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Local Media Interview withPresident Isaias Afwerki: Excerpts Part III

  • “2017 will be a year when we test our capacity” President Isaias Afwerki
  • -Mr. President how do you assess the productivity and work discipline in Eritrea?

Sometimes when you observe a culture there is tendency to exaggerate actual performance or achievements. As knowledge and skills are promoted once they are applied, one has to assess whether he or she is able to apply the knowledge and skills he or she has acquired. There must also be a system for achieving this goal and for enhancing the work culture. These are the sorts of factors that determine the level of productivity.

Take the energy sector as an example. The level of knowledge and technology requirements is considerably huge. A significantly large amount has been invested in this sector. Hence, it needs to be managed and maintained properly. The effect of such efforts on the provision of services and service users is very important. With regard to the Hirgigo Power Plant, for example, one must consider whether the workers there monitor the operations properly or not; whether they maintain what has to be maintained timely or not; whether the supervisors there are discharging their responsibilities properly or not; and whether there are operationally effective work manuals. These considerations are critical.

It is not possible to repair large machines unless they are maintained on a timely basis. We can claim that we do have large infrastructural programs. For this purpose, we can also claim that we do have a large number of tractors, bulldozers, graders, loaders, etc. If these machines are not maintained on a timely basis then we need to think in terms of the costs incurred and time wasted until when they have to be repaired.

Assessing our productivity should not be limited to the aforementioned physical infrastructural investment. The intellectual and professional performance of civil servants should also be appraised properly on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. In relation to this issue, the effect of work discipline on productivity is very significant. We may boast of the resources we have at our disposal. However, there are instances of a culture of laxity and unproductivity that should bother us. This challenge is particularly associated with the youngsters living in the cities. Hence, we need to remedy such a phenomenon.

We can talk in terms of the organizational culture and discipline we had during the liberation struggle and what we have inherited from that experience. But this is a different story. When we look at our present situation, we may talk about how we are performing and utilizing given technologies, raw materials and other resources we have at the level of a sector, a region, an industry or an enterprise. However, the most important factor in this case is how productively we use our human resources.

With regard to the productivity of those who are already employed, we are currently introducing a system for measuring the performance and productivity of individual workers and the organizations employing them in relation to all government organs. To this end, if this policy is to be fruitful, it needs to strengthen productivity and address work culture. This is our number one priority.

  • -In the last few years, there has been considerable investment in producing skilled human resources. Annually, a large number of young graduates have been joining the civil service. Given their number, how is our policy of making these civil servants effective and productive? On the other hand, how can we prevent the brain drain depleting Eritrea’s skilled human resources?

If we are to talk in terms of our experiences in the last three years, there has been an issue we had noted earlier but we were not able to address it until two years ago. This issue is related to the youth who are not able to join a college after the matriculation exam. Annually, there are over 15,000 young people who participate in the matriculation exam. Only 15-20% of these people are able to join the colleges and are accordingly admitted for degree and diploma programs. To upgrade the knowledge and skills of those citizens who are not able to join a college, the Vocational Training Center has been established. The Vocational Training Center was not effective enough to address this problem and accordingly achieve the required objectives. For the training opportunities provided to these individuals to be effective, the training areas need to be aligned with national human resources development strategy. Of course, the Vocational Training Center (VTC) has contributed a lot. However, it has solved the problem only partly.

For such programs to be further effective, we must upgrade the qualifications acquired through the VTC. Training areas need to be further expanded or diversified given the increase in the number of people targeted by VTC. Furthermore, the center needs to be equipped with the required facilities such as workshops, laboratories, computers as well as competent instructors, trainers and technicians. There must also be more practice-oriented fields of study. For this reason, the fields of study need to be selected carefully. The design of curriculums also has to be aligned with the national demand.

About 10,000 young people are being annually trained and equipped with vocational knowledge and skills in VTC. Yet there are some additional things to be done in order to ultimately provide the VTC graduates with an enabling environment to apply the skills they are equipped with and to subsequently improve their lives effectively. Actually, there are many VTC graduates who are working as operators of bulldozers, graders, loaders and etcetera. Annual admittance of 10,000 young nationals to VTC will be continued as a target. It is also possible to upgrade their qualifications to degree level and above since there are quantitative and qualitative improvements experienced annually. So far the achievements are commendable, but we should not be relaxed.

  • -Certain entities have promoted brain drain and depletion of Eritrea’s human resources. Are there policy measures or plans to overcome this challenge?

This has been a war against Eritrea. In the last 25 years, there were untold actions aimed at frustrating Eritrea—to make Eritrea surrender. These actions target our human resources. These efforts are actually reactions or consequences of past failed policies, leading them to carry out these last ditch efforts aimed at brain drain.

There are many factors associated with this issue, which center on undermining Eritrea. The sanctions are aimed at preventing Eritrea from strengthening its military capacity yet the goal isn’t necessarily designed to prevent Eritrea from potentially liberating its occupied territories. Instead, the ultimate goal is to destabilize Eritrea and no stone is left unturned towards this aim. These efforts have culminated to the attempts to deprive Eritrea of its youngsters.

The Ethiopian government is a major policy instrument and proxy in carrying out plans to move young people out of Eritrea. It is surprising that the European Union provided 500 million Euros to Ethiopia in 2016. This fund is intended to create jobs for Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia. This cannot be fruitful apart from its effect on destabilizing the human resources of Eritrea. This is a very “ideal” situation. In their mindset it’s okay to create jobs for Eritrea so long as they aren’t in Eritrea but are instead in Europe, Canada, the United States, Africa and the Middle East. If the concern is to create job opportunities for Eritrean youth, is it sensible to create such opportunities outside Eritrea? Likewise, 170 million Euros has been provided to host young people from Eritrea in the camps in eastern Sudan. All these  efforts cannot frustrate and make Eritrea surrender.

The process of moving young people out of Eritrea is a highly organized one. Various known foreign entities and networks are engaged in organizing the activities for emigrating young people from Eritrea. A large amount of money has been earmarked for this purpose.

It is surprising how such naïve attempts for depleting the Eritrean people originate. For example, the French president said that the Eritrean people will be depleted entirely soon. What the chancellor of Germany did in Addis Ababa and what others are doing in Egypt and Sudan are all part of these ill-advised and futile attempts. The problem is they do not know the reality when it comes to Eritrea and it will take time until they realize the reality. Conspiring to destabilize and undermine such a small country as Eritrea by attempting to deplete its people is insanity. Even the victims themselves can easily realize this once they arrive in the destination areas. On our part, we have been doing our best to tackle this challenge and now we are in a better position.

  • -Your Excellency, for 2017 and beyond, are there any plans at hand that bring about tangible solutions to alleviate housing problems?

Housing problems have tremendously affected the livelihood of our people. This is a key issue. If we go back, we can talk about major works done right after independence. Big housing projects such as the Sembel Complex in Asmara and that of Massawa where many households could inhabit were implemented. These projects had the necessary facilities and were planned well with necessary infrastructure for sewerage, water, asphalted roads with entrances and exits. With that kind of spirit, we have also tried to augment our capacity by providing cement, steel and other building materials. For example, Project Musa Ali around Massawa and the project at May- Hutsa, which is still not completed, are just examples. In order to equip ourselves with better technology, we have also introduced the precast project which has started the now incomplete housing projects around Asmara. The biggest housing problem is that of Asmara. Thus, this has its own effect on other projects. The four companies which were involved in such projects have put on hold other projects elsewhere and have come to Asmara with a different restructuring to play their roles in alleviating the housing problem. They would be engaged in this precast project after completing the May- Hutsa one.

As a consequence of many challenges, the companies were not able to materialize their plans in 2016. Starting from 2017, it has been planned for the companies to complete their precast projects as quickly as possible. However, it should be noted that it is only a very small portion of the housing problem that could be lessened with this kind of project. The biggest problem in Asmara and its environs is that of infrastructure. The sewer hasn’t been developed as desired and thus is overloaded.

The water pipe is old, rusted, blocked and not functional. Water is accessed through such line. In addition, in order to align electrical line installations with current demands, work on foundational infrastructure aimed at each housing project should primarily be fulfilled inside Asmara.

A plan has been set for a project that concerns the neighboring villages around Asmara or open spaces within 10 kilometers distance. These places are envisaged to develop on their own as subordinates to Asmara. This plan is what we aim for. However, it all depends on our capacity. What is our capacity? How many houses can we build? There are some practical questions that need answering. It was witnessed during the last two or three years that some people had tried to build houses on their own. However, this kind of option simply leads to illegal practices. If you build a house on unplanned land, at the expense of others, it disregards a plan for where the sewers, pipe lines and roads are going to be placed.

As such, it was headed in the direction of becoming a slum. Since this could lead us to a situation that we cannot control, it was made to stop. Let’s first finish the precast project in 2017 and see our capacity. You can promise what to achieve but it should be after careful considerations of what you can do within your capacity. Our plan for 2017 is to augment the human resource which can participate in construction works, to train the youth, to put the necessary machineries and materials in place, to prepare items needed for buildings such as sand, cement, iron, electrical materials and others.

Only then we can say this is what we can do. Instead of promising the public very ambitious plans, let’s wait until the project begins and everyone can see for themselves. Even though there is good will and you are ready to accomplish all this, priority must be given to fulfilling the needs of those who are working with little government salary, those without a house and those living in rental houses. For the problem to be alleviated in its entirety, however, setting the infrastructure is a priority. Similar construction projects should be in place in other cities and towns as well. After witnessing its momentum then you can say how much of the housing problems you can solve and how much you can do this year and next year. 2017 will be a year when we test our capacity.

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