Quorum Qualms Mare Chamber Assembly

The debate over the quorum size has dragged on for a while now and had been discussed at length before the meeting. There was also a lot of controversy regarding the criteria to be considered for the presidency. Although a decision was made, it came against the backdrop of multiple grumblings, reports BEWKET ABEBE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.

The Addis Abeba Chamber of Commerce & Sectoral Associations (AACCSA),which has been in controversy, has finally welcomed Elias Geneti – owner of the Agro Prom International Plc – as a president, on last Thursday, December 19, 2013, at its ninth general assembly.

A dispute that has been brewing over the size of the quorum of the Chamber overshadowed its ninth regular general assembly meeting. It convened in the hope of evaluating the report of the last fiscal year presented by the board and  electing 11 people to fill the leadership positions.

All nine board positions were up for a vote, alongside that of president and vice president – positions held by Ayalew Zegeye and Abebaw Mekonnen, respectively. However, disagreements over the correct size of the quorum, which has been lingering for quite some time, reared its head at the event, since the turnout was not large enough.

The chamber has over 14,000 members, but its quorum, according to the charter of the Board, stands at only 500,which was put into effect since the sixth general assembly. This is hotly disputed by parts of its membership, who point out that Article Nine of proclamation 341/03 requires that more than half of the members of the Council be present for meetings.

At Thursday’s event, however, the turnout was only a little over 700. Had the turnout exceeded this number, then the hall, which was filled to its brim, could not have accommodated it. The attendees dwindled to 570 as the evening wore on and voting began.

Fortune learnt that only 400 seats were booked for dinner. Indeed, when it was time to have dinner at around 9pm in the evening, there was much pushing and scrambling to get seats.

The case of Zafu Eyesuswork, former president of the Chamber, who claims that the quorum issue has to do with delegation- representative election, was the one, which created another scene before the meeting commenced. Zafu was banned from taking part in the meeting in a letter signed by the outgoing president, Ayalew, his predecessor a month ago.

Zafu managed to get his feet inside the meeting hall only after Haile Gebresellasie, the famous athlete who is also member of the Chamber, intervened.

“What are you doing?” Haile said, while confronting an outgoing Board member, who was blocking Zafu from entering the hall. “I have been reading the laws for two months. You do not have the power to ban him.”

The quorum issue became hotter when all were inside the hall to commence the meeting. It sparked controversy among the attendees. Haile himself questioned the quorum, which according to the charter of the Board stands at only 500.

“How can we go forward without addressing this issue?” He demanded.

The issue was, however, postponed to be addressed in the next general assembly, following recommendations from Mulu Solomon, president of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce & Sectoral Associations (ECCSA).

“I don’t think you have to doubt the legality of the assembly,” Mulu argued.

The complaints arising from the members have, however, remained unsolved.

Zafu still claims that the procedures are not legal, particularly when it comes to the quorum issue. It was to that effect that he and seven other members signed a petition and brought the case to Kebede Chanie, minister of trade, a week ago.

Asides from failing to fill the quorum, according to the existing law of the land, Thursday’s assembly also failed to win the attendance of the mayor of the Addis Abeba City Administration, Diriba Kuma. This was unlike all previous annual general assemblies, when mayors were in attendance. This is including times when there were allegations from the government that the Chamber was a bastion of the opposition parties. Diriba decided to send Wube Mengistu, his representative in the Administration.

Some members complained that the attention given to the assembly was less than the previous ones.

“The absence of the mayor, even at the opening session, tells me that the government does not care much about the chamber,” a member said, failing to get a response from those on the podium.

Although the voting came much later, it was predestined in the eyes of several participants, who believed that it was stage-managed. Whoever makes it through the cracks of the Credentials Committee – one of the two formed for the election – will have to win the confidence of those from the sectoral associations.

Unlike the individual members of the metropolitan Chamber, the sectoral associations are entities created by thousands of micro and small scale businesses in the craft and services industries. The difference between the two surfaced at the meeting.

Their numbers far outweigh the individual members of the Chamber, thus they have the power to be kingmakers.

Those from the sectoral associations consist of elderly people, mainly women, coming from kebeles.  Their number far outweighed those from the Chamber entities, Fortune observed. Interestingly enough, the attendees representing sectoral associations clapped their hands in response to whatever was being said from the podium.

Some of the individual members confirmed to Fortune that the sectoral associations wield considerable power in the decision making process.

Most of the participants were elders coming from their respective kebeles, representing their secotoral associations. They clapped their hands every now and then.

The election process involved a total of 24 candidates for presidency and 37 for the position of vice president. The competition for the topmost position finally presented three candidates; Elias, Israel Kassahun- owner of the Africa Beza Collage, and Tsehay Shiferaw – current  president of Awash International Bank (AIB). Eighteen candidates ran to take the seat of vice presidency, while more than 20 others scrambled for board membership.

Elias won 358 out of a total of 570 votes, according to the announcement, which came at around 11pm – long after the meeting commenced at around 1.30pm. Tadesse  Meshesha, a mechanical engineer who has served at the Chamber as president under the Sectoral associations for two terms, was elected vice president for the coming two years.

The election of Elias came after the banning of Teshome Beyene – a board chairperson of Ethiolife Insurance – who was also one of the candidates until last week, and the withdrawal of Tsehay. This left only Elias, the winner, andIsrael, who received only 213 votes. Haile Gebreselassie also got a seat on the board of directors with 452 votes.

But the process was far from smooth, as members who attended the assembly complained about the criteria for presidency. Anyone running for the seat was required to be a degree holder, which faced a claim from some attendees that it violated the right of the members to be elected. Another requirement was that candidates  have no less than two years work experience, either as a company owner or company general manager. Other criteria included being able to handle responsibilities properly, initiative to serve honestly and being someone who has ‘enough’ work experience ‘that can fit the position’.

“All the criteria are highly prone to subjectivities,” said a member during the meeting. “How can we ever rest assured that you are not doing things to further narrow down to group interests instead of that of the Chamber?”

He was expressing his doubts to the Credential Committee – one of the two committees formed for the election process, responsible for verifying nominees. This member was not alone in his grumbling, as he received loud applause from the audience of slightly over 700.

Teshome, who had already been denied his candidacy by the Committee on the grounds that he is neither a manager nor an owner of the Ethio Life & General Insurance SC, was one who bitterly claimed about the criteria  not being fair.

“Asides from the subjectivity of the criteria, you are even deliberately distorting the clearly stated ones,” he claimed. “If a shareholder cannot be regarded as an owner, who else is then the owner of a share company?” he asked.

The Committee faced a number of other complaints from attendees as well.

After some confusion, which consumed over 20 minutes, the assembly decided to continue leaving the issue of the criteria subjectivities for the next assembly, which will be held in a year’s time.

Teshome’s case was a reminder of the allegation that the Chamber’s Secretariat, under Getachew Regassa, has been favouring one candidate against another. The Secretariat, according to some members, campaigned and lobbied on behalf of a particular candidate at the expense of another.

Interestingly, the Secretariat wields huge influence at the beginning of the election campaign, for it controls the Accreditation Committee under Solomon Retta.

Indeed, Haile seemed overburdened while making a speech immediately after his election. Accompanying his remarks with a touch of comedy, as he usually does, Haile said the responsibility vested in him was tough.

“I don’t know if I am going to manage to carry this entire burden,” he said to the attendees.

It is in such a scenario that Elias – the agricultural scientist educated inSwedenandIndia- will lead the chamber with its controversial procedures for the coming two years.



Published on December 22, 2013 [ Vol 14 ,No 712]



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