Last week saw a U-turn for the EPRDFites, who have been boasting about their first step towards transformation. They have been brave enough to bypass one of their most controversial beliefs:
“The decisive pointer for EPRDF members to assume office is their conviction to the ideological and policy direction of the party.” This was the motto the Front promoted for years.
Many find the above premise hard to swallow. The hype surrounding the 2003 election, where the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) posed the first real opposition to this dominant attitude of the ruling party, was largely based on the desire for educational accreditation to be a key precondition to becoming a leading government figure.
After the yearlong unrest that has swept many corners of the country, and which led to the state of emergency, the ruling party has finally taken a step forward, reshuffling its Cabinet members, bringing fresh faces, primarily academics from higher education institutions, to the Council.
The one unique feature of the new Cabinet, which the Prime Minister emphasised and set as the frame for his narrative, is the high academic credentials of the new recruits.
Over half of the 30 new members have terminal degrees and above, while the minimum level stands at master’s degree. Most of the new faces have come with vast experience in research and publication in academic journals – both within Ethiopia and internationally.
In the 21st Century, where the government’s role is increasingly complex, elected politicians have no choice but to delegate at least some responsibilities to bureaucracies and bureaucrats. The increasing professionalism and specialisation of bureaucrats, equipped with expertise and experience, has stretched the opinion that bureaucrats run the show while politicians essentially have little choice but to watch from the side lines.
What took place on Tuesday at the House of Peoples’ Representatives was far from the 21st Century tendency of bureaucratisation or technocratisation. Needless to say it betrayed the “deep reform” expectations, with little more substantial than a change of faces.
Not only did the reshuffle fall way below the set standard of ‘deep reform’ – against the backdrop of bold statements given by political leadership, promising to root out rent-seeking and corrupt attitudes at various levels – it also failed to include any technocrat-bureaucrat who did not ask for or take a membership card form one of the Front’s constituents.
Opening up to non-partisan bureaucrats would have been crucial in its symbolism, as well as practical gain. In a Parliament 100pc occupied by ruling party members, such a gesture would have been a fertile ground to show the conviction of the party to entertain outside perspectives as a first step to the proposed political reform. The decision to continue to close the doors on such potential will give the wrong sign to the protesting public. Worse still, it will continue failing to produce a variety of possible political outcomes, critical to a government 100pc dominated by a single party. This will further cement the single ideological orientation of the party in a diverse country of 90 million.
Welcoming the tiny shift the Cabinet took, it is critical that it stands accountable to the House with regards to why it has uprooted its Ministers from last year. The public, as well as the House – which endorsed a new Cabinet a year back – is in the dark as to why over a third of its appointees have been removed.
The highest organ of the state authority, even if it enjoys the mandate of reshuffling its officials, should not conduct simple blanket fold ins and outs on a yearly basis – having taken power for five years.
The Constitution too gives a clear mandate to the House of People’s Representatives, under article 55(13), to approve the list of nominees of the Council of Ministers. Here, it goes without saying, that a body that has been presented details on why the proposed members are fit for office should also have been provided with evidence to endorse the removal or reshuffle on an individual basis. As the Council’s list, until approved by the House, is a simple draft list, it should have been limited until having been endorsed. Not only does this contravene with the essence of accountability, which is a pillar of checks and balance, but it comes with a practical cost on resources and progress made.
A practice of this sort too is not alien to the country’s Parliament. In 1995, the House removed the country’s deputy prime minister with the endorsement of Parliament. Then, the issue of removal was standalone, supported by evidence of a series of misappropriations. The official under scrutiny was given the chance to explain himself and apologise, creating a fertile ground for court proceedings. Such should not be far from the memory of the current Executive, the House of People’s Representatives and the public at large.
For even greater reason, with the large number of removed ministers and a political field shaken by unrest, this blanketfold approach falls short in attending the popular demand, lest contravenes constitutional procedures too.
The essence and objective of this reshuffle, as dictated by the Cabinet chief, is a response to the wave of protests and discontent from the public over the past year. If that is the case, then the mere reshuffle without any direct accountability based on efficiency or misappropriation of resources, is dismissive of the demand. Indeed, it is shallow in addressing the quest for accountability. No mention of the past performance – on merit or demerit – was spelled out, except framing a different space of navigation with the high-achieving appointees.
Despite the rich academic profile summarised by the Premier, the argument of qualification should have touched upon the ills of the Party, the implementation incapability – which is all about bureaucracy – and the bureaucratic exposure of the appointees.
Setting the pace of the reform with the promise of high technocratisation will only set hyper expectations – rising even above where they were after the “deep reform’ avowal.
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