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Ethiopia: Dismissal,arrest likely political

Government-owned media outlets in Ethiopia broke the news of dismissals and arrests of Ethiopian government minister and senior government officials

Ethiopia News
May 13,2013

Berhane Hailu, now former minister of Justice, is said to have received letter of dismissal singed by Hailemariam Desalegne, Ethiopian prime minister who took over power after Meles Zenawi passed away following months of ailment. Hailemariam  is viewed by many as one of the “top” political figures with no real political power and a political creature of the late Meles Zenawi and his Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Among arrested top government officials are Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA) director Melaku Fanta, and his Deputy Gebrewahed Gebregiorgis who was apparently heading what Addis Fortune described as “most feared intelligence unit” of ERCA.  These top officials, along with 11 other government officials and entrepreneurs, are charged by the Federal Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) on corruption charges. FEACC claimed that the arrested officials were under clandestine follow-up of government intelligence unit.

The news is greeted with skepticism among political commentators, observers and journalists alike. Indeed, there are compelling institutional and political grounds to think that the arrest and the dismissal is very likely to be a political action taken under the guise of administrative and legal cover to deal with increasing political disloyalty and possible political resistance from within to the over-growing political and economic power  of TPLF.

The ruling party is a coalition of ethnic based political entities. But the economic and military power of other members of the coalition comes nowhere near that of TPLF’s. In fact, deputy of ERCA is from TPLF party but in view of allegations of widespread corruption within TPLF the deputy is probably arrested merely for tactical purpose to make the news appear as impartial and only related to corruption.

Corruption is one of the hallmarks of the ruling party in Ethiopia and is elevated to be part of the system by design as a means to create a social base for political power. If the arrest is really about fighting corruption, with no doubt far more number of officials, especially from the dominant TPLF party, could have been jailed.

Just like institutions of justice are being used as a means to thwart journalism and freedom of speech on the one hand and political opposition on the other, Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission could be playing a role of legal cover to deal with dissensions from within the ruling party.

Justice Minister is dismissed on grounds of “incompetence.” Perhaps, no case can be made for the “competence” of the minister. Yet, questions are in order :this same minister was leading the department of justice since 2005 managing same portfolio. Why did it took all these years to learn that the minister they appointed is incompetent? In one is to go further back, why, in the first place, the ruling party appointed what they now claim to be “incompetent” person to a crucially important department of justice? What does that tell about the justice system for the last nine years?The same government used to make a case for loyalty, to “EPRDF” programs and goals, based appointments rather than merit based appointments.

Director of ERCA, Melaku Fente, held the position since 2008 and was hailed as a person who transformed the tax system in the country in a way to collect highest revenue in the history of the country on a yearly basis. During the 9th convention of the ruling party in March 2013, the director is said to have reported challenges, according to journalist Temesgen Desalegne, from government officials.

In  light of governance practices plagued with problems of transparency, in light of wide spread practices of secrecy and virtually no access to information and in light of the absence of checks and balances in the system, no wonder that that Ethiopians outside of the ruling party and of their supporters are adamant subscribe to the narratives of corruption allegation.

The free press and opposition parties are reduced to a level of irrelevance by a combination of “legal” and political repression, and are deprived of their potential role as alternative checks and balances.

The arrest and dismissal does seem to be about power struggle and it is apparently targeting members of Oromo people’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) and Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM). A few months ago Junedin Sado, who was once president of what is now Oromiya regional state and a Federal Minister for Transport and communication was sacked and  had to flee to Kenya to seek political asylum. Now, incrimination and purger seem to be primarily targeted at officials of ANDM. Arrested ECRA director and sacked Minister of Justice are from ANDM.
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