(Aigaforum) June 14, 2017 - In an exclusive interview with Aigaforum, Azeb Mesfin, CEO of EFFORT(Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigrai), shared the Successes and Challenges of EFFORT and her vision for the coming years.
EFFORT was established in 1995 with an initial seed money from the TPLF. TPLF(Tigray Peoples Liberation Front) fought for 17 years to topple the then dictator government of Mengistu Hailemariam of Ethiopia. During the armed struggle years, TPLF as a resourceful and popular political organization waged a successful resistance against the Mengsitu regime in all fronts. Its resistance was not limited in winning battles but also managing business ventures in neighboring countries as well as within the country! When it successfully concluded the armed struggle phase it decided to use all its monies to establish EFFORT as endowment. EFFORT today is a conglomerate of many companies.
EFFORT has seen many Chief Operating Officers over the years. Like any business in Ethiopia during the early days of the transition from Mengistu regime to EPRDF government, EFFORT companies faced deep challenges to stay afloat. Almost all the companies under EFFORT umbrella were facing hardship, unable to self-sustain. However, Azeb said, right after the Tehadeso movement of TPLF/EPRDF during the early 2000, the fate of EFFORT companies started to change for the better. According to Azeb, EFFORT today, is a healthy endowment and almost all its companies are profitable.
Responding to our question about EFFORT financial health, Azeb said, if all the taxes paid by its companies are tallied, it is one of the top companies in the country that is paying taxes! Including VAT and profit tax, last year, EFFORT paid over 2.6 billion birr to the government! She said, EFFORT is audited by external auditors every year and is also audited by the Tax Auditors of the Federal Government. She emphasized EFFORT operates legally and always pays its taxes on time.
In regard to who owns EFFORT Azeb explained in details EFFORT is an endowment and is the people's endowment! There is a board which is nominated by the people's representatives which oversees all activities of EFFORT. Azeb said all Officers including herself report to the board. Azeb in no uncertain term said the perception that EFFORT is managed and operated by TPLF is false! She cited a case where EFFORT was sued in a British court and won despite the accuser was suing EFFORT as a TPLF owned company! The British Court passed its judgment in favor of EFFORT recognizing EFFORT as independent endowment operating legally in Ethiopia.
When asked to explain where the profit of its companies goes, she said, the money is reinvested in the companies. She said as an example, MESFIN Engineering and SUR Construction have become giants because of reinvestment in to their expansion projects. She also said not all companies were making profit thus profit from one company is used to shore up another sister company.
Azeb recognized to some extent the public perception about EFFORT was problematic when it comes to transparency and public relation. She said much of it may be blamed to the white elephant syndrome effect investment in Tigrai generates! She said the management was convinced the works and achievements of EFFORT companies would be good enough to tell the story without a series campaign to expose the lies told!
When asked why EFFORT was not taking care of TPLF members who have financial problems due to medical needs, she said, the problem with former TPLF Tegadeleti(fighters) are facing is real and it is true EFFORT did not help in a meaningful way to date. However, EFFORT is working on a long term plan to alleviate such problems, she said. She said EFFORT is working with Mekelle University and others to establish a specialized hospital that will address critical medical needs Tegadleti will face in the future.
As for the future of EFFORT, Azeb stressed, the plan is to continue with Meles's vision. The late PM Meles before his untimely death has written a blue print for EFFORT and Tigrai industrialization. Although the plan is not static and may need revision, Azeb stressed, in her life time, she will be happy if she can bring to fruition the current plan as is. The next generation will have to take it from there she said!
Asked if she was happy by the overall progress of EFFORT, Azeb said, EFFORT has over 21 thousand permanent employees as well as over 30 thousand temporary employees. She however agreed with critics a lot could have been done in this regard given the challenges of unemployment in the country and state. She nonetheless said, without EFFORT companies Tigrai would have nothing to show for! Thus, she said , let us give due credit to EFFORT.
Azeb stressed EFFORT is also involved in many non-government works. It is helping in building specialized schools and is helping many Tegadleti households.