ERCA clean-up continues

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Internal investigation leads to job losses for 59 people

The public relations head of The Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority (ERCA), Efrem Mekonnen, told Capital, that 59 employees were informed their services were no longer needed this week.

This adds up to 65 ERCA workers, including members of its management team that have been let go over the past six months.
Most employees were fired from ERCA because they were accused of being involved in misdemeanor, other regulation violations including amassing unjustifiable assets.
Efrem stated that many of those who were removed were working at branch offices in regions outside of Addis Ababa and that a majority of those people were working in the customs office. The terminated employees included four branch heads in places like Bahir Dar and Kombolcha
In May 2013 there was a major anti-corruption sting at ERCA offices and the long serving head of ERCA Melaku Fenta, his deputy Gebrewahid Gebregiorgis, other ERCA employees and prominent businesspeople were all arrested and many are still awaiting trial.
These events lead to an evaluation of ERCA during August in which the Authority looked at the performance of management and 800 staff members. This was overseen by the new Director General of ERCA, Beker Shale.
After that evaluation, which was being held at Aba Geda Hall in Adama (Nazareth), there was a management reshuffle and some branch officials were removed from their positions. One of the goals of the evaluation was to dismantle the alleged ‘network’ that was established under the previous management.
During this time there was an active pursuit to uncover if other staff members were involved in corruption. Sources told Capital that since that time ERCA staff members have been making lists of other employees they feel are involved in wrongful activity.
During the initial evaluation the new leaders of ERCA tried to address the issue of corruption by looking into their internal operations.
“It was a turning point that encouraged ERCA staff to point their fingers at the corrupt staff,” the public relation head stated.
Efrem disclosed that the current 59 ERCA staff members fired this week is a result of the two evaluations, one on management and one on general employees, which took place during September 2013.  After the evaluation ERCA formed five investigation and evaluation committees that investigated those suspected of wrongdoing before making their decisions.
ERCA’s spokesperson said that the employees who lost their job had violated article 37, which prohibit employees from amassing unjustifiable fortune. 
According to Efrem those who have been fired will now face legal charges as their cases have been transferred to the FEAC and will face further investigation.
The former employees will not be able to appeal the decision through a review. Article 39 of ERCA’s employee administrative regulation states that if employees are found guilty by the authority of illegal activity they can be terminated without review. 
Meanwhile, employees of ERCA are complaining that the in-house regulation gives a lot of unchecked power to the ERCA head. Efrem responded that should the accused employees be investigated and found not guilty then they shall be reinstated to their post. Observers and employees at ERCA told Capital that they have observed tension at the Authority during the events of the last eight months. There has been frequent turnover of employees and management at ERCA, according to sources.
Meanwhile, several concerns were raised during recent discussions between ERCA officials and tax payers. Some say they have been waiting over six months to have their tax claims settled. Others have said they have not gotten a satisfactory explanation or decision about their tax payments.  They complain that ERCA’s staffs have been unable to decide on any issues brought forward by tax payers. ERCA officials have also admitted the problem and promised a solution, advising their employees to focus on their day to day activities and remain calm.
ERCA is responsible for managing taxes for Ethiopia.  In the past few years the Authority was able to expand tax coverage and revenue collections. It has arrested several prominent business people with accusations of tax evasion and it has the legal right to collect accrued tax. 
ERCA took in 84.2 billion birr during the previous fiscal year that ended on July 7, 2013. This was 84pct of its target of 101 billion birr.  This year’s goal is for ERCA to take in over 110 billion birr from taxes including duty on import and exports and lottery sales.