New civil society report on Ethiopia: new anti-corruption efforts but a long road ahead

24 May 2023 –

Click on the report to download it in English!

A new report by Progress Integrated Community Development Organization (PICDO) finds that while Ethiopia has made some progress to integrate the provisions of Chapter II (Preventive measures) and Chapter V (Asset Recovery) of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) into its legal framework, the country continues to lag behind with regards to their effective implementation. The country’s institutions are characterized by a general lack of independence due to the lingering influence of the executive branch. This report is intended as a contribution to the UNCAC implementation review process in its second cycle, produced with technical and financial support from the UNCAC Coalition.

The Ethiopian Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission has established Ethics and Anti-corruption Liaison Offices at every level of public offices and public enterprises. The Government has set up an e-procurement platform with relevant information, which it is encouraging public institutions to use; however, some information on bids and tenders is not available, limiting civil society from being able to monitor the procurement cycle. Measures have been put in place to allow for citizen involvement in the budget discussion process, although this is uncommon in practice. Standards intended to evaluate the merit, equity, and aptitude of candidates for government jobs are not clearly stated and there is almost very limited oversight of donations and spending of political parties and candidates. Asset and interest declarations are not made public and there are seemingly no measures in place aimed at preventing conflicts of interest. The judiciary is highly politicized with judges being appointed by the parliament with the majority of the ruling party members. A dedicated institution, the Accounting and Auditing Board, was created with the mandate of holding the private sector accountable to crimes of corruption.

Ethiopia has a legal framework on whistleblower and witness protection, which is nevertheless only scarcely applied in practice. Some people believe that the new hate speech law passed in February 2020 will restrict freedom of information in the country, but the law is yet not enforced fully and remains passive. The passage of new civil society legislation in 2019 lifted many restrictions previously imposed on civil society, but civic space remains very narrow. UN humanitarian workers, as well as NGOs and international and national journalists that criticize the government have been arrested or banned from the country and are often accused by the government of disseminating false information without any evidence to back up such claims.

With regards to the provisions of Chapter V, the Financial Intelligence Service was re-established in 2022 as an independent unit with the mandate of following up on issues of money laundering and financing of terrorism. Although the country was taken off the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list in 2019 due to Ethiopia’s efforts to implement anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism measures, it is still strongly affected by illicit financial flows. The government is working to build international relations with relevant States to strengthen its asset recovery capacity, but there is no single law that establishes a comprehensive system for the forfeiture and recovery of illicit assets as the legal system in place is fragmented.

The official UNCAC review process in Ethiopia was scheduled to begin in 2016/17, but has experienced significant delays. The governmental experts list is the only document available on Ethiopia’s UNODC Country Profile Page, while the self-assessment checklist is still under desk review. A country visit by peer-reviewing countries Egypt and Greece was planned, but Ethiopia has requested for Egypt to be replaced with another reviewing country. No date has been set for a visit yet. While the Government met in March 2022 with external stakeholders to gather input, it is unknown whether civil society will be involved in the review.

For all the detailed findings, read the full civil society parallel report in English. A translated Amharic version of the report is forthcoming.

Main findings

Anti-Corruption Bodies and Policies

The Ethiopian Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission has established Ethics and Anti-corruption Liaison Offices at every level within public offices and enterprises. The Commission also oversees awareness-raising and television programming and trainings, and has carried out several risk analyses and taken precautions against corruption. The Commission‘s mandate was recently revised and narrowed down to the prevention of corruption and the coordination of prevention efforts with the goal of focusing its activities.

The Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission Proclamation protects the legal independence of the main anti-corruption bodies, yet enhanced efforts are needed in its effective execution. Even if each government agency is free to carry out the tasks and obligations stipulated by law, there is no explicit provision that exempts them from culpability. The procedures for hiring and firing of the politically appointed head or heads of government bodies and for selecting and hiring specialist staff within public institutions have rarely been followed, according to the established rules, in recent years.

Public Sector Employment

Civil servants and other non-elected public officials are subject to a precise legal framework that governs their employment, retention, and promotion. Vacancies are openly advertised online. Each government office of Ethiopia provides a way of filing complaints about the selection process and related decisions. All government offices must create complaint hearing committees in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Proclamation 1183/2020.

However, there is no public inspection mechanism in place as part of the employment procedures, except for the judiciary, and there is no normative equivalent to a code of conduct intended to evaluate candidates’ merit, equity, and honesty. There is no adequate performance evaluation system in place, nor are there consequences in cases of a failure to perform. Except for the Anti-Corruption Commission, there are no mandatory laws or system that oblige government institutions to educate and train public officials in relation to corruption issues, though some institutions do conduct trainings.

Political Financing

In Ethiopia, public or government financing is given to national candidates and parties in a fair manner. Despite opposition political parties’ concerns about the shortage of funds overall, the parties’ budget allocation method was accepted with their support. The House of People’s Representatives adopted new legislation governing elections, civil society, and the media as a result of significant legislative changes that were initiated by the Legal and Justice Affairs Advisory Council in 2018. The new laws significantly improved the electoral legislation, bringing it closer to meeting important international and regional criteria for democratic elections.

Despite these positive developments, the mechanism to monitor if penalties for breaking the laws and regulations are applied in a timely, fair, and transparent manner are not strong enough. There is a lack of evidence showing the existence of adequate oversight of donations and spending of political parties and candidates. As far as the authors of the report were able to verify, no information is made public, which prevents the broader public from holding those in power to account. Unlike political parties, candidates are not required by law to disclose their own budget utilization. The Ethiopian legal framework for political financing restricts political parties from receiving financial support from foreign donations as well as anonymous domestic donors, which could incentivize them to use illegal sources of funding since they claim the funds they receive are insufficient.

Codes of Conduct, Conflicts of Interest and Asset Declarations

There are laws that oblige candidates to register and declare their property prior to or upon entry into office. There is a format to declare property, and wrongful declarations entail legal criminal liability. Sanctions are foreseen for presenting false or incomplete information. The Anti-Corruption Commission mandate regarding codes of conduct, conflicts of interest and asset declarations is clearly stated. The Commission published some general information about asset declarations online. There are also focal persons or departments working on ethical issues in every government office.

However, the scope of asset and interest declarations fails to incorporate all relevant financial interests and assets. Although the Government has set up legal codes and anti-corruption declarations, the enforcement of the existing laws is unsatisfactory. The Commission focuses mainly on registering the assets of officials; the verification or monitoring process is still pending. The report team was unable to obtain evidence suggesting that sanctions for presenting false or incomplete information in the declarations are applied in a fair and transparent manner, as asset and interest declarations are not made public, though there are some ongoing cases of accusations of public officials’ false disclosure of assets. There are no measures in place aimed at preventing the ‘revolving door’ issue.

Whistleblower protection

Ethiopia has a law for protecting witnesses and whistleblowers. Anyone in Ethiopia who has proof that someone has engaged in or is engaging in corruption is required to report it to the appropriate body. Witnesses to any type of crime listed in the legislation are legally protected by the system. The Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission accepts reports on corruption from the public, but it has no known formal role in protecting whistleblowers.

Despite legislative efforts to protect employees and citizens who report crime and corruption, Ethiopia lacks a comprehensive system to shield whistleblowers from retaliation and prosecution. Although there is a Directorate under the Ministry of Justice working on the protection of members of the public who report acts of corruption, a lack of resources affects its effectiveness in practice. There are complaints and reports that demonstrate that violations of codes of conduct or standards by public officials have been committed in Ethiopia. Some whistleblowers have been known to be fired, demoted, harassed or otherwise victimized in the workplace and enjoy weak protection from retaliation. Lacking formal disclosure channels leave them with no remedies for being reinstated or receiving financial compensation for their losses.

Public Procurement

Ethiopian legislation outlines the precise steps to be taken when deciding on eligibility requirements for a tender, such as the selection and award criteria. Ethiopia follows best practices by putting in place rules that guarantee that procurement processes are published in a way that allows interested bidders to learn about a tender and that gives them the time to prepare and submit an offer. The Government has launched the implementation of the Electronic Government Procurement (e-GP) platform and is encouraging government institutions to use it.

Despite the existence of criteria, international assessments have highlighted several shortcomings in Ethiopia’s procedures and processes of public procurement. The absence of sufficient information on the electronic platform is a challenge, as it prevents civil society from monitoring tenders, bids and due process in procurement. Irregular payments and bribes are frequently used in the licensing and there have been several cases of awarding of public contracts and contracts without a tender by the government. Furthermore, the proclamation on public procurement has gaps on issues related to the transparency and independence of the procurement appeals board.

Management of Public Finances

Both a procedure to prepare and ratify the country’s budget, as well as a practice to make it open and transparent for the public are in place. There are indicated lawful punishments for failing to comply with the applicable legal procedures. The drive to improve financial transparency and accountability has become institutionalized through the Financial Transparency and Accountability initiative, opening doors for citizen involvement in developing and carrying out the budget. Its influence on general transparency within the larger government has been limited, because it has mostly concentrated on local governance.

Auditing reports to identify and spot problems concerning government revenues and expenditures for the national budget are common practice and procedural for the Ethiopian financial administration system. However, there is evidence of improper utilization of public resources going unpunished. Despite the legal grounds that allow for public discussion on the prepared budget before and after it is submitted to the legislature, this is an uncommon practice in Ethiopia.

Access to Information & Participation of Society

The Ethiopian Proclamation on Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information guarantees the right for anyone to inquire about, acquire, and disseminate any information held by authorities. This includes the right to request information from any public agency using the following techniques: inspection, note-taking, certified copies of any records kept by the agency, other electronic means, or printouts.

Although Ethiopia ranks 24th on the Global Right to Information Rating, and despite there being constitutional and other declarations on access to information and participation of society, they are not implemented well in practice. A new hate speech law that criminalizes the deliberate publication, dissemination, and possession of false information was adopted by the Ethiopian government in February 2020. Although some people argue that this law threatens to restrict freedom of expression, the government has only recently begun to implement this law. The Government officers tasked with responding to freedom of information requests often possess political ties, which could run contrary to ensuring the execution of the right to access information in Ethiopia. Information shared by the government is often released after it is no longer relevant, or in a way that only satisfies minimum requirements for information-sharing.

With the passage of new civil society legislation in 2019, the limitations on the operational activities of NGOs in Ethiopia were lifted and various international organizations became active again. However, many NGOs are virtually unable to access significant parts of Ethiopia, due to security concerns or a lack of government authorization. Civic space remains highly restricted with several Ethiopian journalists being imprisoned without charges and assistance agencies frequently being accused by the government of disseminating false information and giving material support to armed groups, without any evidence to back up such claims. In 2021, two international NGOs were banned and seven senior UN humanitarian workers were declared personae non gratae. In addition, international and Ethiopian journalists and media networks came under government pressure over coverage of internal conflicts and political dynamics, resulting in some cases in expulsions from the country and revocation of licenses.

Judiciary and Prosecution Services

There is a legal framework in Ethiopia establishing the independence of the judiciary and prosecution services, which is enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution. In addition to detailed provisions, the proclamations regulating this independence include enforceable sanctions for members of the judiciary, with cases of them being used in practice (dismissal and fining of judges due to misconduct).

However, courts are characterized by long delays, and there have been suspicions of politicians and bureaucrats having meddled in sensitive court cases. The Prime Minister has publicly acknowledged that the country’s judicial system requires improvement. Judges are appointed by the Parliament with the majority of the ruling party members, making these appointments political ones. The constitution of Ethiopia does not give the judiciary the power of judicial review. As a result, the courts cannot interpret the constitution, a power bestowed to the House of Federation, a political body.

Private Sector Transparency

Ethiopia’s commitment to maintain transparency and accountability in the private sector by adopting legal provisions for that matter recently received the attention of the Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission. Moreover, the legal framework to hold the private sector accountable when involved in corrupt activities was supplemented by the establishment of a dedicated institution, the Accounting and Auditing Board of Ethiopia.

Although there is legal ground that gives the accounting and auditing board of Ethiopia the power to implement a quality assurance mechanism for auditing, the quality of private sector audits is insufficient. Unlike serious measures that have been taken with regard to the private sector towards those who provide false financial documents, the practice of auditing mechanisms regarding the private sector on non-financial issues is weak. Companies‘ key information is not made public.

Anti-Money Laundering

In 2019 and 2020, Ethiopia was removed from both the Financial Action Task Force and European Union’s grey lists, which identify jurisdictions which must resolve deficiencies that enable illicit financial flows. Despite this progress, there are overlooked gaps in Ethiopia’s efforts to curb illicit financial flows from both the prevention and prosecution perspective. The Financial Intelligence Service was re-established in 2022 as an independent unit with the mandate of following up on issues of money laundering and financing of terrorism and is currently striving to curb the problem of illicit financial flow in collaboration with the National Bank, Federal Police, Ministry of Justice and National Information and Security Service.  There is also an obligation for officials to disclose their property to the relevant or registering authority.

Nonetheless, the practice of cash flow management in Ethiopia needs improvement: the country is losing a lot to illicit financial outflows. The difficult geographical location of Ethiopia in terms of managing border flows, as well as poor legislation and technological capacity are the major barriers to Ethiopia’s effectiveness in implementing anti-money laundering measures. Ethiopia’s asset disclosure and registration regime lacks clarity over which information about an appointee, an elected official, or a public servant must be given, endangering the effectiveness of the system in this aspect. The disclosure and registration of asset declarations are not uniform across the federal government and regional governments as well as among the regional governments themselves.

Asset Recovery

The Ministry of Justice, specifically its International Cooperation on Legal Affairs Directorate, is the body in Ethiopia with the authority to deal with matters involving international cooperation on legal issues. There is no independent institution that has been authorized by law to recover stolen property domestically or overseas. The laws on the recovery of stolen assets in Ethiopia are fragmented in different existing laws. A stand-alone law on this issue is required.

The Ethiopian domestic laws provide the broadest array of cooperation options, including conviction-based, non-conviction-based, and civil action alternatives, and the justice system is often helpful in assisting States Parties in legal proceedings before Ethiopian courts. The Government is working to build international relations with relevant States. Besides being party to various international treaties, Ethiopia is a member of information-sharing forums like the Egmont Group, the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group, and the Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network for East Africa.

Key recommendations

  • The Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission should:
    1. Regain its prior authority to investigate and prosecute corruption cases, which is now delegated to the Ministry of justice, police, and prosecutor, respectively, to ensure it can carry out anti-corruption strategies.
    2. Carry out lifestyle inspections, home visits, and mixtures of target and random samples as part of its routine verification method to discover corruption.
    3. Increase the collection and publication of relevant data and statistics to provide the public with evidence of how legal provisions regarding anti-corruption, AML and the asset recovery of proceeds of corruption are being implemented and enforced in practice.
  • The government of Ethiopia should:
    1. Adopt and practice clear-cut and precise recruiting criteria and procedures, including the potential for early detection of potential conflicts of interest, for the selection of people to occupy particular categories of posts that are thought to be corruptible.
    2. Allow political parties to receive financial backing from any legitimate sources, whether local or international.
    3. Come up with a variety of alternative plans, such as exposing and prosecuting corrupt individuals and organizations in order to set an example that no one is above the law, and to foster a culture of accountability.
    4. Create and adopt a new law on whistleblower rights and protection that adheres to current international standards.
    5. Update the extensive list of exemptions to the right of access to information in accordance with articles 12, 15–26 of Proclamation No. 590/2008; minimize the lengthy period allotted to the response of access to information requests to a reasonable amount of time and establish an information commission to handle grievances and enlighten the public about their right to access information.
    6. Adopt a civil society engagement policy and ensure that there is adequate civic space for civil society to engage in and monitor the government’s anti-corruption efforts.
    7. Adopt comprehensive asset recovery and international cooperation laws; improve institutions’ technical and financial capacities, and ensure their independence and autonomy in decision-making to prevent outside influence.
    8. Improve State ties with relevant States Parties in terms of international collaboration.
    9. The Accounting and Auditing Board of Ethiopia should pay more attention to the auditing of financial and non-financial concerns in the private sector.
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