October 26th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Today’s Ethiopia is filled with tales of astounding and yawning economic differences between citizens – between the very few “haves” and all the rest “have-nots”. The evolution of nations is characterized by economic and social transformation with emergence of classes of people who would be identified with levels of wealth and economic prowess. But the government or the political force that wields power has the basic role of regulating the economic field with the duty of making the economic field open and leveled and applying the rules of the game as a neutral umpire so that all can work and compete. This also presupposes that the government, which has the power to make and bend the rules, cannot play as a business-runner because it is to oversee the game and not play in it.

The basic underpinnings of free market economics lies in the “Invisible Hand” of market forces as bringing balance and the government’s role as the regulator of the economic and financial sectors. In an ideal free market system, the State (or the government) is given by its citizens the mandate or authority to levy taxes on economic players and regulate the economic sector by leveling the playing field in order that all independent players would function by the standards and rules of the game. The basic purpose of any government requires the task to collect tax revenues to furnish taxpayers with the goods, services, and infrastructures that facilitates and guards their activities, wellbeing, interests and security. Free market’s (Liaise faire) underlying dynamics is that of the market’s “wisdom” to self-regulate itself – and with the neutral and balanced touches of the regulator. This idea is embodied in the concept of the market as having an “invisible hand” that would guide its course with its inbuilt mechanisms and dynamism of basic principles such as demand-and-supply. Although the free market models appeared in myriad forms, the experiences of governments have proved that regulation is a necessity to avert monopolies and unfair practices by strong economic players as an unbridled and unregulated free market would be self-defeating given the innate human drives of insatiable greed to monopolize and the necessity to control some business entities and variables that are needed for the stable sailing of the economy (for example, the needs to manage and regulate interest rates, interstate and foreign trades, corporations and partnerships that veiled the individual merchant.)This function of the government presupposes that the people would be guaranteed with a leveled playing economic field where all players (individuals or business entities) would enjoy a fair, non-discriminatory and healthy competition without interference by the government or other forces.

This government regulatory function stands out as the cornerstone of modern market economies with the view to do away with unfair competition, favoritism and cronyism by the few over the rest. But all this would presuppose a government-people dynamic where the fundamental principle that the State shall stay out of business activities is respected. The State can only involve in business where there is an area or sector where the private sector shies away or where a grander public interest requires. The State’s duty is establishing a fair system serves the people rather than to be served by the system by abusing its mandate. (Some equate this economic relationship by designating the economy and the competing players as players in a football field on the one hand and the State, as a regulator/refer/umpire of a leveled and fair economic field on the other.) Under this mirror of economic truth we find the economic policy and direction in present-day Ethiopia under the TPLF as submerged in the sea of distorted irregularity and aberration of free market economics that is manifestly resulting in inequitable, discriminatory, and unhealthy system infested with exploitation, domination and abuse.

The free market economy presupposes the economic and financial sectors to be free from the involvement of the State in the economic activity of citizens and businesspersons. The reality in Ethiopia under PM Meles Zenawi, however, is uniquely different as Meles/TPLF/EPRDF are both the umpire/regulator of the economic field while at the same time, Meles/TPLF/EPRDF is also a merchant/business empire that takes advantage of its role as regulator to give maximum advantage to its own business. Imagine a football referee who is also playing and scoring goals – can you ever compete and win the rule-maker? This is because, the TPLF/EPRDF is SIMULTANEOUSLY a “political party” at the helm of State power (with all the powers of the state to regulate, levy tax, exempt tax…etc) AND a merchant or business conglomerate (having its own giant businesses, companies and “endowments”). So imagine Azeb Mesfin’s company applying for land, bank loan, tax exemption, business license and I a simple Gurage doing that. Who is going to get the benefits first? There is no fair competition because the EPRDF is playing in the business world and governing at the same time. The economic interests of citizens are compromised by the absolute power of the TPLF which is used for its narrow interests of accumulation of wealth. In this regards, there is this underlying “conflict of interest” in TPLF’s confused and mixed-up role being a political party AND a business company. Ideally, the State is vested with the duty to collect tax from citizens and corporations to provide them with the maximum possible qualitative and quantitative service with the lowest tax payment. It is this discretionary authority of the State to keep watch of the payment of taxes by citizens is being abused as the EPRDF, as any other businessperson, would not pay taxes from its businesses by unfairly getting a competitive edge.

Wallowing in a classic conflict of interest situation, the TPLF smashes this fundamental duty of safeguarding the economic interests of the people and the country by being a “taxpayer” and a “tax collector” at one and the same time. This is one aspect which is sapping Ethiopia’s sustainable stability or peace as people are complaining the absence of free market and monopoly by TPLF/EPRDF companies saying “Alasera Allun” [“We can’t work in this dominated and tightening economic space.”] These underserved economic gains TPLG garners has led it to monopolizing political and all the security and military powers of the State in order to protect the fruits of its unfair advantages. The protruded dictatorship of Meles Zenawi is the natural consequence of warding off others from political power as could not sustain this unfair advantage if the opposition they becomes bottlenecks to continuity of this unjust system. That is why we see the “supporters of the TPLF” having no moral ground or the reasons to back their positions as an underserved advantage knows no rationality but blind denial and/or feigned (insincere) support to the TPLF.

This fear of free market is also typical of EPRDF’s land policy. The EPRDF swears that if land is privatized, we are buried and kicked out of power. The EPRDF needs to control land because anyone who votes the opposition would be snatched of his land. Land equals political power.

If land is managed in free market, how could EPRDF blackmail people who vote freely without fear. It is a natural motive of human beings to promote the interests of their individual selves, then of their sex, then their race and finally of mankind. I do not remember an instance where I had been a fan of the football team of another country than mine. Hence in a country where the system of governance is tailored along fragmented ethnic entities, it is not surprising for an individual or members of a group to promote and protect their interests. Meles and the TPLF profess to be the vanguard of the constituency of Tigray and Tigrians. In this regards, as it professes, the idea of “revolutionary democracy” of the TPLF/EPRDF is to devolve political, economic, social and cultural powers from the hands of past beneficiaries to the new beneficiaries. That is what the top TPLF Sibhat Nega said in stating the EPRDF allocates wealth to whom it sees fit. That is why the TPLF is afraid of competition and such mechanisms as stock market. They believe hard work is not important but the wishes of the rulers to let you have it or not. This why “revolutionary democracy” would foster an accelerated, radical and propelled devolution of capital and wealth to present beneficiaries by using State’s power over land allocation, loan and grant distribution, government subsidy, tax exemptions, and other benefits.
Given the economic realities, what we see is TPLF’s historic and unparalleled accumulation of economic power in its own hands as has never been witnessed in Ethiopian history. Considering this one cannot understand “revolutionary democracy” as none other than state sponsored “reversal of fortune” by utilizing State power.

Under Meles’s government, principle is compromised for loyalty and grab-your-share mentality. The scheme of economic policy is dictated and steered by Meles Zenawi or the TPLF. When the Endowment Fund For The Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) was instituted, it was with the intention to make the lost years of economic development in Tigray to balance it with the rest of the country. If we take that idea as fair, what is the life span of EFFORT? When is going to dissolve or handed over to the national or regional government accounts and cease to exist as a business empire? There should be s publicly declared life span set for EFFORT and it shall not be allowed to sap economic advantage for 20 years in peace for what it lost in 10-17 years of war – which in fact affected all of us. Is EFFORT to be sold and the people given a check at the end or is EFFORT to continue to be the business that would be run by the TPLF at the disadvantage of those who have no political power? Why is the TPLF silent it? When is EFFORT-like conglomerates to be set up for the Ogadenis and the Oromos once ONLF and OLF are defeated? The people need answers and fair economic rules shall be implemented.

Wardoffa Banti

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