Metal & Engineering Corporation (MetEC)…

When the late Meles Zenawi envisioned the structural transformation of the Ethiopian economy, from an agrarian to industrial driven one, he looked upon countries, such as Sweden, in the west, and South Korea and Taiwan, in the east, as models, gossip recalls. Transformation to an industry led economy requires a pull factor, similar to what tugboats represent to huge vessels heading into ports, pulling them off the high seas and towards their destinations, claims gossip.

So too was the state owned Metal & Engineering Corporation (MetEC), born in 2010 as a military industrial complex, emulating the experiences of South Korea and Sweden, if not the United States, claims gossip. The MetEC incorporates close to 70 state-owned enterprises in the engineering sector, alongside seven military hardware manufacturing entities, while commanding 12,500 employees. Largely run by high brass officers of the military – including, Kinfe Dagnew (BGen), its CEO – The MetEC has turned out to be a dealmaker in town, three years down the road. It takes mega projects from the government – from fertilizer manufacturing plants and the assembly of various trucks and locomotives for light rails, to hydraulic dams, gossip observed. In the process, it subcontracts billions of Birr worth of projects to others, as much as it acquires assets right and left, gossip observes.

But why The MetEC’s managers felt the need to get involved in the maritime sector, as operators of vessels, while their owner, the Ethiopian state, already owns another company in the industry, remains a puzzle for many at the gossip corridors. Nonetheless, that is what they have tried to do, in acquiring two vessels – Abiyot and Abay – which the Ethiopian Shipping & Logistics Services Enterprise (ESLSE) was selling for scrap purposes, gossip disclosed. Having served the company for over 25 years, the ESLSE did not see the viability of these vessels, whose running and maintenance costs were not worthy of the revenues they generated, being used any longer, gossip claims.

Yet, the MetEC’s people felt the need to put them back into service and kept them anchored, with all their crew onboard, at the Port of Djibouti, sustaining a 2,000 dollar daily bill, paid in demurrage, gossip disclosed. Anchored for over six months without being operational, the cost of running the engines and providing supplies to the 36 crew members, whose captain was Ghanaian, incurred the company an additional one million dollars, claims gossip.

This has stirred some controversy in the power corridor of the administration of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, after numerous individuals, here and in Djibouti, began to complain about the wisdom of allowing the MetEC to run a shipping carrier alongside the ESLSE, citing the wastefulness of foreign exchange, gossip learnt.

Chief among such people is Ethiopia’s ambassador to Djibouti, Sulieman Dedefo, who wrote a letter, in February 2013, to his boss, Tedros Adhanom (PhD), minister of Foreign Affairs, urging him to act, gossip disclosed.

He was not alone in ringing the alarm, gossip discovered. Siraj Abdulahi, manager of the ESLSE in Djibouti, has also complained that the crew onboard are employees of the national flagship carrier, and thus ought to be deployed to other vessels it operates, gossip disclosed. Yet, he is worried that removing them from these vessels would cause other problems, as international maritime law prohibits any vessel remaining anchored without its captain and crew, says gossip.

Although gossip has heard that the vessels may have moved, possibly to a port near Dubai, since then, and the issue of anchoring in Djibouti without being operational has been addressed, the controversy over the desire by the MetEC to operate its own carriers and acquire vessels meant for scrap remain the headaches of the administration, claims gossip.

For now though these vessels remain docked inside Djibouti Port, without any service and causing the company, thus the country, lose millions of dollars, gossip disclosed.

Published on June 23, 2013 [ Vol 14 ,No 686]



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