Last week, the historical premises of the Greek Community School on DR Congo St. experienced commotion with the presence of security forces acting on the orders of the Federal High Court judges. The ruling came as the climax of a year-long legal dispute that pitted the Hellenic Community against the Education and Justice ministries, alongside the Authority of Civil Society Organisations.

The disagreement began in September when the Minister of Education, Berhanu Nega (PhD), corresponded with the Authority that a cohort of parents had lodged complaints against the School's managment. The Minister claimed parents contested the implementation of a standalone, for-profit English program. These complaints were rooted in allegations that the School professed to be a community-based establishment without formal backing from the Greek Embassy or the Greek community in Ethiopia.

The Greek Embassy was unresponsive last week, despite a request for an interview submitted by Fortune as the Embassy demanded.

Teferi Geletu, who leads the Authority's registration and document authentication division, highlighted that the School's management had initiated registering as an endowment organisation last year. However, this initiative was prematurely abandoned due to an emerging conflict of interest, arising when some school officials were elected board members. Teferi contended that the School could have finalized its endowment registration had it chosen to offer scholarships or established a separate entity dedicated to serving the public.

"It has no formally recognizable owner," Teferi said, emphasising that ever since the school's founders passed away several years ago, its ownership has been in legal limbo, since its foundation in 1953.

He also noted that the School's community was officially registered as an Idir, an informal community-based savings and credit scheme in Ethiopia.

Minister Berhanu again reached out to the Authority six months later, expressing concerns over the School's continued operation under the 'community school' banner. He argued that the school was collecting fees arbitrarily without conforming to the recognized classification of an international school. He also issued a letter to the Ministry of Justice highlighting that the "Hellenic Community Idir", which has been managing the School, had consistently failed to file taxes. He alleged they had consistently ignored requests to reorganize as an endowment institution.

Discontented with the School's disregard for governmental mandates, Berhanu advocated establishing an interim board to assume school management responsibilities.

A decisive ruling was passed in May by a Federal High Court, presided over by judges Ambico Jarsa, Sintayhu Berecha, and Abdu Ibrahim. They ordered the transition of caretaker responsibilities to a newly formed interim board.

This board was to be composed of members from the Ministry of Education, the Authority of Civil Society Organizations, as well as teachers and parents. Berhanu forwarded a letter to the Ministry of Finance imploring an audit of the School's properties. This, he suggested, would ensure the "self-proclaimed school management" paid its due taxes.

In response to this impasse, the Ministry of Justice launched criminal proceedings against the Hellenic Community Idir leaders, accusing them of fraudulent activities such as producing counterfeit receipts, tax evasion, and illegal administrative practices. Early last week, law enforcement personnel moved into the Shool's premises, securing a couple of offices where financial documents are archived, eyewitnesses disclosed to Fortune.

The High Court's verdict was issued in absentia, as the representatives of the Hellenic Idir were not present during the ruling.

Zebene Fikir, the legal counsel for the School, has vehemently objected to the court's decision. While acknowledging the School's registration as an Idir, he contends that 80pc of its income is allocated for salaries and administrative expenses, with the remainder being distributed as charity. He argued that the appointment of the new board was carried out without obtaining the consent of the school community.

The Hellenic Community Idir took its own legal action, filing a civil lawsuit at the Federal High Court, Kirkos First Instance Civil Bench—the lawsuit aimed to halt the transition of caretaker responsibilities to the new board. The Presiding Judge, Senait Abera, ruled in favour of the Hellenic Community last month, effectively blocking the transfer of management and properties to the newly established board.

Judge Senait ordered Tsega Waqjira, the head of the criminal investigation department at the Ministry of Justice, to provide an explanation in court. Specifically, she demanded to know why the School's property was transferred to the new caretakers in spite of the injunction against such a move.

These convoluted legal proceedings and their ramifications have led to a complex situation where different court orders appear to be in conflict with each other. This perplexing state of affairs has led legal experts to reflect on the issue, with a consensus emerging that both parties should be present at all court proceedings.

Aberham Hailemeskel, a legal expert, argued that a court order superseding another does not stand to reason since the two legal proceedings in question – those of the Federal High Court and the First Instance Court – are fundamentally different in nature. The former is a criminal bench, while the latter is a civil one.

Hailemeskel said that while Idirs are not categorized as commercial entities under the country's commercial code, they still retain the right to secure a trade license and generate revenues.

"Idirs are becoming business-oriented entities these days," he remarked, hinting at the evolving nature of these traditionally community-based organisations.

The Greek Community School's situation, a saga combining historical legacies, evolving societal norms, and legal complexities, challenges the 1,300 students and their parents. A month after the High Court ruling, the Parents, Teachers & Students Forum proposed increasing tuition fees. The recommendation, supported by nine members, cited the necessity for school facility upgrades and enhancements in competency levels.

PUBLISHED ON Jun 10,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1206]

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