Three Deputy Prime Ministers :Indefensible breach of the constitution

Prime Minister Haileariam Desalegn has now three deputy prime ministers, against the law of the land

Kiya Tsegaye

A long awaited cabinet reshuffle by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn came to a surprising end on Nov. 29th last year when the Prime Minister gave his list of new cabinet members for approval to the ruling party dominated House of People’s Representatives.

In addition to his pick for the highly expected position of the next Minister for Foreign Affairs, which was assumed by Dr. Tedros Adnahon, former minister of health, PM Hailemariam appointed two more Deputy Prime Ministers. Accordingly,   Debretsion Gebremichael (PhD), Minister of Information Technology and Deputy Chairman of Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF), was appointed as Finance and Economic Cluster Coordinator with the rank of Deputy Prime Minister, and Muktar Kedir, advisor to the PM and Deputy Chairman of the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO), was appointed as Good Governance Reform Cluster Coordinator with the rank of Deputy Prime Minister. Muktar has also replaced Junadi Sado, the embattled Minister of Civil Service whose wife is facing terrorism charges along with 29 Ethiopian Muslims. TPLF and OPDO are two of the four founding parties of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The other two are The Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) from which Demeke Mekonnen, Minister of Education and the first Deputy Prime Minister came, and South Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM), from which PM Hailemariam came.

At first rumors of the likely appointment of two more Deputy Prime Ministers (DPMs) started surfacing following the appointment as Chairman of EPRDF of PM Hailemariam Desalegn in September last year. However government chief spokesperson Bereket Simon entirely dismissed such possibilities when asked by this magazine and other journalists on Sep. 15th last year. Three months later, however, PM Hailemariam assigned two more DPMs.

Indefensible legal grounds  

Now, following the appointment of the two extra DPMs, questions are rife on whether the PM’s decision and the Parliament’s pursuit of his decision has defensible legal grounds not least because article 75 of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) deals with a single Deputy Prime Minister. According to this article “The Deputy Prime Minister shall: (a) Carry out responsibilities which shall be specifically entrusted to him by the Prime Minister. (b) Act on behalf of the Prime Minister in his absence.  The Deputy Prime Minister shall be responsible to the Prime Minister.”

According to Alemayehu Fentaw, an Ethiopian born lecturer, researcher, lawyer, and conflict analyst based in the US, “the Constitution provides for a single, undivided, post of the Deputy Prime Minister in the same way as it does in respect of the Prime Minister.” Alemayehu says the law of the land also made it clear that “the Prime Minister can’t create ministerial posts or executive offices by himself.”

It is true that according to the constitution the PM maintains the right to appoint his own pick for executive offices pending the approval of the House of Peoples’ Representatives; but law experts argue creating executive offices as high as DPMs violates the basic legal ground of the land.  A close reading of article 74 (2) entitles the PM to submit to the Council of Peoples’ Representatives names of individuals for ministerial posts. These names can be either from members of the two Houses or individuals who are not members of both Houses but who, in his judgment, qualify for the required post. However, the “spirit of the Constitution is that the post of the DPM is undivided and singular as that of the PM,” according to Alemayehu.

 New positions, new bosses

The new appointments maintain Debretsion will be heading economic and finance cluster while Mukatar heads good-governance reform cluster. Under the economic and finance cluster, for example, institutions such as the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development will be accountable to Dr. Debretsion.  However, this arrangement is in contrary to the constitution’s proclamation No. 471/2005 that defines the power and function of the Executive Organs of the FDRE. According to Article 11 of the Proclamation, each Minister is “accountable to the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers.” That provokes a question on whether PM Hailemariam’s appointment of three DPMs was not a self-defeating move. Bar the opaque manner in which the appointments were explained, if at all, the understanding is that the Minister of Finance and economic development will first report to the finance and economic cluster coordinator Dr. Debertsion.

Furthermore, the proclamation defines the power and function of each ministerial office according to which members of the Council of Ministers are clearly stated as the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers heading various ministries and other officials to be designated by the Prime Minister.

 No constitutional amendment  

As it stands now, the move by PM Hailemariam in assigning the additional DPMs calls for an amendment of the Constitution, which hasn’t been done neither prior to the assignments nor in the one month since then. Legally, and as far as the rhetoric goes, the organ to which this power is vested is the organ which has an ultimate sovereignty. In most countries, this organ is none other than the people.  According to Anne Twomey, Associate Professor in Law at University of Sydney, while in few countries the people are directly consulted about constitutional reform through referenda and may even initiate it themselves, “in most countries the role of the people in constitutional reform is exercised indirectly through their elected representatives.” “A more common method of constitutional amendment in federations (countries with federal state structure) is to require the approval of both the national Parliament and a proportion of sub-national units in relation to all amendments or those of particular importance to sub-national units,” Professor Anne says.

The Ethiopian Constitution deals with constitutional amendment under article 105. Pursuant to the constitution, all provisions in chapter three and article 1 can be amended “when the House of Peoples’ Representatives and the House of the Federation, in a joint session, approve a proposed amendment by a two-thirds majority vote, and when two-thirds of the Councils of the member States of the Federation approve the proposed amendment by majority votes.” None of which were seen happening.

As it is the Ethiopian constitution falls short of a clear provision as to who will be in charge of the office of the Prime minister in the case of death, incapacitation or sudden resignation of a serving Prime Minister; adding three more DPMs to that is not only unconstitutional, it adds enough confusion.


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