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Abadula Gemeda, Speaker of the House of the Peoples Representative Council, spoke with a stern and commanding voice when addressing a forum held on November 2, 2012 at the office of the Prime Minister, criticizing officials who failed to correct past mistakes after being given proper guidance to do so. The forum was organized by the Council of the Peoples’ Representatives, and was packed with senior government officials, including Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Abay Tsehaye, Director of the Sugar Corporation with the rank of Minister, Debretsion Gebre-Michael (PhD), Minister of Communication and Technology and recently appointed Deputy Prime Minister, Ali Suleiman, Commissioner of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, Fozia Amina, Director of Ombudsman, Gemechu Dubiso, Chief Auditor and Abate Sitotaw, Deputy Mayor of the Addis Ababa City administration.
The theme of the forum was ‘on good governance, accountability and corruption’. Special focus was given to the issue of widespread corruption. The role of executives, democratic institutions and their responsibilities were the other focal points at this forum. On the same day, the event was aired for six minutes on ETV (Ethiopian Television), and was avidly viewed by the public. The presentation by the Speaker was serious, candid and to the point. Abadula was heard saying that there will be no mercy for officials who fail to abide by the guidelines and fall in line with the government’s position on corruption. His warning was explicit; “First the House will expose the misdeeds of any corrupt official to the public and then will advise the Prime Minister to take strong measures including, but not limited to, his/her dismissal.” This kind of austere admonition has not been heard since the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in August 2012. The other senior official who addressed the meeting with the same verve was the veteran TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) member Abay Tsehaye. His focus was on the Anti-Corruption Commission. He spoke bluntly, saying, “So far, the Commission has focussed on medium and minor corruption cases, but the Commission must now turn its attention to major corruption. When this is properly addressed, medium and minor corruption will wither away,” Abay stressed. By firmly making that point they addressed the biggest national problem at the forum and sparked a hot debate among the participants. In his opening remarks, Ali Suleiman pointed out that the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission has not been able to defend whistleblowers in medium and small corruption cases let alone investigate corruption at high levels of government. “My office is responsible for protecting whistleblowers, but, unfortunately, they still remain victims of the great service they have rendered. This is due to bureaucratic conspiracy,” he said. The question as to why the forum focussed on corruption and accountability at this particular time was the elemental question. Some opposition leaders like Merara Gudina (PhD), Chairman of the Oromo People’s Congress, commented that the forum was politically motivated. “Corruption has been one instrument used to attack opposing elements from within as terrorism is a tool used to attack members of opposition parties,” he defiantly stated. It is to be remembered that the former Prime Minister, Tamirat Layne, was dismissed from office after he was publicly implicated in corruption case some 16 years ago. Before his dismissal, Tamirat had publicly admitted in parliament that he was at fault and that he had failed to correct his ways after being repeatedly urged to do so by his superiors, and expressed remorse, by stating that he was deeply touched and devastated by the pain he had caused the people for whom he had fought all along. He was found guilty of multiple charges of corruption and sentenced to18 years of imprisonment and was pardoned after serving 12 years behind bars. The corruption case against a former rebel commander who eventually became Defence Minister, Siye Abraha, was another incident. He was accused of corruption, after he was purged 13 years ago from the TPLF, along with 10 top Politbureau members and was pardoned after six years. Some say Merara’s comment was in line with the above view and that the forum wanted to repeat what was done in the past. Whatever the case may be, the issues raised were very crucial and has become the city’s main talking point. For instance, the Addis Ababa City Administration was strongly criticized for mismanagement and corruption, and though the Deputy Mayor, Abate Sitotaw, tried to defend his office, it was deemed that his arguments were weak. Speaker of the House Abadula Gemeda pointed out that there will be no clemency for dishonest officials who refuse to amend their ways. Abay Tsehaye stressed that the Anti-Corruption Commission must focus on high profile cases to efficiently perform its work. “We struggled with this for such a long time,” said a participant in the forum who preferred anonymity, “and ultimately the determination was made to face high profile corruption cases head on. Now the problem lies in what kind of structure is needed to enable the commission to do its job,” he said. In conclusion, raising an issue is one thing but finding a solution for it is an Altogether different ball game. In any event, the forum on November 2 was very exciting for the public, who are bitter and frustrated when it comes to high-level corruption.