Fine Line: Sufian Ahmed was dispatched to Beijing last week

Sufian Ahmed, the long serving Ethiopian finance guru, was dispatched to Beijing last week, hoping to see some of China’s key policymakers, gossip disclosed. His visit was prompted by a growing concern inside Hailemariam Desalegn’s administration that the Chinese may soon hold back on releasing loans they have already committed to, claims gossip.

For instance, the Chinese are reportedly nervous about the sudden split of the former power utility monopoly. There is much confusion over which one of the two new entities would assume the debt the former Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) had assumed from its creditors, gossip disclosed. Sufian was in Beijing to reassure Chinese authorities that his country has a credible history of servicing its foreign debts with hardly any default, no matter what, claims gossip.

Indeed, the stock of the nation’s foreign debt is mounting by the day, claims gossip. Yet, there are many companies, with a local wheeler dealer who has connections with those higher up, not only coming up with indispensable public projects, but sourcing the finance through “vendor financing”, says gossip. For instance, of the 11.1 billion dollars the country owes its creditors up until 2012/13, 1.3 billion dollars was owed in loans brought through suppliers, claims gossip.

Largely brought through Huawei and ZTE (combined these two have put the nation into a debt of 1.6 billion dollars), the Chinese are the main, but by no means the only, players in this. Companies from India and Turkey are jumping on the bandwagon lately, according to gossip.

The person most troubled by the influx of requests for vendor financing is Prime Minister Hailemariam, who appears to be challenged by a multitude of technical propositions, gossip disclosed. Little surprise to those at the gossip corridor then to see him establishing a finance committee chaired by Sufian, and comprising of other senior government officials, such as Ahmed Shide, state minister for Finance & Economic Development (MoFED), and Teklewold Atnafu, governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE), gossip revealed.

The idea is for all expressions of interest to be submitted to members of this committee for analysis before they make their recommendations to the Prime Minister, gossip claims. In the process, the Prime Minister hopes to see a degree of streamlining and coordination among the multitude of mega projects financed by the vendors themselves, gossip observed.

What has surprised those at the gossip corridor lately is the appointment of Arkebe Oqubay (PhD) as a deputy chair of the finance committee, while Debrestion G. Micheal (PhD), head of the economic cluster in the rank of deputy prime minister, remains out of this club.

Formerly Addis Abeba’s darling while serving as mayor of the city, Arkebe looks to be a rising star within the administration, claims gossip. Arkebe no doubt is having a stunning come back to public service after a brief absence from the scene while doing his doctoral studies in industrial economics at the School of Oriental & African Studies in London – from where he graduated in December 2013, claims gossip.

Only recently, he was appointed to chair the board of the Ethiopian Railway Corporation – a company which has received close to 4.4 billion dollars in loans from China and Turkey, as well as a bank in Switzerland, gossip disclosed.

His record as a fighter-commander and driver of the economic unit of the TPLF while in the field; head of the trade bureau of Tigray Regional State; in charge of EFFORT’s industrial section and mayor of Addis Abeba shows Arkebe is a capable person who makes decisions and move things forward; a kind of dynamism the administration is currently desperately in need of, claims gossip.

Published on March 16,2014 [ Vol 14 ,No 724]



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