Hailemariam Desalegn: The Transparent Prime Minister


One Issue about land lease Policy

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to watch a panel discussion of high ranking government officials chaired by Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn. What I heard impressed me. I sensed a Prime Minister who is committed to and determined to address the deeply ingrained and troubling issues of mal-governance. I was impressed by the Prime Minister’s insistence that his officials accept the findings of the independent body and be accountable to it. Although I sensed some defensive attitudes on the part of very few I was impressed by many of the participants who were ready to shoulder the challenges ahead.
A great beginning indeed.

To be effective he needs committed and knowledgeable officials and more so the backing of ordinary Ethiopians who are badly affected by all forms of corruption.

From the discussions that I have heard, I would like to share some thoughts on fundamental areas that I think should be revisited by the government. Today I will restrict myself on land policy; especially on land lease. I am hoping that concerned Minsters and Ministries are keen to listen to all ideas on the table.

On Land Lease

My knowledge on the Ethiopian land lease policy is rudimentary. Hence, I am not in a position to widely comment on it. However, in the discussion about land lease and the widespread corruption associated with it, I was surprised to learn that the policy does not put a limit as to how many plots of land an individual can hold as long as he/she wins the lease (competition).

This is deeply troubling.

One of the main points for the Ethiopian Student Movement (the pioneers of EPRDF) militancy was the use and ownership of land. Land was held (be it legally or by force) by few members of the aristocracy. The effect was poverty, the creation of an elite class with a very deep class differentiation. In general land is public property in Ethiopia. But for all practical purposes the long lease agreement is no different from land ownership.
Fundamentally, the net effect of accumulating land by winning leases inflating the value of land is crowding out the vast majority of the working class (in this case the middle class). One may argue that this is the nature of free market practices.

This is not necessarily true on two grounds:

One, the vast majority of those who win lease terms again and again are not (in main) people who accumulate the money they have legally. Most of the money that they accumulate is through grafts, corruption, tax evasions and without adding added value to the economy. This, in essence, is no different from the use of force exercised by feudal lords of the past. It is only the means that differ.

Two, in many of the modern capitalist countries there are legislations that limit or inhibit the accumulation of land by few. In the country that I live in, a modern capitalist country that boasts of its free market economy, no one is allowed to have more than one residency in the country they live in. Any other house or building that is owned in their names are considered to be business entities and taxed twice, thrice or more than the normal tax rate.

I am not aware of such laws in Ethiopia.

The above comments are based on the statements provided by the minister of housing in relation to lease. I would like the authorities to address this fundamental point.

After all, the rural land policy that limits the ownership of land to few hectares is meant, among other reasons, to address the fair distribution of land to farmers. There is no reason why elements that can facilitate a fair land distribution land lease policy can’t be implemented in the cities.

I stand to be corrected and/ or informed if my understanding is incorrect.

By Kelemu Smeneh

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