THE EPRDF PARADOX
Ezana Sehay 12/10/15
It seems the EPRDF government has developed a habit of acting constantly inconsistent. On areas, where one would expect it to shine, you see it stumble. Contrarily, it surprises everyone with logic- defying success in areas where most of its peers [governments] fail.
So, it begs the question – what is the EPRDF government good for? It is a question, political analysts and the media are paying ample attention to now days. Such queries are helpful not only in defining the government but also the answer could be an important ingredient to sound public policy, arguably the most important one.
Political ideology is, of course, an important guide in deciding what a government should be doing, but it is rhetorical and of limited value in answering what that government is good at. For practical purposes I’ll take two fundamental issues as a yardstick: the economy and the provision of public service.
When it comes to the economy; the dominant narrative [as influences by liberal democracy] is that, unlike the private sector, government is slow, inefficient and costly. This concept might have validity in developed countries, but its appeal in developing countries is light weight. Some even call it a fallacy that is being shattered by the likes of the EPRDF government whose economic policies are enjoying sustainable growth year after year, which have created public enterprises that are dynamic and efficient. Take for example, the performance of the Ethiopian Metal and Engineering Corporation [METEC].
Recently, I watched an episodic video report by Ben of ethiopiafirst.com on METEC, one of them appropriately titled The Jewel of Ethiopia. Few days later, aigaforum.com posted an analogous report on Bishoftu Automotive Industry, a subsidiary of METEC. What we learn from the aforementioned repots is the fast coming of age of METEC. [Sideboard: METEC was established as a public enterprise by the council of ministers in 2002. But its operation started circa 2011].
The intelligence and vision of its employees, the level of innovation and the desire to compete and expand beyond national boundaries is nothing short of miracle. Another remarkable aspect of the conglomerate is its ability to transfer its technology from one sector to another with ease; it manufactures armaments, heavy duty machines for mega projects, and produces consumer [civilian] goods. This is very important, because, it is this kind of technological permutation that will assist the country’s all encompassing industrialization goal.
Mind you, classical or neo-liberals don’t deny a governments ability to establish circumstances for economic success. After all they say, one can trace all key elements of the computer, smart phones, the internet, solar cells etc… to the US government’s military industrial complex’s initiative. Furthermore, the same can be said about the development of algorism that led to the likes of Google search engine. The problem is, they say, the state can’t manage economic success as well as the private sector.
Here again the success of METEC has debunked such perspective; I can’t imagine a private company could’ve accomplished what METEC has been able to. The establishment of METEC is a visionary investment designed to advance knowledge with a long-time horizon.
And it’s not only METEC, when it comes to the economy the EPRDF government seems to have the magic touch. Most of its macroeconomic endeavors have been very successful. So much so, it has made skeptics believe in the virtues of Developmental State Philosophy, which many African governments are now keener to embrace.
The Ethiopian economic success, for obvious reasons, is attracting global stake holders. Even the all mighty liberal institutions [WB and IMF], have gone beyond praising Ethiopia’s exponential growth and concede the state’s role in the economy of a developing country as being vital.
On the other hand, when it comes to the provision of public service [good-governance] there is a sharp decline in the level of trust citizens have in the government and that is with good reason.
According to the report by the committee of experts deployed by the government to survey the status of governess in the country and presented during a special session of top government officials on Oct 31, and Dec 1, 2015, the lack of good- governance has reached an endemic level.
The government lacks accountability, is home to too many conflicting goals and has piled on too any activities on top of one another. Its slow decision-making has made governing even more complicated.
In the process it has lost sight of its core responsibilities, including a regime of good governance that not only is able to set standards, but also to make sure that it is applied and respected. The problem is such responsibilities are tied to a human-resource [bureaucracy] that is hopelessly past its best-date. It is this bureaucracy that is inhibiting change at a time when the country’s dynamics demand.
As a result, the government is now a big whale that can’t swim, that can’t keep up with the fast changing aspirations of the people. Too many decisions, including party management ones, end up convoluted. Most administrative officials have too many management layers, too many over-sight bodies with questionable integrity. Most public servants and some Kelel [regional] governments are in the habit of generating performance reports that feed a fabricated bottom line that have no footings.
In a nut shell, the government is truly at a cross roads. It needs to overhaul its approach to shaping policy and delivering services or risk losing further the public’s confidence, thus loosing trust of the people and thereby the ability to promote its vision.
Saying this is a disappointing is an understatement. After all, EPRDFites are supposed to be experts on rendering good service. EPRDF is fundamentally a populous institution, whose struggle is influenced by the burning desire to eradicate maladministration and replace it with a just one. For the most part of its life span in power, it did just that. But now it seems it has lost ground and credibility it accumulated for years.
Party sympathizers, yours’ included, used to blame pretenders: remnants of the previous regimes and anti-EPRDF individuals veiled in the civil service… masquerading as party supporters… who are sabotaging the government’s intentions from within. To some extent that might be true, but, for the most part the problem is self-inflicted.
I know public policy is tricky. And I realize that humans are prone to conceit and hypocrisy. I’m hardly free of them myself. But I know the men and women of EPRDF are better than I am. It is one thing to blunder occasionally and make the old feeble excuse; and quite another to descend in to self-parody. This is not the nature of the Revolutionary Democrats we come to know.
Fortunately, Prime Minister Hailemariam, seem committed to tackle the issue and “clean-up” the government once for all. He understands unless the party’s political and administrative institutions are able to perform to the level of public expectation, it will lose credibility. How the desired change can be achieved is the focus of the intense national debate spearheaded by the government itself.
More to the point, if the government cannot learn to row better and navigate out of public-discontent storm, it will not enjoy the support it needs to steer its ship and create the necessary circumstances for its ambition of middle-income status by 2025.