“…it was not easy for a non Tigrian PM to assert his role as PM ” Ana Gomez
Ana Gomes is coordinator and spokesperson of the foreign affairs committee for her political group, the Social-Democrat. With 200 members the Social-Democrat is the second largest group within the European Parliament. For Ethiopia and Ethiopians though Ana Gomes is best remembered for her role as the leader of the EU election observers’ team during the 2005 crisis-induced general election in Ethiopia. She has had a troubled relationship with Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who she still calls “a dictator,” after she published her report in which wrote the election was massively rigged. Eight years later, Ana Gomes came to Ethiopia to participate in the just concluded 26th ACP-EU parliamentary meeting. Her arrival in Addis Ababa caught many, who thought she would never be allowed to set foot in Ethiopia, by a surprise. Please read her exclusive interview with Addis Standard during the 26th ACP-EU parliamentary meeting.
AS – Your question to the development commissioner Andris Piebalgs was on Ethio-Djibouti road project funded by the EU. The commissioner replied EU no longer funds road projects in Ethiopia because construction work is given to companies without auction or given to friendly companies. What happened to the Ethio-Djibouti road project at the end?
Ana- Gomes – I don’t know if it was the auction. I raised the issue because some very concerned European friends told me about that because there is a lot of money from the European taxpayers which was supposed to be directed to development that was diverted. I only talked about the road. But I just confirmed with the EU commission representative that it’s indeed two contracts; one, a railway between Addis Ababa and Djibouti; the EU funding was around 45 million Euros, and two, 50 water tunnels project, by the same company worth 20 million Euros. The company was an Italian company called CONSTAT. That company adds Ethiopian Contractors/subcontractors. Obviously it was chosen by the ministry of finance with EU agreement. It’s a project that has gone very wrong because nothing has been achieved, and the money has been deviated. EU has started investigation, arbitration is going on; it also involved your government. And support has been cancelled. They are apparently trying to recover the money from the company. But the money has gone, so the investigation goes on. I was promised for the details by the European commission. It doesn’t mention road. It’s a bit weird however that the EU development commissioner mentioned road construction. And the EU signing new agreement to fund road projects in Ethiopia is contradictory. I think it’s important to clarify all these contradictions for the sake of taxpayers in Europe and also for the Ethiopian people. I am heartened by the fact that PM Hailemariam [Desalegn] has started taking measures even against the high officials who are involved in corruption. So I have to find out. In fighting corruption the main element is transparency. So this element has to be put out for the people to know. There are some things to be checked.
AS – EU funded hydropower project-Gilgel gibe 3 was given without auction to Salini Construction, an Italian company. A few months after it went operational part of it caved in and was closed. The EU criticized openly the handing out of the construction without auction. But it didn’t decide not to fund hydropower projects.
Ana Gomes – I am very interested to learn about that. I need to note down that information. I will find out about it and ask the EU. I am glad you asked this. I have not been able to follow in detail all this development processes because I was not in the EU development committee.
AS – ACP-EU joint parliamentary assembly has democratic agenda. The speaker of the house of people’s representative of Ethiopia Abadula Gemeda said, “we have achieved a lot in building democracy, peace and good governance.” Do you buy that? Do you think a lot has been achieve?
Ana Gomes – No! In many respect I see a lot of the old ways. Meles was an expert in using jargons such as good governance, the rule of law, democracy, sustainable development, but in practice doing just the opposite. It was a smart leadership which uses politically correct languages for Europeans and Americans consumption. But the practice was really oppressive. What I saw during Meles Zenawi was a dictatorship. I have lived in dictatorship in my own country. I believe this persists in the mind set of many authorities.
But at the same time, I realize there is indeed some opening, some realization [that] Ethiopia can’t continue this way. Ethiopia needs change. Even some of the people who have that politically correct speech that everything has been achieved in Ethiopia in public, in private conversation with me they acknowledged that Ethiopia needs change, and that it is the time to really promote important, drastic changes. In that sense I welcome the move that the PM Hailemariam has initiated the prosecution of high officials, even a minister charged with corruption. I hope this will be the first step in the right direction. At the debate we were discussing the independence of the judiciary. I used the debate to say that Judicial Independence doesn’t exist in Ethiopia, although it’s stated. I recalled the judges who flee the country in 2005 because they refuse to tamper with the conclusion on the inquiry about the massacre in 2005. They were pressed by the [late] PM and the government to do that. These were very courageous people who put all their lives and their families [at risk]. I also highlighted that trials of all political prisoners but in particular journalists Eskinder Nega, Wubeshet Taye, Riyot Alemu and others like DebebeEshetu; [political] leaders Andualem Arage e.t.c. were not fair; all the people [including] Europeans who were able to be present at some of these trials said they [the prosecutors] never produced any significant evidence against them and indeed the trials were not fair. So I hope I have made this appeal today here.
AS – But they faced terrorism charges…?
These terrorist charges are not credible, so I appeal for their liberation in the spirit of openness. You have now a sort of dual register. In public it said one thing in private it acknowledges that Ethiopia must change. Or Ethiopia needs support to change. In that context, indeed bold decisions should be taken to liberate these people, because some of these people are icons of the younger generation. Very educated, qualified generation which Ethiopia needs to develop itself. I receive a mail, a standard letter everyday from an Ethiopian who manages to flee the country and who is somewhere in Kenya, Uganda ….Nigeria asking me to write a letter to the UNHCR saying they need political asylum. So I know Ethiopia looses the best, most qualified generation not only because of lack of jobs but because there is politically closed environment with which these young qualified people cannot live. I know Ethiopia faces serious terrorist threat as we all do, Ethiopia in particular because of the neighborhood and the tension that has been built up by Meles Zenawi between Muslims and Christians inside Ethiopia which was not an issue in 2005 but in the meantime became a big source of concern. If the government continues the old ways repressing this bright, younger people who are now connected to the world in a way the regime cannot control them via the twitter, and facebook, and so on. Obviously many of these young people will be driven into the hands of radicals and extremists. Even to be recruited by terrorists. It is what we see happening in other countries in the region. So, it is very important to open up democratically for the security of the country. Read more