The culture of corruption at Ethiopian Telecom
By Ewnetu Tessema
October 4, 2006
Ethiopian Telecom Corporation – better known as ETC – dismissed four of its ex deputy CEOs on suspicion of corruption
seven days ago. It is expected that the suspects will be charged with corruption in the coming few days. Actually, those spotted
for dismissal and subsequent criminal charges were five. One of the five, Abebe Belayneh, was somehow tipped on what was cooking
up against him. He safely left Ethiopia . He sent a resignation letter by fax from America . The result was immediate rejection by the present
Management of ETC. The entire employees of ETC have welcomed this decision.
Many still expect the immediate establishment of an independent body to investigate allegations
of deep-rooted corrupt practice perpetrated by the ex-ETC top officials, ex CEO, D/CEO (SOME OF THEM ARE OUT OF ETHIOPIA)
and those left over of the previous management group but still active as D/CEO and other key positions like advisory etc.
There is a pledge by the current management after the removal of Tesfaye Biru when they openly said this culture is deeply
ingrained in some departments and requires great effort to fix. However, the network is hard to crack because all are playing
it together. The Current CEO of ETC can not be blamed as he is on the right direction in fighting corruption during the last
four months alone. I think the current CEO has lined-up an investigating team that will do a corruption diagnosis. Their findings
will assist him identify things he needs to do in order to serve the nation best. The UN Convention against corruption allows
co-operation in law enforcement, judicial assistance, criminal suspect repatriation and the return of illicit money with the
help of other members of the convention. The international community is working on it. Our Anti Corruption Team (ACT) in Europe is also doing its best to get back the large amount of money looted from our poor country by
the ex CEO of ETC, Tesfaye Biru. We will also do our best to exert pressure on different developed countries governments to
sign extradition treaty and judicial assistance with a retroactive effect. This move helps Ethiopia weave a global extradition
net to bring back corrupt officials who had fled abroad to seek asylum in developed countries i.e. in Europe and North America,
and pave the way for more similar treaties with other Western countries. We are informally trying our best to assist some
branches of the government /like the Anti Corruption Commission/ to drop politicization in fighting corruption. Ethiopia should not overlook or forgive misconduct due to
I think that wrongdoings should be judged by legal stipulations, even with those who have already
retired, resigned, or dismissed. In a relatively corruption free society achievements are awarded while wrongdoings receive
strict penalties. In this way we can avoid politicizing corruption or keeping scandals behind closed doors. Activities of
officials beyond state’s regulations like studying or going for medical treatment overseas must be declared to competent
authorities. We should not accept using political contributions or affiliation as an umbrella for wrongdoings or using huge
profits to whitewash faults. A campaign must be initiated immediately at the ETC and all employees have to lash out at corrupt
officials and corruption within the company. It has to pick up speed by becoming an all out call for all employees of ETC
fight against corruption, which has to be a major component of the new CEO reform agenda.
The campaign should be designed to raise employees’ awareness through not only advertisements
and banners, but through poetry, songs and plays. Some of the mottoes should read: For a better future of our company (ETC),
let’s fight corruption” “Rotten Fruit affect others.” If you want to fight HIV/AIDS, you need to make
public awareness of its dangers in the first place. This is applicable to corruption. This move is clearly contradictory to
the usual ETC’s way of handling problems which is denial, denial, denial - change is very imperative. Next step should
be to have powerful internal regulation and their strict enforcement. The corrupt practice of appointment and salary increment
in favour of those who have political affiliation with the ruling party has complicated matters. This is a strong evidence
about how the ruling political party affiliation operates in the country and ETC’s failure to ensure a better reward
system by the formal structural arrangements within the company and especially that the political cadres are immuned from
prosecution distort the system of administrative justice.
All employees of ETC know that administrative decisions suffer from delays, and they also fear
the management group, their connection to the ruling political party, and the overall complexity of the political party’s
strong hold over a company meant to make profit and expand telecom services through out the country. Many employees understand
that it is not possible for one or more elements of a somewhat integrated system to be corrupt and for the other elements
to indefinitely remain unaffected and insulated from the corrupt elements that they interact with on a daily basis.
In general, one would expect the constituent parts of a scheme to be subject to give-and-take
influences. A system is by definition something that follow common objective; it may have built-in checks and balances, but
at times also acts in concert. The current CEO should be wary of this situation. The employees and customers of ETC should
be asked to rate the management in terms of fairness and integrity. The result is predictable. There is ample evidence to
suggest all of our top ETC officials, at least in the recent past, were well aware of the realities. The corrupt officials
have used their political power and/or enormous wealth to reach the so called Anti Corruption Commission and government officials.
There are still some with great integrity, but it is also clear that the corrupting (and nerve-racking) browbeat on them are
real. It is against the backcloth of all of these developments and pronouncements I dare to state that here is general consensus
that Ethiopia suffers from endemic corruption
and that this has been spreading throughout the country. It is institutionalized in the Ethiopian telecom. It is even possible
to describe the differences in the degree and character of corruption in each unit of the Ethiopian Telecom Corporation. Corruption
is endemic or widespread in the society. Many citizens have experience of this in everyday life as it has become part of the
work norms in so many institutions. Nevertheless the situation at ETC is very peculiar, outrageous and very massive. Besides,
high profile politicians are also the actors.
Our group’s move to confront the graft that is ubiquitous in the Ethiopian Telecom Corporation
-- giving rise to a common view that "everybody is on the take" -- is receiving glowing endorsements from AAU academics, many
NGOs in Ethiopia , anti corruption activists
in other countries, western embassy officials in Addis, international organisations and sections of the country's civil society
and journalists. We are happy and proud that our effort is bearing fruit.
Ewnetu Tessema can be reached for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.