Ethiopian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change should have been given special attention
RIP-Ethiopian Environmental Accountability/Answerability?
Tsegai Berhane (PhD) Mekelle University, School of Law
Tigrai Online, Oct. 18, 2018
It is to be recalled that his Excellency Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Mohammed has taken a very bold measure on reducing the number of ministries. In some cases merging them. In extreme cases (like the late Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change) down grading it to lower status. The measure has been justified on the basis of institutional (economic) efficiency and fighting corruption. In my view, considering the magnitude of corrupt practices and inefficiency in ministries, the measure is bold and timely; in this regard my compliments to our PM.
However, I am of the opinion that the accountability/answerability of the late Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change/ currently designated as Commission should have been given special attention. I do not think the justifications of economic efficiency and fighting corruption are directly related to the late Ministry. It should have been give a special attention as environment regulatory body. Of course, I can sense that the government and some people could argue it is not about being a ministry or a commission but about its empowerment. My response to this argument is yes it is about empowerment but accountability/answerability issue also matters.
As things stand now the commission is to be accountable/answerable to the PM. But I am afraid the PM as head of the executive (primarily responsible for success or failure of economic growth) could be biased to economic growth (which is the Achilles heel of every executive) or there is a possibility to be captured by the interests/wishes of development actors be it national or international (what they call regulatory capture).
In my opinion, if there is a compelling need for down grading the ministry to a commission, the Commission should have been made accountable/answerable to the House of Peoples Representatives like the Auditor General. Both the Auditor General and the Commission are regulatory bodies empowered to regulate development oriented bodies headed by the PM. Thus, making environment regulatory body under the PM sounds a bit problematic. It also distorts the idea of check and balance as envisaged in our environmental legislation. Above all, it repeats the old growth/development obsessed paradigm.
In my view, the Commission’s accountability/answerability to the House of Peoples Representative will have some benefits. First of all, when the PM nominates the head of the Commission to the House, the House will have the chances to scrutinize the track record and professionalism of the nominee and depending on the case reject the appointment. I think this kind of rigorous scrutinizing mechanism is a plus to the environment which is usually marginalized. What is more, accountability/answerability to the House will enable the Commission to prepare a budget which is most likely to be endorsed by the House unlike the head of the executive (PM). Last but not least, it promotes accountability/answerability of environment defaulters by producing periodical report (on the state of the environment) to the House. I believe this will have naming and shaming effect on defaulters. It also promotes transparency and public participation which are considered as cardinal principles in environmental regulation.
Of course, with regard to the accountability of the Commission to the House one could argue that what difference would it make whether it is accountable/answerable to the House or the PM? In my view, in principle if not in practice it makes a difference. So, subject to being criticized as an idealist, I like to err on the side of principle. I would like to hope that the House would stand to live up to the expectation of its mandates.
However, at this juncture, to be fair to our PM, I would like to underline the fact that in Ethiopia marginalizing environmental issue is not unique to PM Dr. Abiy; it has been a long time tradition. I hoped that the elevation of the former Environmental Protection Authority to a Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change was a change of heart from our leaders. But, I am afraid, I am tempted to conclude that it was done to appease the international community and to solicit fund in the name of environment. Otherwise, how on earth could our leaders change their minds in such a very short time since it was elevated to a ministry? Of course, this does not mean they should not change their minds (I believe in dynamism) but it is meant to underline the fact that in my view the accountability/answerability issue of the commission were not given the attention it deserved.
Finally, I must confess that I am not quite sure whether it is time to say RIP to environmental accountability/answerability or extend my condolences to students of environmental law (like myself) but it is my firm belief that this short piece could serve as a starting point to initiate further discussion among all stakeholder in generals and students of environmental law in particular.
Long live to civilized discourse!!!