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Cablegate: Ethiopia's Lackluster Parliamentary Agenda

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADDIS ABABA 002802

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV EAGR ECON ET
SUBJECT: ETHIOPIA'S LACKLUSTER PARLIAMENTARY AGENDA

REF: A. ADDIS 910
B. ADDIS 2645

SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis presented the
Ethiopian Government's (GoE) parliamentary agenda at the
October 6 opening session of Parliament. Peppered with dry
calls for administrative proclamations, quality control
standards and institutes, and the improvement of key sectors
such as the apiculture industry, the President's
dispassionate speech largely neglected every major key issue
of the day. While making vague pledges of sustaining
economic growth, controlling inflation, and consolidating
good governance marked the major themes, the President made
no mention of contentious national security concerns such as
Somalia, tensions with Eritrea, or preparations for the 2010
national elections. President Girma did make passing
reference to the pending civil societies organizations (CSO)
law, drawing on international best practices to establish a
counter-terrorism proclamation, and "changing the structure"
of the Ministry of Information. The President also re-echoed
the Prime Minister's pledge to Parliament in March (Ref. A)
for the GoE to continue to provide grain, sugar, and edible
oil subsidies to urban dwellers. While largely a mundane
laundry list of apolitical administrative actions that left
many observers and opposition MPs bewildered, the largely
ceremonial head of state's address was sure to open and
conclude in emphasizing that the government has ensured the
"opposition's right to be heard and the ruling party's
prerogative to take decisions." End Summary.

FIRST, EXECUTIVE BRANCH STEPS TO MANAGE THE ECONOMY
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (U) Before addressing the legislative agenda, the
President opened with a review, and foreshadowing, of GoE
actions to manage the economy. President Girma noted that
the continuation of strong economic growth and control of
inflation remain the GoE's top priorities. To ensure
sustained growth above 10%, Girma argued that the GoE would
target the promotion of agricultural productivity,
stabilization of prices, and reduction of food prices. Girma
was clear that "the government will continue to intervene to
stabilize grain prices" by importing grains for subsidized
resale to the poor. By redoubling efforts to increase
government revenues, minimize the budget deficit, and
limiting bank lending, the GoE will seek to reduce by half
the amount of money in circulation to control inflation.

SOME NUGGETS...
---------------

3. (U) Moving into the meat of the GoE's legislative agenda,
President Girma sprinkled few key efforts amidst a veritable
laundry list of more mundane technical and administrative
initiatives. Among these was a proclamation to establish a
Council of regional and federal government officials charged
with implementing a National Preparatory Plan developed to
promote long term economic growth and create a "single strong
economic community." To improve the legal and judicial
regulatory infrastructure, the GoE will propose an updated
Criminal Procedure Code to better conform with the revised
Penal Code, a codified evidence law, a judicial
procedure/administration law, and a proclamation governing
alternative dispute resolution. A pledge to submit a
Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO law) to parliament
merited only a passing utterance buried among this broader
list of legal sector initiatives without any specific
comment.

4. (U) As part of the GoE's focus on "creating a conducive
environment for the prevalence of peace, President Girma
pledged that priority will be given to producing a proper
legal framework to combat terrorism, the GoE will present an
Anti-Terrorism Proclamation "based on the constitution and
lessons from international practice." After announcing an
initiative to establish a Ministry of Science and Technology,
Girma noted the need to "change the existing structure of the
Ministry of Information" to allow the expansion of
information technology and the diversity of the media to
contribute more effectively to the development of the
country." (Note: In an October 3 meeting with Embassy
Officers, House Speaker Teshome Toga reported that this step

ADDIS ABAB 00002802 002 OF 002


may mean the dissolution of the Ministry of Information and
the placement of its functions under the Office of the Prime
Minister. End Note).

...BUT MOSTLY ADMINISTRIVIA
---------------------------

5. (U) Apart from these few nuggets on issues of broad
interest, the bulk of the President's address covered a slew
of bureaucratic and administrative initiatives to establish
standards and monitoring mechanisms affecting key elements of
Ethiopia's overwhelmingly agricultural-based economy. To
promote agricultural productivity, the GoE would propose
bills governing the supply of imported seeds and grains,
widening the use of modern and organic fertilizers, and
establishing a legal framework for the importation and use of
pesticides. To shift the export focus of the country with
Africa's largest herd from live animals to meat and meat
products, the GoE will submit legislation to ensure the
quality of meat production. Similar initiatives aim to
legislate on bee-keeping development and the production and
development of forest resources including natural incense and
gum. While Girma made passing reference to legislation on
structural reforms in the agricultural sector, he provided no
details.

6. (U) To promote the development and quality of industrial
products to meet international standards, the GoE will
propose legislation to establish a Standards and Quality
Authority, a National Patent Institute, and re-establish the
National Meteorological Institute. In the social sector,
bills will be submitted on education reform, higher
education, social insurance, health care, and to establish a
Health Supervision Authority.

7. (U) Beyond the scope of the lower, legislative House of
People's Representatives, the President noted that the GoE
will urge the upper House of Federation -- charged with
administering inter-regional affairs and federal revenue
sharing arrangements with the regions -- to review
international best practices on the administration of federal
systems of governance, to promote domestic awareness of the
constitution, and initiate efforts to mitigate conflict among
neighboring peoples and regions. President Girma both
opened, and concluded, his address by emphasizing that the
GoE has, and continues to, ensure the "opposition's right to
be heard and the ruling party's prerogative to take
decisions."

COMMENT
-------

8. (U) While Ethiopia's ceremonial head of state seldom takes
up highly-political or contentious issues, our contacts among
the political opposition and broader public unveil a high
degree of bewilderment and frustration by the President's
absolute refusal to raise major political themes of current
debate including Ethiopia's role in Somalia, sustained
tensions with Eritrea, or the coming 2010 national elections.
Certainly the amended structure of the Ministry of
Information and the details contained in the forthcoming
Anti-Terrorism Proclamation could have broad-ranging
implications for U.S. interests and objectives in Ethiopia
and the region; we will actively monitor how these
developments take shape.

9. (U) The pledged continuation of the GoE's largely
ineffective food subsidization program, however, raises
concerns. If this will be driven by imported grain, as
stated by President Girma, the move may supplement the coming
harvest's expected short supply, but at a significant hard
currency cost at a time when foreign reserves are at
precarious lows. Alternately, if sourced from the domestic
harvest, as previously reported (Ref. B) the initiative risks
exacerbating food insecurity as Ethiopia moves into mid-2009.
End Comment.
MALAC

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