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Let’s not fool ourselves!

The repeated commission by the government of acts that, contrary to its obligation to properly govern the public, rob it of such trust is bound to jeopardize the interests of a nation and its people. Citizens are duty-bound to uphold legality, serve their country to the best of their ability and pay their fair share of tax. In return they expect the government to protect their well-being and to obey the laws it enacts. This requires of the government to go about conducting its affairs with transparency and accountability. Though governments in the majority of countries abide by this enduring principle, the reality in Ethiopia leaves a lot to be desired. The situation is compounded by the government’s propensity to engage in a delusional propaganda instead of addressing the public’s grievance. The result has been an ever widening gulf between the people and the government.

In the past few weeks the assessment of daily income in respect of traders who are not obliged by law to maintain books of account in the capital Addis Ababa and other cities has provoked widespread complaints that the assessment is exaggerated and is not a fair reflection of the traders’ actual income. In fact violence arose in some parts of the Oromia Regional State. Paying tax is both an obligation and a privilege of citizens. And there can be denying the importance of instituting a just tax administration system which ensures all citizens the rank of responsible taxpayers in view of the fact that tax receipts are critical in financing any development endeavor. So why is there all this commotion when taxpayers who feel aggrieved by the daily income assessment should have submitted their complaint lawfully and received a sensible response promptly? Why were taxpayers told to lodge grievances individually only in curtailment of their constitutionally guaranteed right to do so as a group? Why did some tax officials opt to add fuel to the fire by describing the complaints as empty barking? The government should not delude itself into believing that these actionsdo not goad the public to violence again and lay waste to its political capital.

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There is no greater calling than serving the people. Accusing people who express a legitimate grievance of being anti-peace and anti-development elements with a hidden agenda is a tired propaganda ploy no one falls for. Ethiopians are a very tolerant people. But their patience is not infinite. The deadly protests which rocked some parts of Ethiopia in 2015 and 2016 and prompted the launching of a “deep renewal” by the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) as well as the declaration of a state of emergency were triggered by discontent that run deep and had been simmering for long. In spite of the relative political stability prevailing in the country there is a distinct possibility that hostilities may recur any time. Hence, it is prudent to take lessons and heed the complaints voiced by traders regarding the daily income assessment lest they result in a similar havoc. Burying one’s head in the sand would not do the nation any good.

The government is finding solace in false reports and empty rhetoric instead of engaging the masses in constructive dialogues aimed at identifying and tackling the causes behind public resentment. It is loath to listen to grievances and is indifferent to the schism being created between it and the public by the egregious misdeeds of seemingly untouchable officials within its ranks. These officials do not care an iota if their irrational decisions incite the public to rise against the government. They are regularly absent from their desks on the pretext that they are attending meetings and have no qualms about demanding bribes to do their jobs. On top of thatthe grievance handling units established in government institutions exist in name only. All this is liable to rob the government of its last drop of credibility in the eyes of the public. Ominous signs are already appearing.

Why are entrepreneurial high school and university graduates who were released from prison after undergoing indoctrination following their arrest in connection with last year’s bloody protests being steered on the path to violence again through the imposition of taxing tax obligations? Why are people chafing under bad governance subjected to more injustices that impel them to insurgence rather than? Why arecitizens who demand their rights labeled as having an axe to grind? Why are officials that run their own fiefdoms not hold to account for wanton abuse of power? Why does the government tolerate those among its rank who erode the public’s trust in it and lands the country again in serious trouble? Why does the government make things worse with its “my way or the high way” attitude when seeking solutions to problems? These shortcomings do not portend well for the nation and its people.

The government needs to demonstrate in deeds that the rule of law prevails in Ethiopia for it is then that the demands of the public can be met. The government though is deluding itself with the approach it is following. It should wise up to the fact that it cannot govern the nation through propaganda or pledging grandiose promises that are not backed up by concrete measures. Failure to provide the appropriate response timely to grievances, the tendency to reject genuine grievancesout of hand, turning a blind eye to injustices perpetrated by officials as well as the inability to conduct law enforcement activities with transparency and accountability are all pushing the public to the edge and damaging its relationship with the government. It’s high time the government reassess its performance given the countryis teetering on the brink of renewed conflict. This is why the government should not fool itself into believing that it has everything under control. Otherwise the consequences will be dire for everyone!