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Analysis: Will Ethiopia’s latest crackdown on corruption reverse the “red carpet” into “red line”?

By Getahun Legesse @Birmaduu2

Addis Abeba – Corruption has become a daily inescapable challenge in Ethiopia to an extent that people are deprived of their rights to basic public services that they are legally entitled to. It has not only been impacting the daily lives of people but it has also become an additional bottleneck to the already deteriorating economy.

The 2021 corruption perception index published by Transparency International ranked Ethiopia 39th on the scale of zero to 100 (where zero is highly corrupted and 100 is very clean). According to the category in the index, Ethiopia is one among countries extremely exploited by corruption.

“They turned the red line we put in place for corruption into a red carpet and theft is now being considered as right.”

PM Abiy Ahmed

The Ethiopian authorities have also been witnessing that corruption has become rife in the country. While addressing the parliament, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed affirmed the deepening of corruption in the country. He said that government employees and officials including the judiciary are massively involved in bribery. He remarked that there are a group of judges who communicate through a telegram group they opened for their rent collecting purpose.

“They turned the red line we put in place for corruption into a red carpet and theft is now being considered as right. Theft is a pest that eats a country from the inside and depletes its resources by consuming it day and night,” he said, adding that, “corruption has hijacked the country’s journey toward prosperity”.

In an interview with state-run broadcaster, the mayor of Addis Abeba Adanech Abiebie, on her behalf, revealed the involvement of the city administration employees in various forms of corruption.

She said, “We are well aware of the problems brokers have created at national level. Apart from regular brokers, government workers who are supposed to serve the public have been widely involved in the dealership, considering it the easiest technique to accumulate wealth. The investigation revealed the involvement of officials in corruption related to land grabbing, and issuing identification card”.

The mayor also exposed the challenges from the judiciary organ contradictory to the fight against corruption that it ruled in favor of 460 corrupted white-collars in the city, which resulted in contention between the judiciary body and the city administration and despairing the fight against corruption.

Apart from regular brokers, government workers who are supposed to serve the public have been widely involved in the dealership, considering it the easiest technique to accumulate wealth.”

Addis Abeba Mayor, Adanech Abiebie

The City’s police department recently said five senior officials of the land management office of Lemi Kura sub-city are on the run and being sought by law as part of government’s anti-corruption crackdown. Whereas 12 out of 37 individuals suspected of corruption were arrested in the sub-city.

Individuals who spoke to Addis Standard accuses civil servants and public officials for irresponsibly abusing their powers for their personal benefits. They said that banks, brokers and officials even at district and village levels request bribes in return to their provision of public services.

Gizachew Kebede, lawyer and politician, said that corrupted officials have become powerful to the extent that they were able to threaten the government. They placed tremendous impact on the legal system of the country, he added.

“Working as a lawyer, I have encountered several corruption cases. I have worked with clients whose cases have been dismissed or delayed by corrupted judges,” he told Addis Standard.

According to the lawyer, the Federal Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission has been awesomely battered and abused by corrupted government officials, just jeopardizing its very establishment objectives of creating a society that never shoulder maladministration and corruption.

Selamawit Abera is an importer of medical supplies. She has a frequent engagement with banks and other senior officials. She says, “I have to regularly bribe bank managers to obtain the amount of foreign exchange that I need to import goods, if not they deny or delay my request”.

Cherinet Hordofa, a lawyer, also said corruption has become a bottleneck including to government developmental projects. He added the justice establishments which were supposed to fight corruption have been weakened and are unable to address the highly sophisticated crimes related to corruption.

The rampant scale of corruption being witnessed including by government officials has led to the establishment of a national anti-corruption committee comprising seven members to lead a crackdown on corruption.

Security head Temesgen Tiruneh, Attorney general Gideon Timoteos (PhD), Customs commissioner Debele Kabeta, Information Network Security Agency head Solomon Soka, Samuel Urkato (PhD), Abduhamid Mohamed and Teklewold Atna are the seven member of the national committee.

The committee will have the mandate of overseeing the investigation process and trials of those proved guilty. It will lead investigations against government officials, public servants, bribers and recipients and bring them to justice, according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.

But, how effective will it be?

The national anti-Corruption Committee has commenced its work by announcing on Friday a major crackdown on corruption and organized theft. The Committee said several high-level officials from land administration, government housing management, security, justice institutions, financial sector, and government revenue and customs offices have been detained, one among them is Tewodros Bekele, Director General of Ethiopian Financial Security Services.

“The committee should work to uncover the source of the problem and work to uproot it. It should empower the executive body of the government, especially the police force and the courts…”

Lawyer Gizachew Kebede

Anti-Corruption committees have also been set-up at regional levels. Addis Abeba City, Oromia and Somali regional states among others have announced the formation of committees so far.

Despite pessimism among many due to the fact that corruption was used by the government as a tool to punish dissenting officials over the past, and questions being raised on authenticity of government officials constituting committees at different levels, lawyer Cherinet said, the newly established committee can bring significant impact if it carries out a campaign that includes stakeholders and work on empowering the executive and judiciary.

“The members of the committee were selected from all stakeholders that play a major role in enhancing justice, and this could help to empower the justice institutions which were weak,” he said, adding “it could also enhance the investigations carried out against corruption”.

“The committee will have the mandate to oversee the transparency of trials and enforcement of the court orders,” Cherinet added.

According to Cherinet, the state-appointed Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission was supposed to lead the fight against corruption but was ineffective as it failed to include the general public.

Both Gizachew and Cherinet believed that the committee will be effective in its anti-corruption campaign given the fact that it is established under the auspices of the Prime Minister.

“The committee should work to uncover the source of the problem and work to uproot it. It should empower the executive body of the government, especially the police force and the courts”, Gizachew said, adding “Enhancing transparency and accountability among institutions should also be the fundamental duties of the committee.”

According to the experts, the committee should work hand in hand with the general public. Corruption needs a cooperative effort as it impacts citizen’s day to day life. It should not only focus on punishing corrupted officials and individuals. It rather should launch campaigns that would help create corruption-hate society, Cherinet forwarded. AS

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