Prime Minister Dr. Abiy addresses the House of Peoples’ Representatives

Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed presented a holistic report to an extraordinary session of the House of Peoples’ Representatives on Monday (June 18), and also answered a series of questions from MPs. He outlined the successful steps being taken and the challenges that needed to be addressed in regards to the reform agenda he has been carrying out since his election. He touched upon a wide range of issues covering both the achievements that have been made and areas that needed attention and timely amelioration through a collective national effort.
In his report on the performance of the agricultural sector, the Prime Minister recapitulated the fact that the sector has so often been at the mercy of nature and climate change-induced calamities such as the recent El Niño oscillation cycle. He laid due emphasis on the need to urgently modernize and transform the sector to reduce its dependency on seasonal rainfall and increase productivity through irrigation and augment farming with animal husbandry.
On the industrial sector, Dr. Abiy emphasized the perennial challenges that have hampered the manufacturing sector playing a major role in the overall economy, failing to produce the required levels of export-oriented produce, or provide for steady generation of foreign currency. He noted the weak inter-sectoral linkage between higher education institutions and the manufacturing sector. To improve the overall performance of industry, Dr. Abiy said a number of reform measures were being undertaken, including enhancement of the symbiotic linkage between higher education research and development expertise and the manufacturing sector, as well as the improvement of the quality of education. Part of the education reform agenda was a roadmap under discussion to gradually bring about radical changes in the sector. Encouraging producers of export goods was also part of the industrial sector reform agenda, aimed to generate more foreign currency and improve the export trade balance. He said mobilization had diverted national resources from investment in growth. Parallel currency market and contraband trade coupled with supply side constraints attributed to crisis in the balance of payments, with external debt reaching to 27 billion dollars. He added that political volatility over the past three years had caused challenges to macroeconomic stability.
The Prime Minister gave some details of the plans to split EthioTelecom, the state-owned telecommunications company, and sell stakes in the two new entities to international operators and individuals. He said: “Certain amounts of shares will be sold gradually over 10, 20, 30 years, we are not giving it up in one go, it is not possible.” He said, “Close to 5% of shares of state enterprises will go to Ethiopians here and abroad while significant shares will be sold to buyers with a track-record in the specific industries.” Between 30% and 40% will be sold to global telecommunications operators. He stressed there would be at least a year or two of “intensive study,” before this happen. He said lack of competition within the telecom industry was the reason for resource wastage and poor services to the public, adding: “Keeping it the way it is now is dangerous; transferring it like some other African countries can be disastrous too”.
Touching on the ongoing political reforms in the country, Prime Minister Dr. Abiy underlined the fact that the Government, in its efforts to ensure a wide diversity of opinions and proliferation of a multiparty system as well as widening the political space, had undertaken a series of concrete measures. Among these was the decision to minimize the vicissitudes of the political landscape. He noted the recent dialogues with opposition groups and the release of prisoners and the closing of many cases. Responding to questions about the danger of releasing from prison people charged as terrorists or for corruption, and on the constitutionalism of the releases, the Prime Minister said forgiveness covered not only those jailed but also police and officials engaged in torturing prisoners. . “Terrorism includes trying to stay in power through violation of the constitution,” he said. “Terrorism also includes trying to take power through illegally. … Everyone has to respect the constitution…The constitution doesn’t say we should keep prisoners in darkrooms, torture and disable them… Our involvement in such acts is by itself committing terrorism.” He called on the leaders and members of the Ginbot 7, Oromo Liberation Front and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), previously labelled as terrorist groups, to return. He said: “For those of you, who are based in Eritrea, What you are engaged in [trying to overthrow the regime through armed struggle] is an old fashion, it is not useful for our Ethiopia. I urge you to come and engage in peaceful dialogue.” He stressed that reconciliation and forgiveness were key to take the country out of the current crisis.
All this was being augmented by efforts to improve the freedom of expression and the operation of the media. He stressed that the Government had passed a series of measures to guarantee press freedom, of print, broadcast and cyber media. Dr. Abiy commended the “encouraging strides” being made. He also called for media practitioners to behave responsibly.
With regard to the legal and justice system, he said: “The judicial and law enforcement bodies have significant flaws,” and there was simply not enough evidence on some of the persons detained on corruption charges. He said it was better to release a hundred guilty people than hold one person wrongfully accused. He said: “It is not possible to hold public office and advance a private business at the same time,” and warned that attributing the practice of corruption only to certain groups or regions was dangerous. Dr. Abiy emphasized that, a number of practical efforts were being undertaken to improve the standard of justice through continuous and study-based reforms. He stressed the readiness of the Government to address public grievances over delivery as well as quality and accessibility of basic services such as electricity, water and telecommunications and the aim to revolutionize of quality service delivery through investigation and the eradication of the systemic challenges that have led to so many public complaints over corruption and sabotage.
The Prime Minister warned individuals and groups who were trying to sabotage his reforms by causing conflicts in different parts of the country: “Stealing and keeping quiet is one thing”, adding an additional headache was seeing people engaged in sabotage. He indicated the government was collecting evidence from various countries to recover stolen wealth and charge those involved. He also said he wanted a commission to study state boundaries within the federation. The federal system had achieved monumental gains, but it was not perfect. Federalism, he said, was “created to address major contradiction, not localized conflicts.”
Speaking of Ethiopia’s diplomatic clout Ethiopia, the Prime Minister noted that diplomacy was one of the key priorities of the Government. It was doing its level best to further strengthen longstanding and historic bilateral and multilateral relationships as well as bridging any gaps in its diplomatic activities. He described his series of tours to neighboring and Middle Eastern countries as “an overwhelming success.” One effect was the recent release of Ethiopians jailed in countries within the Middle East and North Africa, the leveraging of partnerships to solve the foreign currency deficit, the ongoing pivotal role Ethiopia plays in the peace and security of the region and beyond as well as its regional integration efforts with neighboring states. This included the government’s determination to bring the Ethio-Eritrean stalemate to an end. The Executive Committee of the EPRDF announced on June 5 that it was committed to an unconditional implementation of Algiers peace agreement with Eritrea. Defending the decision to end the border dispute with Eritrea, Dr. Abiy said firmly it was in the interest of both countries to end the standoff and focus on developing the affected areas. All this, he said, demonstrated the strides Ethiopia was making on the diplomatic front.