Federal High Court judges have ordered the Addis Abeba City Administration to reinstate hundreds of employees to their former positions in the city's land management offices, thereby ruling a recently held reshuffling unlawful.

The city administration reassigned 400 staff working in seven of the 11 districts beginning February last year. However, officials at the city's Public Service & Human Resource Development Bureau have met resistance that their reshuffling of staff working under the Addis Abeba Land Management Bureau was carried out based on a regulation the city council had yet to ratify. It was intended to combat corruption and illegal land transfer activities observed in the Bureau, according to people close to the matter.

Many of the staff reassigned worked in districts with jurisdictions in the capital's peripheries, where widespread illicit land transfers are reported. A study conducted by the city administration last year uncovered that 383ht of land designated to be transferred to the city's land bank was instead in the hands of individuals. A few months ago, officials rescinded the title deeds of 671 plots deemed to be held unlawfully.

The Public Service & Human Resource Development Bureau, under Hailu Lulie, initiated a new employee evaluation system to determine personnel to be reassigned to other bureaus last year. Hailu was replaced by Hikman Hayreddin last September after Mayor Adanech Abiebie, and her cabinet, was sworn in to steer the new administration for a five-year term.

Employees scoring less than 75 points on their evaluations were consequently reassigned to positions at other bureaus.

Arega Tessema was one of the 16 staff reassigned from the land management bureau of Kirkos District. A land classification expert for five years, he scored 72 points on his evaluation, hence his transfer to the Environment Protection & Green Development Bureau of Lideta District.

“I work in a job that I'm not trained for,” he told Fortune.

Before joining the Land Management Bureau, Arega had completed a five-year urban planning programme at the Civil Service University. Although his salary has remained the same following the transfer, Arega feels the ordeal has been a source of emotional and psychological trauma.

“The five years I spent studying urban planning went to hell,” he said.

Nearly all of the employees that had been transferred were reassigned to jobs they are unqualified to hold, a staff who works at Arega's former office in Kirkos District told Fortune.

The disgruntled employees filed complaints three months ago with the Federal High Court, arguing the reshuffling had no legal basis.

Officials of the Human Resource Development Bureau admit they erred by moving forward with the reassignments based on a regulation yet to be ratified. The decision was made by a committee comprised of district office managers and other city officials, sources disclosed to Fortune.

Implementation kicked off without approval from the former Office of the Attorney General, according to Birru Zewdie (PhD), head of the Bureau's human resource development and administration department. Reestablished as the Ministry of Justice last year, the federal agency is tasked with verifying that any proposed legislation harmonises with existing laws.

Birru says his office had attempted to address the situation following the establishment of the new city administration last October.

“We tried to review the matter,” said Birru. “But we couldn’t intervene because the employees had already filed their complaints with the court."

Last month, judges at the Federal High Court ordered the employees to be reinstated to their former positions. Signed by Birru, a letter dispatched to seven district offices two weeks ago instructs officials to follow up on the verdict and instructs that employees that were not part of the litigation are to be reinstated as well.

Addis Tsadik, an independent attorney, says transferring employees is an unconventional method to fight corruption. He argues that the civil servants brought in as replacements would only continue the illicit practices.

Despite the court ruling, however, there has yet to be any indication of how the employees will be reinstated to their former positions and, indeed, what is to happen to those that have been filling in for them.

Arega and the other employees will also have to overcome an additional impediment to reclaiming their former roles. Last December, the Human Resource Development Bureau revised the minimum requirements for job listings under the city administration. Civil servants in the capital are compelled to compete for their positions.

“This is something all civil servants in the capital must go through,” said Birru.


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