The Emergence and Evolution of Intergovernmental Relations in Ethiopia:
Processes, Institutional Arrangements and
Structures in the Making
Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh
Bahir Dar, Friday, March 6 2015
1. Outline of the Presentation: Introduction; Clarifying the Notion; The Ethiopian Scenario in the Aftermath of the Federal Constitution; nature and Typology of Intergovernmental Relations and Structures in Place; Absence of Formalization and Regularization; The Growing need for an institutionalization of the IGR Mechanisms and Processes; How and Where to proceed from here.
2. Introduction: This is a brief overview on the qualified status of intergovernmental relations, (IGR), as they have been originating and taking shape in the context of our multi-level governance. The very genesis of ‘intergovernmental relations’ in Ethiopia is as recent a phenominon as the country’s official subscription to the federal system of governance. Nevertheless, the system is still on an embriyonic stage of development and utilization, primarily for lack of proper understanding and consensus on the part of the stake-holders concerned. It has yet to gain the necessary grasp and adequate attention, especially on the part of the top political leadership and its operational agents across the country.
3. Clarifying the Notion: In a federal political system anywhere in the world, the entire sovereignty of state is constitutionally shared between the central authorities and the regional governments making up the federation proper. In spite of this power-sharing arrangement, however, these constituent units of the larger amalgam are bound to somehow coordinate and integrate their separate endeavors, should they wish to ultimately provide effective and quality services for their ordinary citizens. In fact, parties to any federation have to work hard in strict harmony with one another if they are to achieve the overall national priorities and objectives, usually laid down in the common magna carta such as a federal constitution. Certainly, they cannot make their broader wishes and fantasies a reality in a rather hostile, isolated and mutually exclusive actions, no matter how capable and resourceful they might be in their separate jurisdictions. It is because of this inherent deficiency that what is known as the system of intergovernmental relations becomes quite instrumental to integrate and manage the interface between and among the constituent units.
4. The Ethiopian Scenario in the Aftermath of the Federal Constitution: The formal incorporation of IGR in the 1995 FDRE’s Constitution is a rather crude and vague, to say the least. Undeniably, the House of Federation has been mandated to mediate or arbitrate conflicts and misunderstandings that may arise between the regional states making up the Federal Republic. Unfortunately, center-regional interactions and even possible hostilities are, however, accorded lesser treatment and gravity by the constitution, except fiscal relations to a certain extent. This is not to underestimate the established fact that a unified political and economic community has been envisaged or visualized by the federal constitution itself from the very outset as outlined in its preamble.
Mention may also be made of the specific provisions laid down in Chapter ten of the constitution which clearly frame a set of key national policy objectives and principles. These multi-dimensional objectives and principles are essentially meant to guide the strategic and operational actions of both the federal and regional governments making it pretty mandatory for the desired system of intergovernmental relations and mechanisms to evolve and get institutionalized in due course.
5. The Nature and Typology of Intergovernmental Relations and Structures in Place: The mainstream intergovernmental relations in a federation have both vertical and Horizontal Dimensions. However, pretty much of the debate and controversy lies in the vertical relation between the center and the constituent subnationals. This variant of intergovernmental relation is quite often characterized by relentless competition and infighting over shared mandates and resources, among others. As an adverse consequence, the kind of senseless tension across the federation would undermine the overall national development by weakening the capacity of both the federal and regional governments which should have otherwise mobilized their combined energy in an active and collaborative manner in the best interest of the whole community. Hence, fairly and wisely regulating and managing the vertical interface between the two forces using a jointly negotiated and signed accord in the form of a policy or legal framework is recommendatory to make the entire system of governance function cohesively and effectively for the common good. Likewise, a comparable set of pre-determined mechanisms and procedures are of paramount importance to reliably facilitate and manage the exercise of horizontal intergovernmental relations involving the subnational units themselves, be they forged on a bilateral or multi-lateral basis.
6. Absence of Formalization and Regularization: No formal intergovernmental relations and structures exist in present-day Ethiopia regardless of its constitutional decentralization a couple of decades ago.
Lacking this formalization and regularization on board, all sorts of inter-executive, inter-legislative and inter-sectoral constellations, periodic gatherings, consultative forums of dialogues and performance evaluation conferences flourishing across the country are simply nothing, but de facto intergovernmental mechanisms and venues of an informal and ad-hoc origin and development. In other words, they do not represent a legitimate and full-fledged machinery of permanent systems, processes and structures sustainable to the end.
7. The Growing Need for an Enhanced Institutionalization of IGR mechanisms and processes currently taking shape in Ethiopia: The multi-level design and allocation of state powers and functions in a federation virtually requires that each and every constituent unit equally work for a consistent cooperation and coordination of isolated efforts with other spheres or levels/orders of government in an attempt to provide the citizenry with the desired services. In contemporary life, intergovernmental collaboration is of practical necessity than philosophical underpinning. No government at any level can ever succeed in achieving its goals without the cooperation of its counterpart, be it at the center or sub-national jurisdictions. The limited experience of our federal system of governance in Ethiopia cannot, in any way, be an exception to this rule. That is why a dozen of inter-sectoral meetings are occasionally convened on the initiation of the relevant federal ministries and commissions with a view to harmonizing strategic plans and priorities as well as evaluating performance reports. Unfortunately, the conspicuous absence of a comprehensive policy or legal framework governing the conduct of intergovernmental relations at the national level has so far enabled the federal government authorities alone to dominate the overall manipulation and operation of such periodic gatherings being hosted on a rotating basis. Due to this one-sided approach, the corresponding role of their regional counterparts on this regard is virtually reduced to the mere physical attendance of
and participation in these meetings upon invitation extended to them by the senior officials of the central government. At this stage, it is the ministers concerned, chief parliamentarians and the federal Supreme Court presidents, (not their counterparts at the level of regional states constituting the federation), whom we observe taking the upper hand in organizing and presiding over the periodic inter-sectoral gatherings. Of course, few of these gatherings have gradually transformed and solidified themselves a bit into consultative forums by setting up their own sectoral councils and secretariats as well as adopting operational byelaws at joint sessions in the absence of national regulatory framework on intergovernmental relations.
8. How and Where to Proceed from Here Now that the first-hand survey conducted on the current status of our situation reveals a cross-section of practice-driven and center-dominated inter-sectoral forums, instrumentalities and procedures in the making, it is incumbent upon us as a union of federated states to revitalize the issue of intergovernmental relations on a new and elevated platform. With that aspiration in mind, it is hereby proposed that a draft national regulatory policy framework be first negotiated and agreed upon by a joint congregation involving all the heads of both the federal and regional governments’ branches across the nation. What should follow suit is the organization of the tripartite national executive, legislative and judicial intergovernmental councils or forums with their respective mandates of crosscutting nature, not to be confused with those duties and responsibilities specifically entrusted to them by the federal and regional constitutions concerned. Furthermore, members of the councils/forums cited here-in-above need to be drawn from both the center and the constituent units making the federation on an equal proportion with equal rights and duties while at sessions.
The mainstream field of engagement for the proposed national councils/forums is likely to focus pre-dominantly on the management and facilitation of the vertical intergovernmental relations crucial to both the federal and regional states. The horizontal aspect of intergovernmental relations would, however, be the prime concern of those state parties wishing to interact between and among themselves on their own specific terms and conditions, provided that they are not involved in serious interregional disputes warranting federal intervention.