Lack of finance forces Ethiopia to shelve 3 railway projects; Minister tells parliament road construction progress slow & below average

26 Jun

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

In submitting the ten-month accomplishments report of his office to parliament, Minister of Transport Workineh Gebeyhu told the members last week that he saw the ministry’s overall performance as average. However, the sense conveyed in the minister’s implicit rating was almost bordering the mediocre.

Naturally, two activities formed the core of the ministry’s performance report: road construction and railway projects.

One factor leading to the below average assessment in road construction was the performance of the Ethiopian Road Authority (ERA). Its activities were reported below previous year’s achievements, especially in the construction of rural roads. Those who closely followed ERA’s activities realize that this is happening in condition where funding has always been available for its projects, even when necessary through transfer from other allocations or supplementary budgeting, not to mention the external financing via loans and donors’ contributions to the food for work project.

The minister’s report was considered most intriguing to some parliamentarians, especially since the regime in its media until May 28, 2014 has been boasting about constructing nearly 80 thousand kilometers of roads throughout the country. Of course, such numbers are important for the regime, irrespective of whether they are cooked or massaged, since they have earned it praises from the donor community and passers-by.

For instance, the new EU Chief of Delegation Ambassador Chantal Hebberecht, who assumed her job only in September 2013 contradicted in an interview EU’s Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs view at the 26th ACP_EU Parliamentary session that took place in Addis Abeba in November 2013. The commissioner had publicly said the reason for EU not to finance Ethio-Djibouti road project was because of transparency issues.

It was not clear, why post facto the new Addis Abeba resident EU officials wanted to speak in such cross and divergent terms, which is not clear. Unless it is miscommunication, it gives the impression that the EU’s concern about transparency is skin deep, or its regulations half-hearted, when one reads Ambassador Hebberecht’s following remark on Addis Standard of May 21, 2014:

    The EU support here [in Ethiopia] for the roads and transport sector is through the budget support. We are quite happy with the public finance management of the Ethiopian government because to implement budget support there is some preconditions. Through this budget support it is always possible to improve transparency of public finance management. We are also supporting the government to improve the transparency of the public funds because it is included in this budget support.

During the presentation of the performance report in parliament, it was evident that some members instantly moved to apportioning blame on the construction companies. The members may have been influenced by what they hear, reflecting the public anger at some of those companies that are known to have raked gold under this regime and built their empires under the sun. For a long time, it has been known that this is a deserved criticism, forcing through the pens of some authors some critical remarks in some articles in the past years referring to Ethiopia’s construction companies as the “thieves den” – surprisingly even in a different by Meles Zenawi.

Nonetheless, it is unfortunate that none of the blames by parliament, even en passé, touched the Ethiopian Road Authority (ERA), nor the the Addis Ababa City Roads Authority (AACRA).

Recall that it was because of the anomalous relations between politics, money and ethnicity in the road sector that the 2012 investigative study by the World Bank, Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia, was undertaken. The drive behind it was the need to move the discussion on corruption in the construction sector in Ethiopia, including road construction, from the margins to the center. This happened on account of instigation by the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC), which early on fidgeted around road construction only to ‘lose interest’ with amazing suddenness.

As far as the railway projects are concerned, Minister Workineh spoke of two problems. He told parliament that 40 percent accomplishments was registered in ten months on the Addis Abeba-Maeso-Dewele line, the underlying message being it was slow.

On the other hand, the minister announced the temporary shelving away of the other three railway projects because of lack of financing sources, according to The Reporter. These are: (a) From Awash to Woldiya (Hara Gebeya); (b) From Woldiya (Hara Gebeya) to Mekele; and (c) From Woldiya (Hara Gebeya) to Samara and Tadjura.

Is this newer approach dictated by reality check or accidental openness?

The admission that some of the performances under the Ministry of Transport were below target is a welcome development. To my understanding, perhaps this is the first of its kind under TPLF leadership. This does not make me a convert. I remain one of those still refusing to attribute to it any weight, even as flirtation with transparency, much less the recognition of viewing it as signal of forthcoming systemic reforms.

Nevertheless, if indeed this is intended because of reality check, it could pass as a step toward realization that lies and data manufacturing by state actors, including the top officials, are not helping the regime or positively contributing in anyway to TPLF’s 23 years of frustrated search for legitimacy. I state this regardless of the causes or the excuses for the below average or mediocre performances of the Ministry of Transport, including the cropping up of the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), which has already taken its bite of some significant tens of millions of loan dollars – spent on planning and design work by Indian experts.

In spite of this, I would however be the first to admit that this belated recognition is a far cry from the many ideological attacks since 2011 by the ruling TPLF/EPRDF and its daily springing up stringers in every corner, fronting as its whitewasher outlets. Their actual task has been to harangue on a daily basis against genuine criticisms pointing out, with few resources Ethiopia has, it has been biting what it could not chew taken as sabotage by ‘anti-development elements’ or subversion by neo-liberals.

Difficulty believing a word the regime says

Let me be upfront in stating why I am an unbeliever of any seemingly positive signs or gestures by TPLF agents. It is simply because, even if there may be temptation on their part to want to open up, they cannot. Firstly, it could take TPLF/EPRDF leaders another 23 years – God forbid – to overcome their sense of insecurity and accept that all citizens have the right to speak their minds with freedom, sense of security and dignity.

Secondly, it would take twice as long for them to read reality as it is, i.e. – without massaging numbers and distorting facts. They have already proved themselves beyond any shred of doubt that they are unable to restrain their habits of making up achievements and lusting for propaganda. They would even have problem amongst themselves to speak from the same page.

On June 23, 2014, for the eighth time Ethiopia celebrated Civil Service Day. This is happening in a country that has entered its fourth decade in successfully squashing even subliminal aspirations by Ethiopians toward civil serviceship. The TPLF has totally destroyed the separation between state and party, with no foothold at all for civil servants.

Nevertheless, on the occasion of the Civil Service Day Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn chose to appear defender of the public interest, while he has been key in destroying it through his party caucus pushing the discrimination against non-party members and pressuring civil servants to become members, if they want to get promotion, scholarships, housing benefits, land to build houses etc., in short their protection and security.

Therefore, since words are cheap the prime minister observed that the success of TPLF/EPRDF policies would depend on the public receiving quality services, as part of good governance.

Hear ye this! On the same forum, Minister of Communication and Information Technology Dr. Debretsion Gebremichael reacted by stating good governance would not just spring up from the blues just like that; it would take its own time giving the strongest signal yet that the TPLF needs another 23 years or more to ensure good governance in Ethiopia (“መልካም አስተዳደር በአጭር ጊዜ ወይም ወዲያው የሚመጣ ሳይሆን የራሱን ጊዜ የሚጠይቅ ነው”).

As usual, he tried to explain this reverting to ideological differences of good governance under market economies and revolutionary democracy, when Ethiopians do not have it under any of the labels.

I hate to say this; but I fear it’s gonna be another long season of repression and deepening poverty for Ethiopians.

It matters little whether the roads are constructed, or are rural or urban – asphalted or not!

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