Hirut Woldemariam (PhD), former minister of Culture & Tourism (MoCT), who has been in dispute with members of the National Tourism Board ended the quarrel disbanding the board.
She notified the board members, under the chairmanship of Tewolde Gebremariam, CEO of the Ethiopian Airlines Group, of their dismissal with a written letter on April 11, 2018. In the letter, Hirut copied the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ethiopian Tourism Organization (ETO).
Although the board was formed with the regulation which was approved by the Council of Minister, it was dissolved with the head of the Ministry. The board was to oversee ETOs activities including reviewing and approving the programs and budgets as well as evaluate the performance. The board was formed five years ago with an initiative from the former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalgn, comprised of 10 members.
Fistum Argea, Commissioner of EIC, Moges Balcha, recently removed director general of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA), Yonas Desta, director general of Authority for Research & Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH), Yakob Melaku, president of Ethiopian Tour Operators Association and Tewolde were among the board members.
The quarrel between the board and Hirut began two months ago when the board wrote a three-page letter drawing eight main points. With one of the points being the sacking of Yohannes Tilahun, former CEO of the ETO, and demanding responses on seven major points. In the letter, the board stated its disappointments with the act of the officials of the MoCT and ETO.
Before writing her a letter, the Board had a day-long extraordinary meeting to hear the 11-page report from the Board Supervising Committee. The Committee formed in February with three members to assess the good governance of the ETO. The committee was formed after complaints were lodged over violations of rules and regulations at the Organization. The contradiction of reports presented by Yohannes and his deputy Yechale Mihret (PhD) also instigated the formation of the committee.
In the committee’s report, Yohannes was accused of receiving a monthly salary from two bodies: 8,000 dollars from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and 14,000 Br from the government. The Ministry requested his second salary from the UNDP with a letter signed by Hirut, without copying the board or ETO.
The payment was made from UNDP’s project dubbed “Strengthening Institutional Capacity for Sustainable Tourism Development.” It was kicked off to strengthen technical and policy advisory capacity of the tourism sector.
Yohannes was also allegedly accused of misusing his power, making purchases against the procurement law of the country. He was also accused of engaging in other businesses such as consultancy, recruiting staff with exaggerated salaries, illegally sacking employees and frequently travelling using ETO’s resources. As well as allegedly producing fake reports.
The Board also claimed that it was not even formally notified when the Ministry assigned Yohannes, as the CEO of ETO in May 2017. It also called for the termination of his salary from UNDP. The Board suspended employments at the Organisation, allegedly made with nepotism.
Yohannes claims that he had served as chief technology officer and adviser to the commissioner at the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC), which turned out to be inaccurate. Fortune confirmed with officials from EIC that he had no official title at EIC. Instead, he was a secondment between Agricultural Transformation Agency and EIC. On his LinkedIn account, Yohannes claims that he was a chief executive officer of General Electric (GE) Ethiopia, and senior director of the public-private partnership at the ATA.
Along with the assessment report, the Committee lodged recommendations to the Ministry including taking corrective measures at the ETO. Identifying ETO as a “house of irregularities” that violate the rules and regulations of the country.
One of the eight points of the board was calling for an urgent meeting with the Ministry Officials. Following the call, the board and the Minister sat down for a meeting on March 5, 2018, to discuss the issues.
After the meeting and response to the letter issued by the Board, Hirut wrote a letter back. She send a copy to the Office of the Prime Minister and the parliament’s Communication, Culture & Tourism Standing Committee.
In her letter, she stated that the Supervising Committee’s report based incomplete and undocumented evidence and did not try to contact the Ministry during its investigation. Therefore, it has produced a report which is unbalanced and incorrect, Hirut claimed in her letter to the board.
She also discarded the board’s claim from having communications without its recognition. Stating that the Ministry had informed board chairperson Tewolde and reached on a consensus on Yohannes’ recruitment.
“However, the Ministry is not obliged to consult the board while assigning management members,” reads Hirut’s letter.
Beyond approving his salary after getting no objection from UNDP, Yohannes’ second salary of 8,000 dollars was the lowest compared to what other experts receive, she claims. Experts at the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), ATA, Forest Sector Transformation Unites (FST), and technical advisers under the Ministry of Industry (MoI) have a monthly salary of 10,000 dollars to 14,000 dollars, Hirut’s letter.
On the contradictory reports, Hirut attributes that the reports differ as the Board failed to execute its responsibilities of reviewing, cross-checking and approving the plan and reports of the ETO. The letter also asserted that the Ministry had already decided to remove Yohannes, for his poor performance, a day earlier the Board wrote a letter to the Ministry.
It was then she dissolved the Board, two weeks ago just nine days before she was switched to be Minister of Labour & Social Affairs replaced by Foziya Amin, the former chief Ombudsperson.
“Dissolving the board was a strategic move done to conceal the case once and for all,” said a source close to the case.
Our effort to reach Hirut bore no fruit as she did not respond to the letter, phone call and text message inquiries from Fortune.
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