“What is important now is to look forward and formulate comprehensive nation-wide plans that can be implemented in phases and in prioritized manner through tapping our own capabilities as well as those of our partners” President Isaias
President Isaias Afwerki gave a live Radio and TV interview to national media outlets on the 22nd and 23rd of January 2016 on a wide range of domestic and regional issues. Excerpts of the Interview, (3rd part), follows:
Q. In your address to the nation on the occasion of our Independence Day celebrations, you intimated that the GOE had charted out comprehensive housing projects to tackle the problem in a holistic manner in both its urban and rural dimensions. What is the progress achieved to date?
President Isaias: The challenges are considerable when you gauge the gap between the prevailing demand and the progress made so far as well as the schemes that may be on the pipeline. The question of shelter is an absolute imperative in people’s lives. Availability of housing is indeed the first parameter or yardstick for measuring the quality of life. And considering the huge aggregate demand we have in the country, I remain convinced that the progress made in the past is not adequate or commensurate to the prevailing demand. We have many developmental and infrastructural programs. In this context, the housing project should assume paramount importance in our infrastructural programmes. The chasm between the aggregate housing demand and the availability of affordable houses for rent in the market remains big. To alleviate this problem, the government duly formulated a strategy and blueprints for an appropriate housing programme. The blueprint looks good on paper.
But the critical question remains the pace and extent of implementation. We have many development zones. In this respect, it is evident that the housing programme cannot be confined to Asmara alone as it is often presumed. And even in Asmara, we have to identify the sites for major projects. The housing complexes under construction now using precast technology, or other relatively big housing projects built over the past years by foreign companies (the South Korean complexes), and, by several public construction companies are not enough. In the event, we have to envisage much larger housing schemes. But as it is, Asmara cannot accommodate new housing schemes with its saturated water, sewage, electricity and other social facilities. We will thus have to consider expansion into satellite sites around it with the entire necessary infrastructure – water, electricity, transport and social services. This is the appropriate approach for addressing the problem in the capital. In other regions too, we have to decide whether we should concentrate on the already established cities and towns or in other places. We need to critically see if places like Massawa, Asseb, Mendefera, AdiQuala, Senafe, AdiKeih, Keren, Dekemhare, Tesseney, Barentu, and other towns can be further expanded to become the fulcrum of economic development zones. We think that designated economic zones with future prospects for the development of agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and other services on Eritrea’s coastline should constitute another focus of new housing schemes or new cities and towns. We are already installing substantial and appropriate power and water supply infrastructure in these areas. The pace and scope of their growth is, of course, another matter. But there should be enough housing for those who want to settle in these areas either temporarily or permanently. The implementation of this strategy will pose huge challenges and requires time. The issue is how it can be implemented in phases. One of the obstacles is lack of commensurate capacity that we have been able to acquire over the past years. There are also many other reasons. Plans are worked out but they are not implemented on schedule.
In any case, what is important now is to look forward and formulate comprehensive nation-wide plans that can be implemented in phases and in prioritized manner through tapping our own capabilities as well as those of our partners. There is a huge gap between the aggregate demand and what have or can supply shortly. What can be done beyond 2016 and 2017? I do not want to be more specific and describe in detail plans and schemes that are on the drawing board. What I wish to emphasize at this juncture is that this is an issue of paramount importance and all government bodies, and other stakeholders who have the capacity, should gird themselves to expedite a lasting solution to the problem.
Q. Mr. President, the Government of Eritrea has been diligently working to stem the growth and eliminate corruption since independence under the motto of “zero tolerance to corruption”. Specific laws and institutions were also established at the outset to deal with corruption. However there have been cases of corruption that crop up every now and then. What are the causes?
President Isaias: Quite simply the cause of corruption all over the world is greed. Corruption constitutes, undeniably, a major national security threat to any country and people. Corruption destroys a country, corrodes its social cohesion, widens the economic gap between the haves and have-nots to implant toxic polarization of society, squanders the resources and opportunity of the nation, and jeopardizes the rights of citizens. As such, it poses a major danger to any country. The underlying cause of national upheavals, including the global crisis we see in the world, is invariably corruption triggered by extreme greed. A handful of greedy individuals seek to appropriate the fruits of the sweat and toil of the majority populations. They become the causes of global and domestic crises. The turmoil they engender with their subtlety and sophistication is cannot be underrated.
This cannot be taken lightly with mild reprimands. Undue leniency in handling the ailment early on will actually lead to an incurable disease that can undermine the nation’s economy, stability and very survival, that is why “zero tolerance to corruption” is not a choice for us. One cannot talk about nation-building or respect for the rights of citizens in a situation where corruption is tolerated and institutionalized. In our case in particular, all the sacrifices that our people have made to achieve our independence; all the difficult roads we have trodden; all the tribulations and challenges our people have confronted will have been in vain if we tolerate corruption. So, this is not an option. Nor is it something that we can postpone for a later time. It is a matter of existence to us. In recent years, we have seen some cases of embezzlement and theft of public property, and misappropriation of government budgetary allocations under various ruses. These are at times rationalized by “a high cost of living”. But hard living conditions do not give one a license to rob. You can simply pinch what others have earned through sweat and toil. This country cannot be compared to any other country. The huge and precious sacrifices that our people have paid were in order to live in a stable country where their rights are respected and where they can enjoy the fruits of their labour. There is no greater crime than attempting to cheat and hoodwink a people who have paid so much sacrifice; who have trodden a long and arduous journey; and who have graciously displayed so much patience and resilience.
The fight against corruption will also require continuous vigilance as it will not be uprooted through a single effort. To conclude, our stance of “zero tolerance to corruption” is not surprising.
Q. While we are on the issue, what are the additional measures we have to introduce to our laws and institutions?
President Isaias: The laws in any country are the means and instruments through which the rights and citizenship of the people are guaranteed. They also uphold and protect the equal rights and opportunities of the citizens; their economic aspirations and citizenship rights as well as the sovereignty of the country. The laws also contain provisions that regulate and punish illicit behavior. All laws should make the life and livelihood of every citizen fair and secure. The body of laws – Civil, Penal, and Commercial laws – that are enacted are meant to serve the purposes I have cited above. But enactment of laws is not sufficient in itself. Law enforcement capacity is an indivisible part of the process. On top of this, societal culture is also an important factor. Fortunately, we are blessed with a rich culture that is second to none. The acts of theft and corruption of a handful few is indeed alien to noble culture of our people. Furthermore, our laws have been revised and the people are debating on them. To raise the awareness of the people it is important that there has to be a platform for the people to participate and discuss on every aspect and articles of the law. It is a process that needs a continuous campaign. In the end that is how the dignity of the nation and the people can be guaranteed.
Q. In a recent interview, you had stated that the strengthening the PFDJ and the drafting of the constitution will be among the major tasks of the government. What has been done so far in that respect?
President Isaias: Here we are talking about a government system which is, in effect, the administrative system of the country. It is not a mere Constitution. The system is the means that will enable you to achieve the desired goals. The system must respect and guarantee the rights of citizens; the sovereignty of the nation; and, the citizens’ rights to equal opportunity. In a nutshell, the government system must ensure that that the citizens have full ownership of their lives. We have no need for a government that is bought and sold by money; parliaments that are bought and sold by money, or a government official that is bought and sold by money. We cannot tolerate people who give precedence to their narrow interest to suppress and compromise the interests of the people; or sell outs. Manipulation of ballot boxes to win rigged elections and altering constitutions for self-interest is not something this country and people deserves. The people of this country deserve and aspire for much more. We have gone a long way; we have overcome many challenges. The task now is not to produce “a Bible or Koran”. We have to cultivate a political system that will elevate us incrementally from the current to a higher stage and beyond. And this is not an undertaking that we are starting today. The government system is not one that is beginning today. It has been developing from the outset. At this stage, what is required is a document that reflects our aspirations and that is based on our values and cumulative experiences. This document will not embody, all in by itself, the desired government system but will be reinforced by all the laws and regulations enacted so as to create the requisite complementarity. The entire structure, from the lowest to the highest levels, must be coherent and congruent with the desired objectives. The question is how do you design this structure? These specific documents are being researched and prepared. There are various topics that fall within the legal domain. Finally, it will have to be extensively discussed in minute details by the people and ratified through a referendum or some other mechanism. One year has already elapsed since the inception of the current process and the studies and research are ongoing. Once this is finalized and documented, further sensitization and in-depth discussions will begin. When this process is thoroughly exhausted, the ratification process will be set in motion.
Q. How about the tasks regarding the strengthening of the Front?
President Isaias: They are interrelated. There are several issues that crop up to mind; and I have addressed them in the past. Ultimately, sovereignty is the purview of the people. No external power can dictate the people’s choice. It is the sovereign right of the people to choose the kind of political system they desire: single or multi-party systems. In our case, we cannot ignore our history and experiences and adopt a new system that does not reflect this culture. Government systems are established with some force as linchpin. The EPLF was not a political organization that came about through the personal whims of certain individuals or at some opportune historical juncture. But rather, it is a political organization that has relevance today, tomorrow and the day after. So its role in the political and government systems must be properly recognized. The issue is not about boasting of the stellar achievements of the past but what the Front can contribute to this process? But the Front needs to first strengthen itself and determine and clarify its future role to the public. This is being done simultaneously as the two process are intertwined and inseparable.
Q. What can we expect in this regard in 2016?
President Isaias: Political development is a process. It can have its own internal dynamics, with varying intensity, but it should not be seen in isolation from economic, security, or other developments. They are all interdependent. All the activities in different sectors of the country, the activities of PFDJ, national associations and government institutions, along with our diplomatic and media activities fall under political development. Even the challenges directed at us from foreign powers come under the political development process. Many of our political decisions and choices are not based solely on our preferences. They take into account, and are influenced, by the tempo and intensity of external belligerences and hostilities. In spite of these, we have to chart out and enhance own political, informational and diplomatic programmes for 2016; irrespective of external designs. So there are policies that we formulate in all these areas; and there are policies designed by external forces that have impact on us. For instance, we were forced to struggle for our independence because we were denied our fundamental national rights in the 1940’s. The support that the United States and Soviet Union gave to successive Ethiopian regimes influenced, to a certain degree, our political choices during the period of the armed struggle. Similarly, after independence, all the external hostilities and associated wars – the Hanish and Badme conflicts – had substantial impact on our policy choices. What we envisage for 2016 will take these into account and will be adjusted accordingly.