Face the business

A “defensive administration and a clueless private sector”, as a business leader recently described them, met last week at Millennium Hall, on Africa Avenue, to fulfil their annual ritual of a public private consultative forum. Having irregular and ad-hoc meetings as a backdrop, the consultative forum became an institutional engagement between the government and members of the private sector after a memorandum of understanding¬† (MoU) was signed in 2010 between Girma Birru – former minister of Trade & Industry, now special envoy of the Prime Minister to the United States – and Zafu Eyesusworq Zafu, president of the national chamber. However, this year’s forum was a threshold, signalling a shift in attitude of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s administration towards the private sector and how exceptionally tidy the national chamber has become in organising the affairs of its constituencies to policymakers. In an unusually well attended meeting, with the entire cabinet of his administration in attendance, Hailemariam was seen being assertive and articulate in responding to all issues raised by chamber leaders and individual businessmen and women on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. Unlike last year, where he had resorted to the help of his ministers to address specific issues, the Prime Minister took all of last week’s questions, including 10 rather bold demands from Solomon Afeworq, president of the national chamber, himself. Indeed, Hailemariam had the privilege of viewing the list of demands ahead of time and was thus prepared to confront them. Despite his impressive delivery, however, the verdict from his audience was not completely favourable, as he appeared slightly dismissive, out of touch and in denial of the plight of the private sector.

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