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Determining clearly extent of accountability

Accountability is one of the pillars of the rule of law. It is mutually reinforcing with another fundamental facet of the rule of law—equality before the law. The constitution of Ethiopia explicitly stipulates that the conduct of affairs of government shall be transparent. It further provides that any public official or an elected representative is accountable for any failure in official duties. Though the people are the final arbiter as to whether the government is living up to its obligation in enforcing accountability, it has always been reluctant to heed their judgment. Government agencies and officials perennially accused of mismanaging public funds are rarely held to account for their misdeeds. At the same time adequate explanations are not given to questions in regards to the type of the arrest of a slew of suspects on corruption charges that occurred last week. Consequently the public has no clue as to the extent of government accountability in Ethiopia.

The powers and responsibilities of government institutions and the individuals at their helm are set out by law. As such the heads of all government organs are ultimately responsible for ensuring that subordinates carry out the duties entrusted to them in compliance with operating procedures and ethical standards. Their purview also includes monitoring and overseeing the activities of the institution. The availability of accurate reports and information are instrumental in assuring transparency and accountability in all structures of an organization. The top brass cannot absolve themselves of blame if they, whether knowingly or otherwise, fail to take the appropriate action against anyone guilty of abusing the organization’s resources in violation of the relevant rules and procedures. Such mismanagement flourishes in the absence of accountability. 

At the press briefing he gave last week on the arrest of dozens of corruption suspects the federal attorney general said that senior government officials, namely ministers and state ministers, have no major role than giving political direction and that it’s officials at the director level who are more involved in terms of making decisions on financial and bureaucratic matters. While acknowledging that ministers cannot be said to have no role whatsoever he maintained that most of the responsibility rests with subordinates. This argument does not hold water for a minister has every bit of responsibility to preserve the nation’s resource and ensure that they are put to their intended use as to provide political direction. Failure in this duty entails both administrative and legal accountability. The reluctance to bring to justice the top brass of government agencies that habitually excoriated in the Federal Auditor General’s annual report has been a subjected of heated discussions for some time now. Even lawmakers’ repeated demands to know how long this state of affairs can be countenanced have not bore fruit.

No corruption offence taking place in any government institution can be concealed from the public. And the government has conceded on several occasions that corruption poses an existential threat to the political establishment. The fact that the manner in which it conducts its business is characterized by opacity has made it practically impossible to determine to what extent its officials are accountable. The public needs to be presented with credible explanations when pointed questions are asked regarding if there are no more suspects than those whose names were revealed. Though the investigation of corruption crimes is complex and as such bound to take time, the process should be even-handed. It would be a mockery of the law to treat differently individuals deemed to have committed the same crime. There is no reason why the practice of bringing to justice, albeit sporadically, of political heavyweights accused of maladministration or misusing power with a view to unlawfully amass wealth cannot be emulated now. If the current jailing of suspects is said to be a fulfillment of the government’s pledge to stamp out corruption no official ought to be immune from arrest or prosecution insofar as he/she is culpable.

It’s only when the political leadership shows no mercy in rooting out corrupt public servants who have been robbing the country blind with impunity that the rule of law can be said to prevail in Ethiopia. Otherwise, the public will consider the current “anti-corruption drive” as nothing more than a political drama. No matter how hard it tries no country where corruption is rife can steer itself on the path to development and prosperity. If transparency and accountability guide the government when it discharges the responsibilities entrusted to it however the public will develop confidence in it and contribute its share to the nation’s welfare with a sense of belongingness. If it is unable to consolidate the democratic system by bringing to justice the leeches that have infiltrated its ranks the future will not bode well. Governments come and go. But there is no replacing a country.

Accountability is instrumental in building a democratic and prosperous country ruled by a government of laws and not of men. In such a nation citizens co-exist in harmony and love; the wealth generated by its economy will be fairly distributed; human and democratic rights will be fully respected; citizens shall be accorded equal and effective protection without discrimination on grounds of race, nation, nationality, or other social origin, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, property, birth other status; the masses will serve the country in a way that sets an example for future generations, combat corruption resolutely and play an irreplaceable role in ensuring the supremacy of the law. This is why it is of the utmost importance to determine clearly the extent of the accountability of the government.