Discussing the extent and enormity of shortcomings by Ethiopia’s judicial system is simply stating the obvious. ..

Discussing the extent and enormity of shortcomings by Ethiopia’s judicial system is simply stating the obvious. It is a matter acknowledged by those at the highest echelons of power.

What has been little known and appreciated across the entire state structure, is how much the service of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and its staff are neglected and left to their fate, claims gossip. For a country which still struggles to institute a functioning criminal justice system, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has many of its staff working under appalling conditions inside a building on Jomo Kenyatta Road.

Those visiting their main office say many federal prosecutors are crammed in a small room, which is dim and old, with new files scattered all over the place. Under-resourced and underpaid, staff of public prosecutor federal and regional offices are people caught between a rock and a hard place.

It was not like this back in the day, those at the gossip corridor recall.

During Imperial Ethiopia, there had been a steadfast struggle to reform the entire legal system, including the process of Ethiopianization of its top officials. Having a separate entity, the Public Prosecutor’s Office had Bereket H. Sellasie (PhD) as its first native Attorney General. He took over from a British national under whose guidance he had served for many years. For decades, the Office of the Public Prosecutor continued to have its own existence up until the arrival of the Revolutionary Democrats, claiming political power.

They rather decided during the transitional period the Office should fall under the wings of the Ministry of Justice, thereby making the ministers play the role of Attorneys General. This had a consequence of eroding the independence of the Office from political interference, leading to public perception of its poor competence.

Nonetheless, nothing has damaged such an important institution as much as a series of political decisions over the past two decades, which has fragmented its competence to institute criminal proceedings of whatever nature, claims gossip. Various federal agencies and ministries, which are accountable to their respective bosses, have shared its monopoly over opening cases in court, thus undermining the Attorney General’s authority to resist interference, according to gossip.

As a result, the morale of its prosecutors has plummeted, as little priority and insufficient resources are given to it by the federal authorities, claims gossip.

There appears to be an effort by the administration of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desaelgn to reverse this role and restore the old glory of the institution, gossip disclosed. Not only does the administration plan to grant the Office of the Public Prosecutor an independent existence free from the shadows of the Ministry of Justice, the newly appointed Attorneys General will have the consolidated power of instituting all cases of criminal nature before the courts, according to gossip.

This decision will in effect, strip off the power to prosecute, that other agencies such as the Federal Ethics & Anti-corruption Commission (FEAC) and the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA) have been exercising, to the dismay of many who fall victims of their respective zeal, gossip foresees. The Attorneys General and their army of public prosecutors will also be empowered to reclaim their legal mandate to supervise and monitor how criminal investigation is undertaken by the federal police. Commissioners of police are currently accountable to the Ministry of Federal Affairs, and not even to the Minister of Justice, gossip reveals.

Published on Mar 14,2016 [ Vol 16 ,No 828]



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