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In an informative and illuminating press conference held Friday Oct. 4th Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn answered questions on a variety of topics ranging from international relations, such as the state of Ethiopia’s relationship with Eritrea and where it might go in the future to his recent remarks at the UN General Assembly denouncing the International Criminal Court.
Hailemariam also tackled queries regarding domestic issues, such as the recent corruption scandals and problems with the water and electricity supplies in Addis Ababa. In addition, he answered questions about Ethiopia’s direction of development and whether changes need to be made to the current trajectory.
Excerpts from the Q&A session:
Q: The Eritrean president has disclosed that his government is interested in buying electric power from Ethiopia. What is the Ethiopian government’s view on this and along the diplomatic front is there any progress, such as in the normalization of the relationship?
PM Hailemariam Desalegn: Regarding Eritrea, there are no developments so far. The Eritrean government hasn’t shown the slightest interest in normalizing relations with Ethiopia, but the ball is in their court. We have made our stance clear nine years ago and it hasn’t changed; we have a close relationship with the Eritrean people and we want to normalize our relationship. As to buying electric power from Ethiopia, I believe the former comes first.
Q: Water shortages and electric outages have reached critical levels recently in Addis Ababa. What is your take on the situation?
The current supply of water can cover the needs of 90 percent of the residents of the city, but distribution is the main problem. We have finalized a study that will enable us to resolve the distribution problem and we have secured the necessary financing from abroad to start implementation this year. And to secure a sustainable water supply to the city for the coming 20 years, we have reached an agreement with the World Bank (WB), which will finance the Gerbi Dam project that will assure 40 percent coverage.
[About seven years ago, the World Bank made a pledge to finance the Sibilu and Gerbi Dam project, but reneged on its promise almost immediately. Since then, the government has turned to developing shallow-well projects to address the capital’s needs, because it was unable to acquire the required financing for the two dam projects. Now, the PM reported that the WB is back to finance one of the two projects that shall provide sufficient drinking water to 40 percent of the city’s residents for over three decades. Recently, the Addis Ababa City Administration also disclosed that it will finance one of the projects from the city coffers.]
Based on our new studies, the blackouts are related with the growth of small scale industries that are flourishing in different residential areas of the city, which utilize electric power designed for residential facilities. Therefore, power sub-stations have to be expanded in the city.
We have also identified that there were elements within the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation that were involved in acts of sabotage. Some employees were found deliberately cutting the supply of electric power to agitate the public. The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation is tasked to deal with and act decisively against such sabotages.
[It is to be remembered that during the 50th Anniversary of the OAU/AU, a blackout occurred which affected the entire City which prompted the government to initiate an investigation after claiming sabotage.]
Q: The ongoing grand corruption crackdowns have taken time without bringing charges against the suspects. This has caused considerable anxiety among the business community. What are your comments on this?
The corruption case involving former officials of the Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority et al is expanding since the arrest of the officials and some people from the business community. The Federal Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission needs to carry out a detailed investigation to press proper charges against all suspects and against others who haven’t been apprehended yet. That is why it is taking time. The business community need not be afraid if they are honest and haven’t been involved in any illegal activities.
Q: The country’s economy is state-driven. Therefore, the government’s investment expenditure is huge. Experts state the role of the private sector in the economy is negligible and is affecting economic growth. Do you have any plans to seriously involve them to change the situation?
The Ethiopian government is a government which advocates and vigorously pursues development. It has to lead the development process during the transition period because the private sector doesn’t yet have the wherewithal to engage in massive infrastructure development projects and some basic sectors that are needed for industrial development. Therefore, we have to take the lead; this is our stand. The secret of our fast development is related with government involvement.
But we have encouraged private sector involvement and have also facilitated loans to be used by the private sector through state banks.
Q: The major challenge facing the five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) is a shortage of foreign currency. For instance, there was a shortfall of a billion dollars from exports last year. Is it time to re-evaluate or suspend some mega projects which are financed by the government’s treasury?
We can and will go ahead with all our projects without any re-evaluation or suspension. Most government projects like the railway projects and others are being carried out using external financial sources, excluding the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GRD). It has to be clear to our enemies as well as our friends that the Ethiopian government will continue with all of its development projects.
Q: Recently you have made the Ethiopian government’s position quite clear in regards to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and have seriously criticized the way it goes about its business. Is this stand related to Ethiopia’s current chairmanship of the African Union? Because previously, Ethiopia had been involved and had sided with the United Nation’s decision to charge the Sudanese president. What is really your government’s stand?
As the Chairperson of the African Union, I represent Africa’s stand and adhere to it rigorously. It is a joint stand and my stand is also similar to other Africans. This is also Ethiopia’s stand. An institution that is unjust and biased in its evaluations has to be corrected. We have never supported any of the ICC’s decisions to charge anyone, and we have also never been a signatory to the ICC, because we understood from the beginning that the organization had serious flaws in the first place.
Q: The ruling party recently declared that it will work with political parties that follow the law and it will fight others that prefer to operate illegally. Are there any parties that the ruling party has identified as being related to terrorism? What is expected from the government and the public to fight terrorism and extremism?
Terrorism and extremism is a problem not only for Ethiopia but for the whole world. Therefore, we have to fight terrorism in the country, which includes the public. Terrorists and extremists hide in plain sight, amongst the public. For that reason, the public and the security forces have to work in coordination. The government cannot solve this problem by itself. We need to work in cooperation with other countries in the region. We considered the terrorist attack in Kenya as an attack on Ethiopia. We have to work strongly to prevent any attack in the region. I would also like to advise individuals that erroneously collaborate with extremists to be careful, because extremism is not a religious issue, rather it is a political issue.