that pardon has no boundaries and this issue should be seen with the definition of terrorism itself and the government has also committed terrorism on its citizens through solitary confinement and tortures.
Responding to questions from The Amharic Reporter, Mulu Gebreegziabher said that she was not happy with the replies of the PM to her question and she criticized him for focusing on other issues than replying directly to the questions forwarded to him.
“The Prime Minister tried to exploit the previous mistakes and wanted to give replies as if correcting mistakes with other mistakes,” she lamented. “Wasn’t he a member of the cabinet while the said mistake was committed at the time?”
But, for Yilikal Getnet (Eng.), the president of the newly formed Ethiopian National Movement (ENM), the whole address by the Prime Minister shows the unhealthy situation in the party and the PM was thinking of this unhealthiness in the party while speaking.
“The address shows that he wanted to give a reply to the statement by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF),” Yilikal said.
An indication for this, according to Yilikal, is the statement by TPLF that asserted that the developmental state ideology has brought the country to the current growth and it is being hijacked by rent-seekers, which was directly refuted by the Prime Minister that the issue of privatization has nothing to do with ideology but fundamentals of economics.
“This is also another platform different than the previous addresses by the PM as he indicated his proximity to the revolutionary democratic ideology saying my party and my government frequently,” he said.
Regarding the questions raised in the parliament, Yilikal says that they show a huge rift between TPLF and the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) and this is an indication that the country is still in danger.
“The Prime Minister’s address is not clear and does not have a policy backup; it does not give us a solution to our current situation,” Yilikal concludes.
Despite critics from different sides, the majority of social media users appreciated the address by the Prime Minister.
But, it was not a prefect one, as the Prime Minster himself admitted at the end of the session when he said, “I will prepare well when I come in the future and I will not be a fresh presenter like this.”