After a one year delay the election of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations, it is expected to be conducted in a few weeks’ time. Solomon Afework, president of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations talked to Capital about the situation and why it was delayed. Excerpts;
Capital: How was the activity of the chamber in the past three years?
Solomon Afework: A single term is two years but we served for three years without our interest and the rule of law of the chamber after a disagreement on the representation for the general assembly.
In the past three years we have carried the responsibilities and duties. We have established office structure for the chamber and higher adequate professionals as per the structure.
We have also ratified our plan and undertake the implementation of the plan. We have also included the head of state to overlook the federal chamber and he accepted the chamber request and now we are working with him, who has ample experience in various fields that is advantageous for the business community and the association.
We have also given recognition for those who worked with governmental and nongovernmental organization on their period when they serve the chamber on higher level. It was not usual to recognize leaders that served during their period, but we have changed this culture and magnify their role for the strength of the chamber on their term.
We have been also working with Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Minister, who are very cooperative for us on the problem that faces the private sector.
In regard with social responsibility we have been providing support for those who come with organized manner. For instance we have provided support for a group of people that are supporting dialysis and school feeding project.
We have also ratified the articles of association of the chamber that shall improve the revenue of the chamber.
Capital: Can you please clarify the changes on the articles of association and other laws that you put on your period?
Solomon: The proclamation that amended 15 years ago is one of the challenges for the operation of the chamber. We have developed draft proclamation and submitted it for Ministry of Trade.
The other thing what we did in the past is increasing the amount of contribution by members. Two birr contribution from members is not enough but at the same time we have been providing various services. Meanwhile there are a lot of things that we have to do but unable to undertake due to lack of finance.
The proclamation stated that the chamber revenue source is basically from members and other sources.
So we have decided to make it 3 birr for initial registration and five 5 birr yearly contribution from members.
The contribution has to consider the inflation. The operation cost about ten years ago and now is completely different.
We have also changed the assignment of the board and the president. A president who served the chamber once is not allowed to come for board membership. But he or she can compete for the same position that he or she served before.
This is the source of controversy that was observed in the past election period.
‘Run for Industry’ is also introduced on our period that aim to amplify the industry development of the country. On the first race about 3,000 individuals participated.
Law enforcement is also the other issue we are engaged during our term. We have focused to manage the election and other processes of the chamber on the legal manner.
We have also put those who run for other term against the rule of the election. The sectoral Association and Amhara regional chamber are the two that are forced to run the election as per the law with the support of relevant federal and regional government bodies.
Now the general assembly is full and is expected to be held in the coming week.
Capital: On the latest Public Private Dialogue Forum Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn accused the private sector who is using donors than financing its own association. What is your comment?
Solomon: We did not say we cannot support our association but we are asking the government to amend the proclamation that has some barriers to include all private sectors that has to be part of the chamber.
Like big businesses, while they want to involve on the system but the structural system does not allow them to be active on the chamber. Due to that we are forced to look other external sources than invite the local business community to finance projects run by the chamber.
Capital: What would be amended from the proclamation?
Solomon: We have 18 members but big construction associations, hotel associations, tour operators associations or commercial farms, who have big wealth, are not members of the federal chamber.
A single big construction contractor shall be member of Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association but he does not have any influence on the city chamber. So it is difficult not to include these kinds of huge businesses out of the association. They have to take part in the national chamber with voting power. Our suggestion is the formation of council that includes the sub associations. For instance currently there is no industry or finance leader on the board, but it is the backbone of the economy. If we have board members from such businesses the association shall do better works.
We also want to have corporate members like Electric Power, Ethiopian Airlines.
We shall improve the small and medium enterprise to grown since they will be the backbone of the economy.
We have already studied the changes of the proclamation and submitted for the government a year ago. I hope the government will also review our proposal and amend the proclamation in the near future.
Capital: How is the evaluation for the public private partnership dialogue forum? Is it fruitful for the private sector?
Solomon: We have got international recognition for the joint discussion. Previously the business community come in unorganized manner. But it has now changed.
We raised policy changes as per the detail study. However it is financed by external sources.
One of the issues on the dialogue forum is the structure of the chamber that we put on the latest and previous forum. On the other hand the tax issue is getting response from the government. The Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority have asked the study that we presented on the forum. So it indicated that the forum has contribution for the private sector.
Capital: In the past several forums the private sector raised its concern that the government should lift the 27 percent bond purchase of National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) bill on each loan approvals, while the government refused to lift it. Recently the government has also put a 16.5 percent limitation on the growth of outstanding loan each year. What is your comment?
Solomon: We did not believe that the directives that NBE issued have negative effects for the country. At the same time the central bank has to look the proposal that we tabled as an option for the benefit of the country. It would be better to issue directives after dialogues with the business community.
The government said that the 27 percent NBE bill is targeted to support the developmental projects via the state owned Development Bank of Ethiopia. We have no concern on it, but the interest for it is less than the interest of depositors.
We asked the government that it has to compensate the banks to keep the real interest rate.
The new 16.5 percent may have a contribution for the economy of the country. But NBE has to consult with the sector actors before the implementation. This is the issue that the private sector always raise.
Capital: How is your evaluation from the previous chamber and the current since you have been board member in the old and the current one?
Solomon: The chamber leaders in the past have wide knowledge and experience and the system also allowed the business community to elect very strong members and leaders of the chamber.
Regional and city chambers have been included and can choose the right business leaders that work for the business community, while the new proclamation has changed the system and allowed one member one vote system, which is good but it makes it difficult to bring experienced business leaders for leadership. We had strong leader and members in the past.