Stressful time: Efficiency à l’ethiopien & good governance

13 Dec

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

What a difficult time these past several days have been! Everyone seems to have a problem. There is Ethio Telecom, ERCA, foreign policy, the prime minister, etc. I looked across the world, my heart in Ethiopia. I was forced to lower my gaze to look down. It all boils down to governance problems, lack of sincerity and transparency.

Does MICT really know what it is doing? Is its work guided by plan?

Since last summer, we have been hearing from government officials that the number of mobile phone users in Ethiopia has reached 18 million. This was reiterated by the Minister of Information Technology and Communication (MICT) Dr. Debretsion Gebremichael many times over, including on 10 December, when he addressed the 2nd Annual Ethiopian ICT Entrepreneurship Conference 2012 last Monday.

The minister has also been speaking about raising the number of mobile phone users to 40 million, relying on the expansion work by Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp., for which they would charge $1.3 billion. His lieutenant State Minister of the MCIT Peter Gat said the same thing on 18 July indicating that Ethiopia envisages 40 million mobile subscribers by the end of GTP period.

Suddenly, Monday Minister Debretsion said the current network expansion by the Chinese companies would result in getting the number of mobile users to 45 million. There are also a new set of numbers flying around the 2015 planning figure. As of last Monday, it has jumped to 50 million subscribers, as the current customer number is being reported as 20 million, according to Chinese sources.

Five million makes significant difference in terms of the work to be undertaken and the cost implications.

I get it now, the propaganda guys also have to do their job, irrespective of what the state of service is on the ground. I saw in Ministry extols Ethiopia’s ICT infrastructure development, Walta Information has also been at it. It picked up what Debretsion said and whirled it a little bit more, “Just a few years ago, Ethiopia was lagging in terms of ICT infrastructure development…Now, the rate at which the ICT infrastructure development is growing is one of the fastest in Africa.”

First, the planning number has shot up. Is this induced by the Chinese companies or the China Development Fund (CDF) has promised to make more loans available? Secondly, when complaints about mobile services intensified, Debretsion changed his explanation and said, “[I]t is safe to say there is full accessibility except in few pocket areas.” Add to this, what the media quoted him stating: “Mobile subscribers in Ethiopia are fast approaching the 20 million mark. Ethio-telecom, the state monopoly telecom provider, targets to have 45 to 50 million mobile subscribers in two years.”

As a citizen, I would be very happy if subscribership jumped 100 percent, if it is real and someone could explains to me two things: (a) why has not Ethiopia done that this far? (b) How would the country pay for the increased numbers that are not reflected in the national plan or the earlier loan? After all, this represents a jump of 10 – 15 million subscribers – the size of four African countries, and about 12 others with small populations! Or is it the case our officials are discovering new tricks and techniques, or is it promotional eyes on the future or ego at play?

What is this culture of plugging numbers out of the pocket, even when service delivery has been southwards in every undertaking?

This is not the first time we hear this numbers game. In the early phases of GTP, the Grand Renaissance Dam was supposed to produce less than six thousand GWH of power. Within months, it was changed to 6,000 GWH – possibly to make it more appealing or easier to remember with a rounded number!

 Information and Communication Technology Minister with a rank of Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Debretsion Gebremicheal addressing the 2nd Annual Ethiopian ICT Entrepreneurship Conference 2012

Information and Communication Technology Minister with a rank of Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Debretsion Gebremicheal addressing the 2nd Annual Ethiopian ICT Entrepreneurship Conference 2012

When it comes to service interruptions and disturbances, especially internet and mobile services that are like broken lines, Ethio Telecom sometime ago said the problem since mid-November has been caused by the accident the fibre optic line coming from Kenya has experienced. It is not clear if this coded language is a reference to sabotage by armed groups.

That explanation changed once again. The latest reason given by Minister Debretsion for network problems is failure to carry out the much-needed replacement of old infrastructures. For sure, this reflects a frightening sense of loss of direction, or ignorance of what is happening.

What have become sacrificial lamb once again are honesty and transparency. At the end of the day, these would have been the two things that would have helped the government. It would have brought it respect, for not creating whatever explanations that suits the moment every time problem is encountered!

       ገቢዎችና ባለሥልጣን ከ30 ሺሕ የካሽ ሬጂስተር መሣሪያዎች መረጃ እያገኘ አይደለም

Ethio Telecom has now become symbol of and scapegoat for anything that does not work. It has always been accused of being an instrument of repression and spying against citizens. An added reason for me to think that way is The Reporter article I read this morning: ገቢዎችና ባለሥልጣን ከ30 ሺሕ የካሽ ሬጂስተር መሣሪያዎች መረጃ እያገኘ አይደለም.

Reporter Yohannes Anberber writes in the above-mentioned article that ERCA would not be able to collect taxes, since the 60,000 machines that were supposed to report to it have lost communication with it. This is because of failures in the tele network system. With the help of a sim card, each cash register is supposed to report to ERCA business transactions taking place in a given concern.

The whole thing gave me the sense of Ethiopia becoming another Mars and NASA’s Rover communications system shutting off. Even from that distance, they make it work!

These machines are neither passing transactions data now, nor is it clear when they would become operational again. Ethio Telecom could not properly diagnose its network problems. As stated above, one time it is fibre optics problem and at another infrastructures that have outlived their usefulness.

This is a terrible misfortune that has befallen the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA), by implication the Ethiopian government in a year it has to make the largest tax collections during the fiscal year to finance its $8 billion budget it got approved.

Bear in mind that these machines entered the country to facilitate tax collection and eventually broaden the tax base.

Recall that people were forced to buy these expensive machies under legal penalty. We now learn that over 60,000 machines have entered the country. Even some 30,000 owners have not reported to ERCA to get their machines registered and come online.

Before arrival of the machines or even decisions to order them, ERCA hounded businesses, subjected them to horrible harassments and badgering since late 2008, according to several media reports. How many people have lost their livelihoods because of ERCA’s charges is difficult to know. As an Ethiopia saying would put it, the numbers of those anguishing in prisons could only be as many as their their families suffering for them from the outside.

When I hear of the temporary measures being undertaken by the authority, it reminds me of the well calculated political feasts of apology by the late prime minister in his victory speech in the 2010 election. He himself acknowledged many of the mischiefs and mistreatments of citizens by that office. Therefore, the prime minister was compelled to start his short-lived term of office with the following message from the Meskel Square to owners of capital:

    “በምርጫው ዓመትም ቢሆን አማራጭ የሌለውን የመንግሥት ግብር መከፈል አለባችሁ ብለን አጥብቀን የያዝናቸው ከዚያም አልፈን በአንዳንድ የአፈጻፅም ስህተቶቻችን ቅር ያስኘናችው ባለሃብቶች ሳይቀሩ፤ ድርጅታችን ከስህተቱ የሚማርና ጉድለቶቹን የሚያስተካክል ድርጅት መሆኑን ተገንዝበው ለስጡን ድምጽና ድጋፍ እናመስግናለን፡”


    Lots of gratitude to businesses for voting for our party, despite our mistreatment of them in connection with harsh tax collection methods.

The problem with this apology is that; first, it failed to ring true days after the election, due to continuation of the same mistreatments. Secondly, since the same thing is recurring at this very moment in many areas of Ethiopian life, citizens may have reached closer to the time when they would hear the same from Dr. Debretsion. He is advised to prepare his apologies to the Ethiopian people for the many misleading excuses and explanations he has been throwing that have no resemblance to the reality on the ground!

Good governance in deeds: The example of Finland

This afternoon, since I started writing this immediately after my return home from the city, I want to use snow cleaning of roads as an example. It would give an idea of how man is learning to live in harmony with nature, with hard work and intelligence.

At the very moment of this writing this afternoon the temperature is about 0 degree centigrade. Believe me, it is a reprieve from the -12 degree centigrade we had for days. We are surrounded by mountains of snow, all around.

I read in one of the city papers this afternoon that in the last two weeks the city government had moved 20,000 loaders of snow to clean city streets and roads. This is an everyday exercise, non-stop job, with no room for ifs and buts. That is an epitome of good governance.

By early morning, when people are ready to go to work not only the main roads, but also the pedestrian walks and backroads around residential complexes are cleaned on a daily basis. No matter how many centimeters or meters of snow falls, it is the duty of the government (local) to keep the streets in driving conditions everyday. Failing in that means taking a beating at the next election.

This country is a very good example of man’s ability to tame nature or prevail over its harshness.

If my memory serves me right, last year the government budgeted about €600 million to take care of those that fall and get hurt in some ways. In this country, they say, every winter one in every three citizens experiences some accidents to limbs or hurt backs from from falling. Tell me about, I broke my left leg last winter from a bad fall in the snow. Thank God for the good health system, within six weeks that leg was made nearly as good as new for a man in the seniors category.

The efficiency of the system is seen in every sector. If one takes education, Finland is in the first place in the 2012 global ranking. In the Global Innovation Index 1202, it has taken the fourth place. On the freedom from corruption index, it has regained its former position of number one.

I list these to state that this record of achievements has not come by miracle, wishful thinking or obtuse TPLF/EPRDF politicization of society or empty propaganda. It is attained through good education, hard work, consistency in ensuring in every possible manner the rule of law, responsible governance and respect for the fundamental rights of citizens.

Because of the government’s commitment to improve the lives of citizens, people respect government. They recognize that it is there to serve their interests. It serves them well and right, as part of the social contract between the people and government, irrespective of which party is in power. This is the meaning of GOOD GOVERNANCE! That is why they succeed. Ethiopia has not because government to date has not learned to respect citizens.

Hailemariam’s international strains

It past week was also difficult for Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn. He had to be away for pressing international and bilateral engagements to Doha on a double-barreled mission.

Firstly, he had to take over the late prime minister Meles Zenawi’s role as chairperson of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC) in preparation for the 18th Session of the United Nations Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP18) in Qatar. Then there were bilateral things to handle with the Qatari Government – loans and investment finance and peace with Eritrea.

Ato Hailemariam already had a taste of CAHOSCC delibeartions at Addis Abeba on 3 December. CAHOSCC was set up in 2009 by the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government to provide political guidance and speak for Africa’s common interests during global climate change negotiations. Meles Zenawi had been its chairman since its inception.

The committee began its work with CoP15 in Copenhagen, carried on in Cancun, Mexico (CoP16) and Cop17 in Durban, South Africa, then came CoP18 in Qatar. Admittedly, it is a trying place for any leader of a delegation, much less a novice in the trade.

Thus, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn is the new Coordinator of CAHOSCCC. The delegations he ‘commanded’ to spearhead Africa’s negotiations are: Algeria, Congo (Rep), Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, Benin, an ex-officio member as current Chairperson of the AU, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, and the current Chairperson of AMCEN (Tanzania), the current Chair of the African Group of Negotiators (Swaziland); as well as the Negotiators/Experts on Climate Change (NECC) from all AU Member States.

This part of the job of the new chairman was not as hefty a task. From a prepared text, he gave the committee the marching order when dispatching them from Addis Abeba with a typical African demand, which became the negotiating postion. He said:

    “We need to join forces to encourage Annex II Parties [23 OECD states and the European Economic Community] to specify the amount of finance they intend to mobilize from the public sector to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) during each year from 2013 to 2019 … I would like to once again stress that African countries need adequate and predictable finance; capacity building and technology transfer to enable them to develop the agricultural sector and achieve sustainable food security”

What is the idea of negotiations with counterparts, when the chairman of committee before hand announces on national media? In Addis he already trumpeted the African position.

    “We are not expecting new decisions from Doha. We are going to push especially on powerful countries to implement previous decisions. The climate financing fund has been established but it has no enough funds. So, we want them to effect the pledge they have made and find ways of making Africa beneficiary from it. The other issue to be raised is about the Kyoto Protocol. We are asking for its extension”

If this is the way diplomatic negotiations are to be conducted, would it not have become easier and cheaper to close all diplomatic missions in these lean years and communicate on the media or from the chat rooms on the internt. As a matter of fact, the final outcome of the ensuing difficult negotiations in Doha, in the words of a frustrated civil society group, noted:

    “As always, however, this international process remains hostage to domestic politics and the ambition of national governments at home. This is why progressive businesses and sub-national governments are becoming more important than ever to securing an effective new global treaty in 2015.”

Forgive me, Mr. Prime Minister, I should humbly tell you that the Doha climate negotiations collapsed because Africa had chosen to command, instead of negotiating its position with its counterparts.

Hailemariam’s stressful exposure and the Eritrea ball game

This leg of Hailemariam’s international engagement was not easy either. On one hand, possibly Qatar is continuing to cajole Ethiopia into accepting its mediation role. At the same time, Doha is convinced that if it is given that role it should not fail, since it wants to market itself as peacemaker. It means that it needs something to strengthen its hands.

Perhaps the constraint is what the points of compromise would be, whether clean slate start or the so-called give and take as Spiegel had leaked.

Qatar looped Aljazeera into its political move and, thus, there was the famous interview, for which the prime minister was neither prepared nor briefed at all. It became sort of his Obama moment in his first debate with candidate Romney, totally dazed. Aljazeera had him stand on a ball to imply that if he were serious to take his peace mission to Asmara, in the manner of Sadat’s 1977 journey to Jerusalem, point blank, they were asking him why he disallowed the Ethiopian team from playing its football match in Asmara for the African Games championship. The response was a disaster!

In a long, long time, I felt for the first time, the Ethiopian legal opposition raised one important question in this regard. They asked the prime minister why he is running all over to make peace with Eritrea. Their question is powerful – a slam dunker. Why does he not make peace with the opposition in Addis Abeba, with the diaspora – the pain in the neck of the TPLF regime – and seize the opportunity as a stepping stone for his peace mission to Asmara?

Foreclosing all possibilities on these does not augur well. As the parable would have it nor could his initiatives possibly open Asmara’s window, much less its door – no matter the planned present!

Related articles:

Ethiopia – Qatar repair ties: Doha may be working on peace between Addis Abeba and Asmara

Hautala: The requirement of good governance does not encroach on a country’s independence

TE- Transforming Ethiopia

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