Trust Matters

The issue of good governance has become popular within political circles. A study by the state, presented to high level officials two weeks ago, took the whole agenda one step up. As much as this could help solve the problem, one way or the other, it may also hinder progress. Complacency at the upper tiers could turn into complacency in the lower tiers. But it all depends on the trust factor between the state and the public.

The revelation made by the team of experts two weeks ago for high level discussion, has become a headline topic in the Ethiopian political circles. The core issues revolve around the lack of good governance, mismanagement of public resources and corruption. These are not new issues, as such, to raise eyebrows.

What makes it a new revelation is the transparency at the level at which the report was made public. Members of the state media must have been caught and by surprise.

Some of the innermost members of the political echelons of power posed questions, the naivety of which could have collapsed the whole objective of the special session. But the Prime Minister diligently saved the day. He firmly stood his ground and managed to keep the focus of the discussion alive before they could turn it in an undesired and unmanageable direction.

The report of the experts touched upon cases of mishandling of public resources in the organs of the government machinery. Perhaps the most disturbing and most serious violation and abuse of power, was the miscarriage of justice that brought to court, innocent youngsters. They had not committed any crime or offense, as such, but were detained for reasons of who they are or what their political beliefs are. Some were even sent back to jail after they were set free by the court on the orders of the police force or the security officers.

What the report indicates, is just a small crack in the curtain of the big show. It reveals how the whole bureaucratic apparatus banks on the ignorance and poverty of people being ruled by privileged groups, either directly or indirectly, through agents or power brokers.

Just as banks pay annual dividends to the shareholders from their gains, many of the polarized stakeholders in government organs, seem to harvest their shares, regardless of the democratic or human rights of the less privileged citizens.

And the unprecedented trend of individualism is on the rise. Tewdros Adhanom (PhD), minister of Foreign Affairs, in a recent interview with Voice of America said that if there is anything the ruling party can be proud of, it is the fact that there is nothing the party is discrete about. Transparency is the main credit about which the members of the ruling party should be proud, he argued.

“There is nothing our party hides from the people,” he said. This cannot be denied so long as we are talking about members or supporters of the party, chained by the one to five equation of allegiance created because of sheer fear – a mechanism designed to elicit service out of fear, and the desire to survive on crumbs offered from above.

Being transparent for the partisan ideals of the ruling party is one thing. But promulgating or copying anti-terrorist laws as a pretext to label members of the opposition parties as terrorists, is altogether a different matter.

If the police force or the security officials take the law into their hands and use it to terrorize law abiding poor citizens, oblivious of what is passed as the final verdict by the terrorized judiciary, who will there be the power that listens to appeals?

Some executioners were reported to recruit witnesses to stand in court as planted witnesses to allege innocent lawful citizens criminals. These false witnesses, with their inconsistent testimonies, at times collaborated in the legal process to condemn the accused to go to jail and serve years in prison. When by some exceptional virtues these prisoners were set free, they were condemned to fate, without any sort of compensation for the physical and mental damage they were illegally forced to sustain.

A few of the political officials commented on the depth and breadth of the research and the authenticity of the report, questioning whether it was presented to the respective authorities prior to the public presentation. A few others queried whether the objective of the report was criticizing the system of management or direct exposition of certain concerned personnel. At any rate, they vowed that there is nothing impossible for their party to rectify. A voice saying “everything is within the powers of the party as evidenced by the commitment of the party,” came out as a strong power to reckon with.

But these officials did not say much beyond their words of vow. They were not specific about what actions they are going to take, that would be sweeping enough to rectify matters. Nor did they make it clear to the general public if they are going to take sweeping moves, while keeping the same old officials of yesteryear to squarely face the challenges of tomorrow.

Whilst it is understandably difficult to pronounce immediate actions off hand, the crafty manipulation of the question to postpone matters until the time when the party executive members hold their meeting in due course, had no alternative.

One critical question of sustenance of power though, remains untouched. The study is restricted to only a few public complaints focusing on issues of mismanagement, bribery, nepotism, tax evasion, unfair justice and corruption at various levels. Vital issues on economic decisions, human rights and democratic governance are not touched as yet.

Even at the time of hearing the reports, in the hinterland as well as urban centres, violation of rights happens. Such matters as crucial shortage of drinking water and electricity, and their implications on the general economic activity were not even considered as serious issues that deserve direct questions such as “why?”.

If this report is to serve as an input for sustainable reform action, they have to cross over one hurdle. That hurdle is the issue of trust. There is no point in vowing and making promises that are not to be trusted.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Nov 16,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 811]



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