The re-establishment of the Chamber of Commerce & Sectoral Associations bill put forth by the Ministry of Trade & Regional Integration (MoTRI) has caused a stooping roar among officials in the associations prompting them to submit their demand a fortnight ago.

The Ministry had ushered a bill to reinstate the national, regional and city chambers and sectoral associations on names, organization and responsibilities. However, concerns were raised among the associations leaders.

The associations and the chamber have been holding prolonged discussions over the past few weeks.

The Arbitration Institute Director at the Addis Abeba Chamber of Commerce & Sectoral Association (AACCSA), Yohannes Woldegebriel, says the draft proclamation's ambiguity must be addressed.

He believes preparing the draft without contributions from members of the chambers is one of the major setbacks.

The first Chambers of Commerce were established in 1982, under section 39 of the charter during the reign of Haile Selassie I. Three chambers and associations were formed Addis Abeba, Dire Dewa and Gonder under the charter.

Among the responsibilities of the regional and city chambers include developing foreign trade and industry businesses, opposing or supporting legislations, and organising international and national trade fairs and exhibitions.

The current proclamation has served chambers and sectoral associations for the last two decades.

According to Mitikwa Adugna, head of desk support & integration of share companies at the Ministry, a new proclamation has been deemed necessary as the existing one has not reached the expected achievements due to the socioeconomic, infrastructural and political transformations the country has experienced.

The draft suggests that the Ethiopian city and regional chambers' mandates and responsibilities are equivalent. It has also placed some state-owned businesses such as Ethiotelecom and Ethiopian Airlines under the mandate of the Ethiopian Chamber & Sectoral Association.

Mitikwa disclosed that based on their capital, mobility and quantity of branches the bill proposes placing them under the national chamber and sectoral association. She said that the vast capacity and capability compels their jurisdiction to be beyond the City's provision.

Arguments were raised that the Ethiopian Chamber should not fret over the trade and investment agendas of the regional and city chambers; instead, concerning itself with supporting the chambers and formulating policy dialogues.

Officials in Addis Chamber voiced their concerns that the Ethiopian chamber cannot share the same responsibilities as the city and regional chambers fearing that it will create a conflict of duties.

"The Ethiopian chamber is concerned about revenue maximization rather than service provision," said Shibeshi Betemariam, secretary general of AACCSA, told Fortune.

He said the businesses should belong to the city, regional chamber, and sectoral associations.

To the administrative body, the ailment regards the proclamation draft stipulating a regulatory body between the General Assembly and boards of Directors.

The recommendation from the associations entails the presence of another advisory body other than the board of directors elected by members.

According to Shibeshi, having a governmental body outside the chamber with the same mandate as the board will bring a conflict of power. He said that the board should have autonomous power outside bargaining with another governmental body.

The proclamation draft puts the Ethiopian Chamber as the administrative body for the city and regional chambers and sectoral associations where they cannot indulge in any business activities without its authorization.

Officials at the chamber, however, are dismayed with the new specificity as it prevents regional and city chambers from developing domestic and international business advocacies.

"We shouldn't ask for permission to do business," said Shibeshi.

Several changes concerning the name "sectoral association" has also been specified in the bill. In the past 20 years, under the name of sectoral associations existed members in manufacturing industries.

According to the bill, the name has created confusion for new members looking to join the association suggesting that the manufacturing industries will be included under the Addis Chamber by eliminating sectoral associations if the proclamation sees the light of day.

Mitkua disclosed the proclamation will eliminate "double membership" in commercial businesses that previously would become members of the Chamber of Commerce and members of sectoral associations. She believes that the new stipulation will solve the confusion seen among members.

"The Chamber will be all business inclusive," she said.

There are 38 manufacturing and industry business members under Addis Abeba sectoral association.

Fasikaw Sisay, president of the Addis Abeba Sectoral Association, advocates removing the name 'sectoral', as it is not fit for the name of the industries. Still, he is strongly against the inclusion of manufacturing industries under the chamber of commerce.

"It belongs under a different mandate," he told Fortune.

The Association president argues the reason for the existence of separate ministries of Trade and Industry should also apply to the chambers.

Daniel Fikadu, a business lawyer, believes that including manufacturing industries with other sectors will impede the industries from flourishing professionally.

He argues Ethiopian Chamber, as a policy decision-maker, should not involve itself with the responsibilities of the regional and city chambers.

"It's against the administrative law," Daniel told Fortune.

The lawyer observes that having a political organ as an advisory body in the trade businesses will bring a conflict of interest as the government looks for consumer protection whereas the traders are concerned with profit making.

The expert observes the board of directors should be selected among business stakeholders and stand alone as an independent organ.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 15,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1197]

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