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News: PM Abiy Ahmed pledges thorough audit of non-government-funded mega projects amid transparency concerns

During a parliamentary session held today, July 6, 2023, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), expressed his willingness to put mega projects that are not funded by the government coffer to a rigorous audit (Photo: HoPR/Facebook)

Addis Abeba – Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has announced his willingness to subject mega projects, not financed from the government’s coffer, to a thorough audit during a parliamentary session held today, 06 July, 2023. His remark comes in response to concerns raised by several Members of Parliament regarding the transparency of these multi-billion-dollar initiatives.

Recognizing the importance of implementing checks and balances to combat corruption in the public sector, the Prime Minister assured legislators that the administration has no trouble putting in place control mechanisms to ensure that every penny is spent in accordance with the plan, even if it does not fall under the parliament’s jurisdiction.

Since taking office, Prime Minister Abiy has spearheaded a series of ambitious megaprojects worth billions of dollars. These ventures encompass a wide range of developments, including public parks, luxurious retreats, and majestic palaces. One project that has garnered significant attention is the Chaka Project, which involves clearing forests and constructing national palace, residential properties, artificial lakes, and road infrastructure.

With an estimated cost of billions of dollars, a portion of the funding for projects like the Chaka Project is expected to come from foreign countries through grants. The Chinese and French governments, for example, are funding initiatives like Unity and Friendship parks. While briefing MPs, the Prime Minister clarifies that decision-making and implementation are solely managed by these nations, from design to contractor selection.

In addition to external assistance, the “Gebeta Le’Hager” initiative, launched in May 2019, serves as another source of financing for these projects. The Prime Minister has utilized this fundraising campaign to partially fund initiatives such as Sheger and Entoto Parks. According to Prime Minister Abiy, the “Gebeta Le’Hager” initiative has raised nearly four billion birr so far.

The second phase of the Chinese funded Friendship Park was inaugurated in October 2022 (Photo: Addis Shager Park/Facebook)

However, the funding of these endeavors has generated concerns among legislators and the general public since their inception. Critics argue that Prime Minister Abiy prioritizes extravagant projects over addressing the issues faced by forcibly displaced and impoverished citizens due to soaring living expenses. When questioned by members of parliament in the past, Prime Minister Abiy staunchly defended his position, stating that he personally took charge of financing these projects.

He asserted that examining budgets not authorized by parliament falls outside their jurisdiction. Nonetheless, he acknowledged the growing prevalence of questions about the projects’ finances as they reach completion. According to the Prime Minister, the flawless execution and adherence to schedule and quality in implementing these projects demonstrate their effective management.

However, in recent months, these projects have faced renewed scrutiny as lawmakers demand transparency regarding their finances. Even members of the Prosperity Party (PP) have criticized the government’s megaprojects for seemingly favoring the financially well-off. During his latest appearance in parliament, the Prime Minister dismissed such accusations, emphasizing that the projects are aimed at benefiting the impoverished. He highlighted the intention of tourism-related projects to increase revenues, which are now estimated to be worth half a billion dollars annually.

During the budget proposal presentation by Finance Minister Ahmed Shide a month ago, he faced inquiries from legislators regarding the authorization and approval of the budget. While Ahmed acknowledged the need for legislative approval, he also mentioned that certain initiatives could proceed based on resource mobilization plans developed by public enterprises. The legislators, however, argued that since government institutions contribute to the financing, a comprehensive financial investigation should be conducted.

Many state-owned and public enterprises have actively contributed to these large-scale projects. In the fourth-round fundraising initiative held in March 2023, several public institutions made significant financial contributions. Ethiopian Airlines contributed 1.2 billion birr, the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia contributed 1.2 billion birr, and Ethio-Telecom contributed one billion birr. Additionally, Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Services Enterprise contributed 200 million birr, the Ethiopian Development Bank contributed 150 million birr, and Ethiopian Electric Power contributed 100 million birr.

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When Meseret Demisse, the head of the Office of the Federal Auditor General (OFAG), appeared before legislators on June 27, 2023, to present the audit report on federal agencies, lawmakers once again expressed concerns about fiscal transparency regarding these large-scale projects. Some legislators pointed out that audits for these projects had been bypassed by the administration and called for a comprehensive investigation into potential financial irregularities. Meseret assured Members of Parliament (MPs) that her office would thoroughly examine the Prime Minister’s mega projects if specific and precise questions were raised in relation to them. AS

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