Yonas Biru, PhD
Over the last six months I have written several articles on the PM’s disregard for independent intellectual contribution to the nation and the failure of the Ethiopian intellectual class to live up to its expectation. The Anatomy of PM’s Economic Advisory Council epitomizes both the PM’s disregard for intellectual input and the Economic Council’s lack of courage to live up to its expectation as an independent body.
Most national leaders establish economic advisory councils on their own accord. For example, President Ruto of Kenya established and met with members of his economic advisory council within four weeks after his inauguration.
It took two years for PM Abiy to establish one after a proposal was submitted to him by Professor Lemma Weldesenbet and me. It took two years of back and forth negotiating the terms, conditions, and roles of the Council. There were two sticking points: the independence of the Council from the government and whom the Council advises, the PM or a line minster such as the Ministry of Finance. After two years, the PM’s office agreed the Council would be fully independent and it will advise the PM, not a line ministry.
In December 2020, the PM office announced the establishment of the Council. In May 2021, the Council produced its bylaws and terms of references. In the interest of full disclosure, I was a member of the Council and served as its interim chair (February 2021 to May 2021) before I resigned. I have written two articles on why I resigned and will not rehash that here.
The executive summary of the Council’s bylaws took note:
Ethiopia’s Independent Council of Economic Advisors (henceforth the Council) was established by executive action in November 2020. It is a body of experts constituted to give independent economic advice to the Prime Minister and the Government of Ethiopia.
Section 4.4.1 of the bylaws stipulates:
In carrying out its functions, the Council must adhere to the highest standards of independence in all its forms, institutionally, operationally, and at the level of its members. In order to maintain its independence and also withstand the pressures of time and changing political winds, the Council should be established as a permanent, autonomous, statutory body with its own legal personality. Another
important measure to ensure the Council’s independence is to ensure its members, once appointed by the Government, may not be removed by the government before the term expires without good cause. Also, while the Council shall receive core budgetary allocation from the Government for its activities, it shall also seek to diversify its funding base through independently seeking additional funding. Institutional independence of this nature needs to be counterbalanced with appropriate mechanisms for the Council’s accountability in some form (e.g. periodic reporting of its activities).
Section 5.2. outlines key outputs of the Council:
To deliver on its mandate and adhere to its guiding principles, as described above, the Council aims to produce a number of outputs that will be the hallmark of its role within the national economic development strategy and policy landscape. The principles of synergy and complementarity will guide its work to avoid duplication. The Council shall have the following demonstrable outputs or work products:
- Annual “Ethiopian Economic Outlook” Report;
- Gap analysis on national strategies and policies for identification of opportunities and risks, and consultations with the key policy actors on gaps, and
- Periodic analyses on economic issues initiated by the Government and/or on the Council’s initiative based on consultation with the Government.
Section 5.3 dictates:
“The Council, composed of experts of Ethiopian origin who are based both in Ethiopia and elsewhere around the world, will have a relatively small Secretariat that works closely within the national policy landscape.”
“The Council will interact directly with the Prime Minister and every quarter, with the country’s Macro Economic Committee.”
Section 5, titled “The Way forward,” underlins the importance of the Council:
This first National Economic Advisory Council in Ethiopia’s history presents a unique and timely opportunity to assist the government to overcome the formidable challenges facing the country and take advantage of great opportunities to chart the best possible path for Ethiopia’s inclusive and sustainable economic and social transformation.
More than two years after the Council was formed and a year-and-half after the Council started its duty with clear bylaws and specific expected outputs, both the PM and the Council have failed to meet the most basic obligations the Council’s bylaws outlined.
First, the Council’s Core Values and Principles in the noted bylaws dictates “The Council shall have a statutory standing.” It is not “may have” but “shall have.” The government has ignored the bylaws and the Council has failed to either pressure the government to live up to the agreement or resign in protest.
The government may have political reasons to use the Council as a window dressing to exist in name only. Nothing explains the Council’s posture to be used as a dressing for the proverbial window.
The Council has failed to do any of its promised outputs.
- It was supposed to raise funds. To date, it has not raised any.
- It was supposed to produce Ethiopian Economic Outlook Report annually, there is not even a trace of it.
- It was supposed to have a secretariat, but no secretariat has been established.
- It was supposed to produce Periodic analyses on economic issues. The plan was quarterly reports on timely thematic issues– such as inflation, unemployment, currency devaluation, etc. To date, the Council has produced one report on economic reconstruction but has not released it to the public.
It is incomprehensible why the supposedly independent Council is waiting for government permission to release its study. This undermines its independence and violates its own bylaws. Section 4.2 of its bylaw includs a “Mandate” to “conduct analysis on economic policy issues of national significance on its own initiative and to disseminate the result through channels of its own choice in order to inform the general public.”
If the Council lacks the courage to do what is under its control, how can it pressure the government to do its part such as establishing the Council as a permanent and statutory body?
The PM has failed to live up to his promise
The PM has never met with the Council. The Council’s first ever meeting with the PM’s Macro Economic Committee was on December 3, 2022. The very fact that the PM did not attend this meeting shows he has no regard to deal with independent intellectuals. Obviously, this is not for lack of time on the PM’s part. He is often seen giving tours to political activists and foreign visitors around the new parks and landmarks in Addis.
The Council’s meeting with the PM’s Macro Economic Committee was covered by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC’s). The EBC report highlighted:
የመማክርት ገባኤው የተለያዩ ሀገራትን ተሞክሮዎች በማየት እና ልምድ በመውሰድ ራሱን ማደራጀቱን የገለጸ ሲሆን፣ አምስት የተለያዩ የስትራቴጅክ ሰነዶች ማዘጋጀቱንም ለኮሚቴው አባላት አብራርቷል። (The Council briefed the Macro Committee on five strategic working documents that it has prepared drawing experiences from other economic advisory councils. [the referred five documents are the Council’s bylaws and other attendant documents, including its workplan].
የሕጋዊነት፣ የበጀት፣ ሴክረተሪያት በማቋቋም እና የግንኙነት ጉዳዮችን በተመለከተም መማክርት ጉባኤው ለማክሮ ኢኮኖሚክ ኮሚቴው ጥያቄውን አቅርቧል። (The Council submitted its request for a legal status, budget, secretariat, and issues related to communication [with the PM and Macro Committee])
Conspicuously, The EBC reported the meeting as the Council’s inaugural meeting to discuss its role and bylaws. This is two years after the Council was established and more than a year and a half it has started work.
The inaugural meeting was all but the Council’s christening as a Window Dressing.
NB: The EBC report notes: የመማክርት ጉባኤው የእርስ በርስ ግጭት እና የኢኮኖሚ መዘዞች በሚል ርዕስ በሰሜን ኢትዮጵያ የተከሰተው ግጭት በሀገሪቱ ኢኮኖሚ ላይ ያለውን ተጽዕኖ በተመለከተ ያጠናውን ጥናት ይፋ አድርጓል። (The Council has publicized its assessment of the war on Ethiopia’s economy.) This is not true. The Council’s report has not been released to the public.