Monday, October 13, 2008

Ethiopia: Legislature cede power to the executive

On its first act of legislation during its current term, the House of Peoples’ Representatives on Thursday ceded a big chunk of power it used to exercise to the Council of Ministers. Parliament, which was opened after its summer recess on Monday afternoon with the president of the republic addressing the joint session of the House and the House of the Federation, convened on Tuesday morning to pass a Motion of Thanks on the president’s speech.

However, to the surprise of many opposition MPs, on Thursday morning, it debated on the legislation to grant the executive branch more powers at its own expense.

On Thursday morning, the executive branch of the federal government secured, in the opinion of some, “an unlimited legislative power” to reorganize federal executive organs.

According to the new law amending the Definition of Powers and Duties of the Executive Organs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Proclamation No.471/2005, the Council of Ministers will now have all the say when it comes to dissolving, establishing or reorganizing all federal executive organs in the country without parliament exerting any form of supervision or approval.

The amendment provides that the Council of Ministers is empowered, where it finds it necessary, to reorganize the federal executive organs by issuing regulations for the closure, merger or division of an existing executive organ or for change of its accountability or for the establishment of a new one.

Opposition MPs strongly opposed the move to cede over parliament’s power to the executive branch.

Some MPs said that the way the bill was introduced to parliament did not follow the correct procedure in the first place.

Most of the articles in the proclamation deal with the setting up of a new Science and Technology Ministry along with explanatory notes on the need to set up the new ministry.

It is in the last part of the proclamation that, the controversial article was inserted.

Ledetu Ayalew, Chairman of the Ethiopian Democratic Unity Party (EDUP-Medhin), said that the new legislation has a serious constitutional implication.

“The constitution provides for checks and balances between the three pillars of government. And without doubt, parliament is relieved of at least 50 percent of its powers. There should have been public debate before a decision was passed,” Lidetu said.

He said that surrendering parliament’s power was a mistake of historical proportion, adding it was sad and unprecedented that the legislature did that of its own free will.

Temesgen Zewdie, deputy chairperson of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), said that the move showed the executive organ’s intention to control the country’s institutions although the constitution stipulates that there should be checks and balances in the government.

The same sentiment was echoed by Bulcha Demeksa, chairman of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), and Gebru Gebremariam, parliamentary whip of the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF).

“The legislation we are discussing today is intended to entrench the dictatorial power of EPRDF (the ruling party),” Bulcha said.

Gebru entreated MPs not to pass the legislation. “The executive organ will have an unlimited power. Please don’t vote for it. We will be judged by history,” Gebru pleaded.

A legal expert said, on condition of anonymity, that the new legislation was intended to legitimize the government’s poor record in reorganizing institutions.

“The government says that it came up with this proposal in order to efficiently implement the Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) of state institutions under way without the cumbersome and time consuming process of going through parliament,” the expert says.

“But” he continued, “the many attempts by government at reorganizing institutions so far has failed to bring results. And this bill is no more than legitimizing its past inefficiencies on reorganizing the institutions and implementing the BPR.”

The expert said that the legislature also violated the constitution when it handed over its powers to other organs.

“Parliament can not surrender or cede its legislative powers to a third party as that power of delegation is given it to it by the people,” he argued.

“In effect, parliament violated the doctrine of non-delegation,” the expert added.

By Bruck Shewareged

The Reporter

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