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RENEW’s Legal Corner: March 2022

By Tsegamlak Solomon & Lincoln Ford | Wed Mar 02 2022
Our take on the legal developments related to the investment landscape in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda.

Parliament Approves the Proclamation Lifting the State of Emergency  
Following the push several months ago from the Tigray People Liberation Front (“TPLF”) southwards to the capital, Addis Ababa, the federal government of Ethiopia declared a nationwide state of emergency, which later was enacted by the House of Peoples Representative (“Parliament”) as Proclamation No. 5/2021. The main aim of the proclamation was to avert the threat posed by the TPLF, which is declared a ‘terrorist group’ by the federal government. Accordingly, a command post was established under the state of emergency proclamation, which was empowered to impose curfews, cause the termination of any means of communication and public transportation, and oversee activities of civil society organizations and activities of mass media and journalists, with the authority to revoke their license, among others. When enacted, the state of emergency had an expiry period of six months effective from the date of enactment, November 2, 2021.
However, following the successful push back of the TPLF group to Tigray by the federal government, the Council of Ministers proposed for the state of emergency to be lifted as the threat from TPLF is no longer prevalent. As a result, the Parliament approved the recommendation and lifted the state of emergency on February 15, 2022, before the expiry date. According to the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, the threat has reached a stage where law enforcement could be implemented by regular operation. The approval came after three weeks from the proposal by the Council of Ministers.
The lifting of the state of emergency is seen as a positive development for the business community. Perhaps one of the most significant impacts of the lifting of the emergency is seen on the performance of the Ethiopian sovereign bonds. Following the expression of intention to lift the state of emergency by the government, the Ethiopian bonds witnessed a swing from near-worst to best performing. According to Bloomberg, “Ethiopia’s bonds are the best-performing sovereign debt in emerging markets this year.” The bonds have rallied 6 cents on the dollar following the announcement by the Prime Minister’s Office that the security threat had diminished. That brings returns this year to 13%, the best performance out of 80 developing nations tracked by Bloomberg. As a result of the war, the securities lost 28% last year alone, which was the worst performance after El Salvador.
Executive Organs Proclamation Published 
One of the first tasks undertaken by the newly formed government when it took office on October 4, 2021 was restructuring the executive branch of the Federal Government. During its first session, the newly formed Parliament enacted a proclamation that defines the powers and responsibilities of the executive organs of the government. This has created a number of changes in the structure, from their nomenclature to restructuring their responsibilities and accountabilities. However, despite this being the first act of the Parliament, we had to wait for four months until the final proclamation defining their powers and accountabilities was published in the Federal Negarit Gazette. This month, the printouts of the Proclamation have been made available to the public, which is called the Definition of Powers and Duties of the Executive Organs Proclamation No. 1263/2021. 
One of the major reasons for the restructuring, per the preambles of the proclamation, is the need to establish an organizational structure that allows coordinated work that is efficient and cost-effective, helps reduce wastage and ensures accountability. Previous laws have not been able to establish an accountable organizational structure and designation of institutions and, as a result, it was impossible to ensure the continuity of institutions and uniformity of designation. 
Accordingly, the organizational structure has tried to classify government bodies into seven major categories, which are:
Ministry - A ministry is led by a minister. It is mainly responsible for formulating sectoral policies, strategies and programs, and related matters and oversees and coordinates its implementation. Accordingly, 22 ministries are established per the proclamation. Major changes in this category are: the Ministry of Trade and Industry is divided into two different ministries, which are the Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration and the Ministry of Industry. In addition, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs changed its name to the Ministry of Labour and Skills, which under the new structure overtook the roles and responsibilities of the Jobs Creation Commission.  
Commission - A commission can be accountable to a Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office or the Parliament. It coordinates the activities of different executive organs, formulates policies and strategies and oversees its implementation. The Ethiopian Investment Commission and the Customs Commission are the noteworthy organs in this category. 
Authority - An authority performs a regulatory function, issues standards and ensures their compliance with the same. It could be accountable to a Ministry, however, if there is a potential conflict with the activities of an institution to which it is accountable, it could be made accountable to the Prime Minister or other government organs. The Ethiopian Food and Drug Authority is a regulatory organ to note in this category. 
Administration or Development - An administration or development organ mainly conducts regular development and infrastructure development activities and oversees the same. One major introduction in this category is the introduction of Ethiopian Investment Holdings as a sovereign wealth fund that is independent of the Public Enterprise Holding and Administration and reporting to the Prime Minister. The Ethiopian Entrepreneurship Development is another organ established, which took over the roles and responsibilities of the Federal Small and Medium Manufacturing Industry Development Agency.  
Service - This is a new designation for government organs. It is used for institutions that are mainly established to provide centralized services necessary for government organs or provide services mainly to citizens. One of the major introductions under this category is the Documents Authentication and Registration Services, which used to be an agency in the past. 
Office - An office is an institution established for temporary or permanent purposes under special circumstances to conduct mainly activities that require special attention and institutional arrangement by uniformly coordinating different institutions. 
Institute - An institute is accountable to the relevant Ministry or another government organ that mainly focuses on training, study, research and consulting services. One of the major introductions in this category is the establishment of the Innovation and Technology Gifted and Talented Development Institute, whose powers are to be defined by regulation.  
Furthermore, one may notice that the number of executive organs that are accountable to the Prime Minister has increased. There are now seventeen executive organs that directly report to the Prime Minister.
English Version of Commercial Code Published
As part of the economic reform program and to improve the country’s ranking in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business ranking, the government started the process of updating the six-decade old commercial code. Accordingly, the Parliament adopted the new Commercial Code under Proclamation No. 1243/2021 (“New Commercial Code”), which came into effect in March 2021. However, the business community, especially foreign investors, has been waiting to get the printouts of the English version of the code. The wait has come to an end this month. The printouts of the English version of the New Commercial Code were made available to the business community. 
The New Commercial Code has made several changes to the old one, which principally is associated with its incompatibility with the current state of doing business. Many things have changed during the past six decades which made the repealed code outdated and inadequate to regulate current trade developments. Learn more about the changes here.
Parliament Approves the Enactment of the Private Employees Pension Proclamation 
The Parliament enacted a new Private Employees Pension Proclamation. This will repeal the decade-old Private Employees Proclamation No. 715/2011 as amended by Proclamation No. 908/2015. Adopting the new proclamation is required to strengthen and improve private organization employees' pension schemes and funds to ensure sustainability and reliability, benefit citizens better, and finally expand and consolidate to contribute to social justice, industrial peace, poverty reduction and development. 
As we understood from the final draft of the new proclamation, it has made some changes associated with the compliance requirements of employers and employees, manner of payment of retirement pension and gratuity. Now the new private employees pension proclamation is adopted, it will come into full effect once published in the Federal Negarit Gazette. We will be providing a detailed analysis of the changes introduced in the future.

Uganda Declines to Renew Membership with the International Coffee Organization 
Uganda recently announced a two-year suspension of its membership from the International Coffee Organization (ICO), noting that the country needed to put pressure on the organization to address unreasonable terms in the International Coffee Agreement drawn up for member states, such as the unfair tariffs and restrictions imposed on imports of value-added coffee. According to an article in the East African, Uganda’s other concerns are the coffee price volatility, which it says is threatening the incomes of local farmers and sustainability of the coffee sector, unfair membership votes and contributions, and the increasing role of the private sector in the decision making of ICO, among other issues.
The International Coffee Organization is the principal body in charge of fostering cooperation between international coffee exporters and importers. The surprising decision Uganda made to suspend its membership with the international body has left coffee farmers disgruntled especially considering Uganda is currently the second largest exporter of coffee in Africa with coffee comprising 22% of the country’s total exports and has a goal to be the world’s third-largest exporter of coffee by 2025 behind Brazil and Vietnam. The Uganda Coffee Development Authority has maintained that Uganda’s withdrawal from the International Coffee Agreement will not hamper coffee trade and export. Uganda can continue to export, but there are concerns that the withdrawal might limit market opportunities. 

EALA Receives Key Bills Paving Way for Regional Monetary Union 
The completion of the discussion of three pertinent laws by the legislative arm of the East African Community (EAC) finally came to an end on March 1, 2022 with a plenary session to discuss the inception of the long awaited East African Monetary Institute (EAMI). The EAMI is charged with establishing the East African Monetary Union (EAMU) to create regional economic integration among the six member states of the EAC (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda). According to a Rwanda Times article, the bills under discussion are: 
  • The EAC Standardization, Accreditation and Conformity Assessment Bill, which will provide for standardization, accreditation and conformity assessment of products traded in the EAC to facilitate industrialization development and trade to make provision for ensuring protection of health and safety of society and environment in the community;
  • The EAC Financial Services Commission Bill, which will promote integration of financial systems in the EAC and harmonize regulation and supervisory practices in the non-banking financial sector; and
  • The EAC Surveillance Compliance and Enforcement Bill, which will have the function of assessing the attainment of macroeconomic convergence by EAC partner states and to regularly monitor and enforce adherence to the macroeconomic convergence criteria by the participating partner states.
These bills are critical to finally establishing the EAMI. The EAMI aims to pick up from where the East African Central Bank left off by issuing a single currency by 2024 as a means of achieving the ultimate goal of regional economic integration. These efforts were stifled last month when members of the Council of Ministers failed to attend or send representatives to the sitting, consequently leading to the postponement of the discussion on major business. The delay in decision making has been a recurrent obstacle in finally realizing all the EAC pillars of regional integration.
Photo by Imran Mazar
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