Addis Ababa the Epicenter of Political Land Corruption

Abebe AsamereOctober 15, 20202317

Contracting on the sale and transfer of immovable properties in the acts and documents registration office has recently been suspended for unknown period of time for reasons related to land corruption. Land grabbing through illegal fencing of green areas and other open public spaces, pocket pieces of land, annexation and illegal documentation to the extent of issuing title deeds are believed to be the reasons as they were becoming day to day illegal experiences in Addis. These issues are also amidst the causes that further complicated our metropolitan politics and led to the substitution of former deputy Mayor Takele Uma by Adanech Abiebie. Assessment based disclosure of the land corruption facts by EZEMA has also changed the political landscape the mayor has been manipulating. The politics of land corruption has been seriously affecting doing business in Addis. Doing business needs clear and transparent urban land laws and institutional management based on clearly defined legal and policy articulations. Access to new land holding, business expansion, renovation, construction and sales have a direct and indirect relation with land management laws and this area of our law is always complicated by so many pending and unresolved problems of the city administration.

As documented in various academic and policy studies, one of the legal issues considered as a critical limitation to better performance in doing business relates to this area of law. The problems can generally be categorized into legal and institutional aspects. The legal aspect includes problems related with clarity, accessibility and consolidation of urban land laws and the institutional aspect involves changing institutional setups, staff related problems and over politicization of the claim over the metropolitan land.

The basic metropolitan land laws and their administration issues are one of the oldest types of laws. But the new aspects of land law such as the lease law and related regulatory instruments lack clarity as they fall short of attaining uniformly shared understanding and application by all the regulatory executors. The other problem has to do with the directives issued on various aspects of land administration. For the last couple of years, so many directives have been applicable to regulate how land rights can be exercised, such as transfer, inclusion of additional plot into already existing holding, how it can be developed, how the purpose of the holding can be changed, among others. Lack of clarity of such principal and subsidiary laws has exposed the public to administrative hassles, corruption, and lack of uniform application of the laws at sub-cities; it has been as if each sub city belongs to different central city administration.

Regarding corruption, working in land administration offices has always been considered gold mining. For instance, any favor to legalize an illegally annexed piece of land with the already existing legal holding is rewarding in hundred thousands. A number of media reports have exposed the deep-rooted corrupt practices in these institutions. On the other hand, such problems have also exposed innocent staff members in such offices to criminal prosecution of corruption allegations. As a result, staff members are incapacitated to decide on land related administrative issues with reasonable care and precaution for fear of criminal prosecution.

Accessibility of the subsidiary laws is the other problem. There is no legal framework governing the accessibility or availability of the directives to the public, to lawyers and to clients. The directives are locked in the drawers of the officers working in the land administration institutions. Sometimes, all the directives may not even be available to the officers who are supposed to have them as a matter of their day to day official responsibility. For any client, trying to access the directives may cost a lot as it should be done informally. Though it will take time, the recently issued administrative procedure law (proc. No 1183 /2020) may solve some of the problems related with accessibility and legal compliance issues of such laws.

Consolidation of the laws is the other problem. Land administration directives should have been consolidated so that the public may know them in a holistic manner basically to identify which directives are actually in operation and relevant to the administrative claims of each client. Getting a single directive by chance can’t guarantee the client a comprehensive understanding on application of directives and help them base their claims on that unless they have all the directives in a consolidated content. The other importance of consolidated law is that it is easy for reference; enable any client trace cross referenced laws and assist the client get expert advice on the specific issue of their concern. Consolidated laws have an advantage in serving as a basis to identify the laws applicable and those that need reform or policy change to ensure harmonization among the applicable laws, to ensure consistency in using concepts and ideas, and contextualization of the various contents of the laws.

Concerning the institutional aspects of the problem, no institution has dynamically changed in terms of naming and functional assignment like the office of land administration. Initially named bureaus for urban works, the name had been changed to land management authority, land administration bureaus, land development agency, among others. Though efficiency had been the consistent justification for the change in institutional set up, the institution still hosts serious public complaints for inefficiency, corruption and various practices of maladministration. With the problem still lingering, this time the city administration has decided to undertake land audit works in the form of a campaign. It seems a kind of modest response to complaints of land grabbing and distribution for politically and ethnically motivated purposes that residents have been rumoring against the city administration. Whatever the audit result is, public skepticism over the administration’s motive will continue for long unless practical and credible measure is taken against corrupt practices.

Competence of professionals is another problematic area. Difference in professional orientation between the technical staff actually doing the technical work and the supervising staff who control and supervise the work of the technical staff is one of the obvious problems. To be assigned based on political merit than professional merit has been a huge problem for long. For instance, the works of an architect can be supervised by graduates of geography or any other field in the social sciences that would render supervisors technically unfit for the job. Such problems can induce inefficiency, affect the relationship of the staff in terms of understanding and appreciating the work done, incapacitates supervisors to properly address the complaints of clients against the works of technical experts.

In aggregate, such problems affect the institutional efficiency of the land management aspect of doing business. Though electoral democracy is the basic solution, land administration laws should be consolidated, easily accessible and transparently regulated to ease and facilitate doing business and mitigate the problems associated with the politics of the metropolitan land corruption.


9th Year • Oct 16 – Nov 15 2020 • No. 91

Abebe Asamere

Abebe Asamere holds an LLB in Law and BA in Political Science and International Relations from AAU. He was a member of the executive committee and pro bono legal advisor of the Ethiopian Consumers Protection Association for six years. Later on he became president of the Association for about a year. Since 2000, he has been working as consultant and attorney at Law. He was also teaching business law at the School of Commerce at AAU on part time basis for several years. Comments can be sent to abebe.a@ethiopianbusinessreview.com or aasamere@yahoo.com


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