This year’s presidential motion, addressed at the joint opening session of the House of the People’s Representatives and the House of Federation followed by a Motion of Thanks, lacked the usual debate and feisty give-and-take between the ruling party and the opposition.
The visible loss of the persona of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who used to attend the joint opening session of the two Houses and responded to questions raised by MPs on the presidential motion for almost two decades, and a President who looked frail in a wheelchair, had definitely cast a somber and grave mood on the opening session of Parliament.
“Fifty one years ago when I entered parliament, I needed no assistance like today. Though it saddens me for not being able to come in here walking, I still feel great pride for being able to serve my country in different capacities up to now,” stated President Girma Woldegiorgis, who came to his place in a wheelchair.
Although some might have expected the resumption of parliament to be somewhat like it was before, the presidential motion, overwhelmingly filled with phrases that praised the leadership of the late Prime Minister and the economic, social and political progress his administration registered over the last decade, was unanimously accepted without any deliberation in favor of or against it.
The President proceeded to praise the successful political power transition within the ruling party.
“We are starting the session of our two houses with the successful completion of a fully democratic transition of power. This has been possible because of the system that the late Prime Minister Meles [Zenawi], and his colleagues had built,” said the President last Monday while addressing the joint opening session.
The recently appointed Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn , was not seen during last Thursday’s Motion of Thanks and the three front rows on the right side of the podium in parliament, usually occupied by members of the ruling party, were almost vacant. Due to the absence of the Party’s Chief, the Parliament’s standing committee chairman on legal, justice and administrative affairs was led to respond to queries raised by MPs.
“In the first year of the implementation of the GTP [Growth and Transformation Plan], we have achieved 11.7 percent overall economic growth like the preceding years. We expect to register a figure of not less than 11 percent in its second year too. Indeed, our country has continued to register rapid economic growth for nine years in a row. Similarly, we have shown an impressive and progressive improvement in the speeding up of democratization and social development,” stated the President, while lauding the economic, political and social progress registered during the tenure of the late Prime Minister that lasted for over two decades.
The President also highlighted the government’s efforts to boost agricultural productivity while combating soil erosion and drought. He said that farmers are contributing, on average, 40 free labor hours on environmental conservation activity on a voluntary basis every year.
“In a world where desertification is expanding, there cannot be development and comfort for mankind unless we are all actively engaged in environmental protection and promote proper utilization of water. Under Prime Minister Meles’ leadership small scale irrigation works were an important and expanding element of environmental protection; the foundation was laid for each and every farmer to have a water bank. These water banks are now beginning to provide us with substantial and better opportunities to increase agricultural produce,” said the President.
President Girma lauded the low cost housing development program being implemented across major cities of the country and the new housing scheme dubbed “40/60” intended for the middle income segment of the society, and as a means of creating jobs.
More than 300,000 low cost houses were built in the past seven years while 100,000 middle class condos are in the pipeline, according to the President. He also said the achievement in the telecom sector is commendable, citing 18 million mobile phone subscribers or users today. He indicated that the same holds true in regards to the development of health and education infrastructures. The President also pointed out the national effort to execute mega projects like hydropower, railway development, fertilizer and sugar production plus the government’s focus in the sphere of technology transfer and the buildup of domestic capacity.
“Obtaining the required finance for railway development took considerable time and has had a negative impact on the schedule of the construction. Efforts will now be made to compensate for time lost and finalize the project on schedule,” commented the President, while addressing the need to develop domestic project financing capacity which emanates from government tax collection capacity and citizens saving habit.
The Ethiopian government is engaged in the development of a multibillion dollar railway development project aimed at connecting the four corners of the country, mainly through vendor financing. More than 2000 km of rail lines are expected to be constructed in Ethiopia when the government’s ambitious five-year economic plan, the GTP, expires at the end of 2015.
“In terms of developing the capacity for tax collection, certain improvements have been made. The performance of the tax collecting authority during the last budget year demonstrates positive results, though there are still huge amounts of uncollected tax. The achievements so far can be considered encouraging,” the President informed Parliament in his annual speech.
The Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority collected more than 70 billon birr in tax revenue during the last budget year, almost meeting hundred percent the target set by the government’s for the year.
The single most daunting challenge the President foresaw, apart from securing finance, is inflation.
“The number of citizens living below the poverty line has decreased from 37.8 percent to 29.6 percent. This is very encouraging. But it’s certainly true that inflation has become a major challenge to our endeavor in regards to improving the living standard of our people,” concluded the President.
Inflation has been skyrocketing at the beginning of the last budget year reaching 40 percent. That has now slowed down to 21 percent last month, mainly due to the government’s fiscal austerity policy.
Apart from unanimously accepting the presidential motion presented at the joint opening session of the two houses last Monday, the House of the People’s Representatives appointed forty five judges in all submitted by the Office of the Prime Minister. Of the total, five judges were appointed to the Supreme Court, nine judges to the Federal High Court and 31 judges to the Federal First Instance Court in its session last Thursday.