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L) Tedros Adhanom (PhD), Minister of Foreign Affairs, Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy PM and Vice Chairman of EPRDF, Hailemariam Desalegn, PM and chairman of EPRDF, Muktar Kedir, Minister of Civil Service, Ayalew Gobeze, President of Amhara Regional state, (far right) Diriba Kuma, Minister of Transport

The 9th Congress of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) focused on the implementation of the succession plan and membership quality than the expected detailed discussion of the mid-term performance of the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).

During the four-day discussion held at Bahir Dar, 560km north of Addis Ababa from March 23 to 26, the congress was highly expected to show directions with detailed discussions for the implementation of the next half of the five year GTP, but the congress was dominated by discussions on political and good governance issues.
Rent seeking, membership quality and good governance
According to the participants of the congress, rent seeking and lack of good governance is considered one of the major challenges threatening the party currently.
The membership quality (purity) has also been stated as one of the major reason for rent seeking behaviour. Almost all members of the party that addressed the congress stated that the existing rent seeking behaviour is  a major problem in attaining the expected successes in vital economic sectors. 
“Civil service reform was implemented in the past years, but most of the new structures are not successful, because the major change expected from human resources was not going along with the new structure,” Muktar Kedir, one of the young leaders in the party, said at the congress in relation to the issue concerning good governance. “The one missing element is the proper acceptance of reforms that has not been well received by the implementing officers as expected,” he explained.
“However, we have started something, and we have to work aggressively to meet civil service reform expectations,” he added. 
The discussion also emphasised problems of rent seeking and membership quality. Participants at the congress also stressed that rent seeking, which is highly observed in the business sector and land administration, is a serious problem that needs strong follow-up and strict decision.
“Even though we have to recruit new party members in large numbers,the membership registration process has to be done carefully,” Abay Tsehaye, one of the senior members of the party, said in terms of selecting qualified members. He said the main cause for misconduct of party members is related with the growth of party membership. He said that capacity building in terms of grooming, assuming responsibility and other basics should be done soon to tackle rent seeking behaviours and lack of good governance.
According to the participants, rent seeking behaviours are highly observed in cities, rather than rural areas.
Abay said that the good governance is related with the production of capable leaders in the party, while the good governance problem is directly related with the high (senior) level leaders in the party. “We have to work strongly to abolish the problem at the ground level, because the problem is directly related with our weakness,” he added.
“A leader that does not defend his democratic rights is unable to serve the public appropriately. Unless the political and economic structure is changed, it will be difficult to eliminate the rent seeking problem,” Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopian Ambassador to China and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, said.
He said that the major challenges after the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is the continuation of the democratic feeling in the leadership of the party. “We have to give it priority to resolve this problem observed in the party,” he added.
“It is a sensitive time and we cannot relax by emphasising the good works only. This is the right time to stand back and carefully assess the situation to continue building on our good qualities.” Seyoum, who stepped down voluntarily from his central committee membership at the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) congress held last week before the beginning of the EPRDF congress, explained.
The veteran leader stressed that the party has to identify and narrow down the source of rent seeking areas to minimize the problem. Seyoum also said that the major cause for border conflicts in the region is lack of good governance. 
Government expenditure is also the other area stated as a major source of rent seeking and lack of good governance.   
Currently, EPRDF has 6.16 million members. “Yet the quality of our party membership remains a serious challenge,” the EPRDF report states. But the clarity and focus of members has become a serious issue, according to the participants of the congress. “As rent seeking attitudes pervade our party, genuine individuals are bound to be discouraged from joining EPRDF,” the party report further explained.
The much awaited succession
One of the major issues that received high emphasis, especially from the veteran EPRDF members, is the succession implementation process, which was introduced in the 8th congress held at Adama (Nazareth) town.
A day ago, before the congress went ahead with the conference, four groups discussed the report and they came back with economic and political questions for the congress.
According to the questions, the succession process was not going according to plan, especially in the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), one of the four parties that formed EPRDF.
Most of the veteran party members who were replaced by young blood and others that were expected to leave their position highly defended the succession process. They argued that the succession process is underway and proceeding according to plan.
Bereket Simon, one of the senior leaders of the party, clarified the succession policy, saying, “based on my understanding, the succession plan is not about replacing leaders, but the implementation of the process.”
The congress report indicated that the objective of the leadership succession is a phased transition that pumps fresh blood into future leaders who will replace senior high ranking party officials before the latter’s capacity and capability is exhausted. However, when necessary, the senior leadership will avail itself to provide support and counsel to successors from the sidelines and behind the scenes. Abay said that the major issue that the party have to focus on now is in producing sufficient and capable lower and middle level leaders. “It will take time to replace the senior leaders, but if we produce sufficient and capable leaders on the lower and middle level it will be easy to implement the succession plan at the senior level” he said. “We did not give priority for the succession to take place at a senior level, it is a priority to produce sufficient lower level leaders that will replace the current leaders due time,” he clarified.
He said that the succession process implementation and direction clearly stated that it shall depend on the decision of the executive committee or every party. 
He said that every party under the EPRDF is undertaking the succession plan based on their situation. “The succession plan of every party have to be determined by each party and other parties should not to be concerned of other parties’ implementation,” he added replying to a question raised in relation to ANDM’s succession plan.
“The focus should be on grooming and preparing a new generation of leaders who are at the lower levels instead of raising the succession issue. Currently, there aren’t capable leaders in sufficient numbers at the lower levels to replace or take over the reins from the current leaders,” commented Sebhat Negga (Aboy Sebhat), the prominent TPLF veteran during the discussions.
Addisu Legesse, the veteran leader who stepped down from the Vice Chairmanship of EPRDF and the Chairmanship of ANDM during the 8th congress, strongly argued on the issue which arose about the succession plans in his party. He stated that the process is being carried out properly. “Rumours abound in regards to the succession in ANDM, which are not necessary, because it really isn’t useful in any way to the party,” he added.

Merging EPRDF to become one
One of the questions that got attention at the congress was the dissolution of the four national parties and to form a single party including other affiliated regional parties. The EPRDF is an alliance of four parties: the OPDO, which is based in the Oromia Region; the ANDM based in the Amhara Region; the SEPDF based in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region; and the TPLF based in the Tigray Region. The EPRDF is led by a central committee as well as a Politbureau, whose members are selected every two years by the congress of the party. The four member parties have the same organizational structure.
According to Seyoum Mesfin, establishing a single party was first raised two decades ago.
Seyoum, who raised different strong issues at the congress with his other veteran colleagues, said that the establishment of a single party with the merger of the four parties and other affiliated parties have to be considered.
The mid-term GTP performance
Even though EPRDF repeatedly asserted that it will focus on the mid-term GTP performance on the congress, it gave a much lesser attention than expected.
The five years Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) introduced in 2010 during the 8th EPRDF congress come with ambitious plan in terms of economic and social direction of the country.
The congress evaluates the challenges that hampered the past performances in order to perform better in the coming years.
In terms of economic direction of the GTP, the discussion mainly focused on the performance on the agriculture sector and small scale enterprise activities based on the designed plan.
On the discussion the weak performance of the agricultural sector in the past years was highly criticized at the congress.
Regarding the macro economy, the resolution passed underscored the efforts to be made to double our national revenue to be implemented within a stable economic framework and by solving various obstructions of growth. Accordingly inflation is to be kept at a low rate in a reliable and sustainable manner; the government should play the roles of stabilising the marketing of agricultural products by expediting agricultural growth and productivity.
The congress emphasised to work hard to increase the agricultural products by doubling productivity within the five years on the presumption that agriculture in general, and agricultural related endeavours continue leading the economic growth of the country.
The EPRDF 9th congress report indicated that accordingly, through the efforts exerted, within the two years to increase agricultural productivity at an average rate of 6.95 percent. The goal was that agriculture shall be increased on average by 14.9 percent within the GTP period. “Accordingly, our agriculture, which should have recorded more or less 30 percent development in the two years, has brought about only 15 percent increase,” the report clarified.
Participants explained that the agriculture sector growth has declined rather than showing progress. “The leadership capacity at the sector have to be evaluated due to the current performance,” Bereket Simon, said about the performance of the sector.
The government is also to reduce budget deficit by making its overall tax income reach 17 percent of the national revenue and by improving the revenue collection system and where there is shortage of budget to cover this in a manner that does not worsen inflation. Our saving shall not be less than 15 percent of the national revenue as well as the foreign exchange rate of the birr shall encourage export business and activities of import substitution. The report indicated in general, the aim is to secure 8-10 billion dollars each year from the export business.
According to the report, in the current fiscal year the country will earn 3.71 billion dollars from export, which will grow only by 210 million dollar compared with the previous year performance.
The national tax revenue is also expected to increase to 12.4 percent at the end of the current fiscal year. The report indicated that the tax revenue is showing great increase each year, but it has not reached to the level that was expected to be collected to date. “Our tax bases are still narrow and do not reach the level where we want it to reach, we should follow up firmly and we should also reach all those who ought to pay the required amount” it indicated. At the congress members raise the question in terms of the growth rate of the tax collection and how it will meet from the current year percentage to 17 percent at the end of the GTP.
Sufian Ahmed, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, said that the past two years economic growth was about 10 percent on average, while the target was 15 percent every year of the GTP. “Based on the current world economic situation there is not a single country that registered the stated amount of growth, but we need more economic growth to meet the target,” he said at the congress.
The industry is growing compared with the agriculture and service sector but the small scale industries are not growing according to the target compared with higher and medium industries.
The macro economy has been stable in the past years, while the inflation has been the problem. “The inflation is also declining significantly in the current fiscal year,” Sufian added.
The other failure that is far from to meet the two year of GTP target is the small scale industry. The contribution of small scale industries for the sector is lower than the plan, while job creation is carried out based on the plan. “One of the major problems that face the small scale industry is rent seeking,” Mekuria Haile, Minister of Urban Development and Construction explained for the congress.