Ethiopia arrests government officials over corruption

By Morris Kiruga

Posted on Thursday, 18 April 2019 18:23
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at a news conference in Addis Ababa. Reuters

Ethiopia has arrested nearly 60 government officials over allegations of corruption and economic sabotage

In another wave of the anti-corruption purge, Ethiopia’s Attorney General announced on 12 April that the government had arrested 59 government officials and investors after a three-month investigation.

The most recent arrests centre on three state bodies: the Public Procurement & Property Administration Agency, the Water Works Construction Enterprise, and the Pharmaceuticals Fund and Supply Agency.

  • Officials from the procurement agency are suspected of defrauding the state body of $23.7m in a purchase of 400 metric tonnes of wheat. In addition to the fraud, the officials are suspected of manipulating prices to enrich themselves.
  • The investigations into the water works body center on a loss of $2.3m worth of reinforced steel while the pharmaceuticals firm lost 79m birr ($2.7m) in a procurement scam.

The Attorney General, Berhanu Tsegaye, told local media that the arrests followed exhaustive investigations into the companies and the lifestyles of their officials. Although he did not name any of the suspects, Ethiopian media has reported that they include two former director generals, several deputy directions, and a number of mid-level officials.

Yigezu Daba, the director general of Public Procurement & Property Disposal was among the few named.

Purging corruption has been at the centre of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s political and economic reform, as he seeks to stabilize the economy while transforming it into a market-led economy. Ethiopia’s two-decade developmental-state experiment resulted in double-digit economic growth, but it also built an untouchable oligarchy ingrained in the state itself.

  • Prof. Ayele Gelan wrote in the Addis Standard that “…the developmental state model arrived in Ethiopia and lost its true meaning.”

Reforming it has been a primary goal for the one-year-old administration, as any success in its reform program is dependent on a high-functioning bureaucracy. The arrests and possible convictions of what now number over 200 former and current government officials is just the first step in a wider program.

Abiy’s first major target was the Metals and Engineering Corporation (METEC), the largest company in Ethiopia. The military-run industrial conglomerate, which has 98 companies, lost several lucrative tenders in 2018 as its officials found themselves under investigation for corruption.

  • The Prime Minister also tabled a proposal to split the massive company into two main units, one dealing in military goods and the other in civilian products.
  • In November last year, the government arrested 36 intelligence officials and several METEC executives for, among other charges, corruption and rights abuses.

Even as he works to clean up his house, Abiy Ahmed’s anti-corruption purge is bound to have political and economic repercussions. When METEC lost its lucrative tenders, for example, it had to fire about 3,000 people from its 19,000-strong workforce. Such results might give his political enemies the ammunition they need to undercut his reform program, but they could also broaden his support base if they work in cleaning up state bodies.

Also in the news, Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye recently announced the arrests of several people suspected of planning terror attacks on the capital Addis Ababa. The terror plot was intercepted by Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Service which linked the suspected terrorists to Somalia-based Al Shabaab.

Addis Ababa last suffered a major terror attack in June last year, when a rally attended by the Prime Minister came under a grenade attack, killing one person and injuring more than a hundred others.

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