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Analysis: Unpaid Tigrayan civil servants linger in despair, await for peace deal dividend to trickle

This week the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) announced the start of full business operations in the capital of Tigray region Mekelle. Picture: CBE

By Mihret G/kristos @MercyG_kirstos

Addis Abeba – Tens of thousands of Tigrayan civil servants who have not seen their paycheck especially since June 2021, when Tigrayan forces recaptured most part of the region, continued sustaining hardships while lingering in despair waiting for the dividend of the November peace deal to trickle.

Civil servants who spoke with Addis Standard on the phone said they are the unnoticed but most affected part of the society who have been agonizing in between life and death as they are forced to live in a war zone, without salaries for more than year.

Following the outbreak of the two years deadly war in Tigray in November 2020, government institutions under the auspices of the federal government, as well regional institutions and non-governmental organizations ceased paying salaries to their employees. But the pattern was rectified during the time of the interim administration installed by the federal government which lasted between December 2020 and June 2021, when regional authorities led by the TPLF took over the administration of the areas they controlled.

In August 2021, Tigrayan authorities said that more than 130,000 civil servants in the region who sustain the livelihoods of more than half a million people have not been paid for the preceding months of June, July, and would go on for three months without salaries if they were not paid their salaries for the month of August.

According to the briefing more than 27,516 civil servants from Western and Southern Tigray were displaced at the start of the war and did not receive their salaries for the duration of the war.

Teame Molla, a lecturer at Korem Technical College, located in the Debubawi Zone (southern zone) of the Tigray region, who served for many years as a teacher is one of them. Like thousands of others, Teame become jobless without any income after the war broke out.

“The collage has not paid me a salary for about 16 months,” Teame told Addis Standard. He added that as Korem is one of the areas claimed by forces of the neighboring Amhara region “it was forced to survive “without any humanitarian aid or financial support.”

“Even before the war, I stood on my toes to support my mother, but starting from the beginning of the war up to now, I found myself [faced with] critical financial insecurity”, he added.

Teame emphasized that the absence of peace has disturbed everything, which mainly affected salaried workers, who are the hardest hit. “I received only 30-kilogram food items in humanitarian aid in two years time.”

“I have a family who expects me to fulfill their basic necessity but, I couldn’t do so because I have no salary

After the sufferings of the past two years, and being “lucky enough to be alive up to now”, little has changed and “we are in a severe crisis. I hope the government would help us to begin our jobs and earn our salary following the recent peace [deal], Teame expressed his hopes.

Another civil servant, who is a lecturer with PhD, and was an employee of the federally administered Mekelle University for 18 years, is among those who lived through similar ordeal without a salary.

“I have a family who expects me to fulfill their basic necessity but, I couldn’t do so because I have no salary; the two years of war was challenging,” the lecturer who asked to not to be named, told Addis Standard. “Even after the peace deal, we expected to be paid but there is no progress”.

The suffering of civil servants in Tigray was made worse due to the fact that banks, both state owned and private, were shutdown alongside other basic services, and people were unable to access their own savings. “Our relatives and friends from other parts of Ethiopia were sending us little money to help us survive, but 40% of the amount was taken by brokers because there was no banking,” Teame said.

Not limited to Tigray region

Tigrayan civil servants elsewhere in the country, including the capital Addis Abeba, were not spared as many were rounded up and detained for months. Majority found themselves jobless upon their release.

A Tigrayan employee of one of the federal ministries in Addis Abeba, who preferred to be unnamed, told Addis Standard that she was detained for a couple of months in 2021 during the height of the war and a countrywide state of emergency was declared. She was one of thousands of Tigrayans mass detained by the federal government but upon her release, however, she was furloughed from her position as a result of her disappearance from work during the months of her detention.

Although she fought her way through and managed to get back to her job later with the help of the Ethiopian Civil Service Commission, she remains distraught by the tribulations during those times.

The federal Civil Service Commission has been instrumental in dealing with similar complaints from civil servants who were detained during the war and as a result lost their jobs or are denied their salaries over the period of employment, according to Yibekal Mechegiaw, a judge at the commission.

“any complaint will be investigated and the commission will stand for the rights of employees”

Yibekal Mechegiaw

Yibekal told Addis Standard that despite not having full data on the exact number of civil servants who have become jobless in conflict affected areas due mainly to limitation of access, the commission is discussing with the ministry of justice and other pertinent bodies on finding ways to return the federal employees to their job and get their salaries paid.

With regard to federal employees in the Tigray region, who the hardest hit, the commission is waiting for a comprehensive decision to be made by the federal government, Ibekal said, adding that “any complaint will be investigated and the commission will stand for the rights of employees.”

Some federal institutions, like Ethio-Telecom, have already begun paying salaries to their employees. “One month after the peace deal was reached between the federal government and the Tigray authorities, we started our job and Ethio Telecom has paid us our salary for the first time after two years,” an employee of Ethio Telecom from Tigray told Addis standard.

Mesay Woubshet, Chief communication officer for Ethio telecom, told Addis Standard that the company is waiting for the federal government’s decision with regard to back payments to its employees in Tigray who did not get their salaries for nearly two years.

Federal institutions including Ethio-telecom, Ethiopia Electric Power and Utility, Banks, Human Rights Commission, Office of Ombudsman, Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority and four federally administered universities employ around 29,000 people in Tigray, according to regional officials data.

A flicker of hope is trickling through the region allowing the peace agreement reached between federal government and Tigrayan authorities in November last year. Progresses have been seen in the resumption of air travel and restoration of telecommunication in the Tigray region. But, although federal authorities said preparations were underway, road transport, the primary means of mobility, remains blocked to and from the region until the publishing of this news. .

On Tuesday, the state owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) has announced that it begun “full business” operations in the capital of Tigray region Mekelle and surrounding cities, a decision welcomed by a sigh of relief, especially those who were denied of their own savings.

Addis Standard also confirmed from residents that private banks such as Dashen and Awash have started full services bringing hope to the civil servants that they would get back to their job and eventually get their salaries. But as with the delayed resumption of the road transport and, the status of civil servants remain in limbo. AS

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