Ethiopia_ fighting against negative propensity towards public property – allafrica. com

opinion By Solomon Dibaba

Public property is property that is meant for public use and is a subset of state property. The term may be used either to describe the use to which the property is put, or to describe the character of its ownership (owned collectively by the population of a state).

This is in contrast to private property, owned by individual persons or entities that represent the financial interests of persons, such as corporations. State ownership, also called public ownership, government ownership or state property, are property interests that are vested in the state, rather than an individual or communities.

The Ethiopian Constitution defines public property in reference to Article 2(13) of Proclamation No. 256/2005, refers to “rural land demarcated and those lands to be demarcated in the future as federal or states holding; and includes forest lands, wildlife, protected areas, state farms, mining lands, lakes, rivers and other rural lands.” Although the list is not exhaustive, the Constitution clearly states that the above mentioned items and other properties purchased by public fund for use for the public are considered as public property.

The Ethiopian government is expending the tax payer’s money to build public utilities and services as a means of stewardship to the funds entrusted to it and also as a practical response to the multi-faceted social needs of the public.

Over the last two decades and beyond public utilities like roads, electrical appliances, telephone lines, communication and data cables, ring road and road traffic signs, street lighting systems and a number of public service amenities have been constructed by the government. Billions of hard won foreign currency has been expended to import different kinds of hardware materials to accelerate the modernization of the nation’s service delivery system.

To the dismay of everyone with rational gumption for public property, the amenities that are installed and constructed for public use are being destroyed, looted, defaced or damaged by reckless drivers, irresponsible hooligans and traumatized paupers. Land, as a major public property has been illegally expropriated and used in an illegal manner contravening with the nations desire for rapid economic development.

In many public schools and higher institutes of learning, users are mostly seen mishandling utilities like school desks, lavatory services, rest rooms, and various types of installations meant for use by students and administrative staff incurring a lot of maintenance costs to repair the assets.

In a number of government offices and service providing units, customers and staff alike fail to give the necessary care for the government property entrusted to them to facilitate for appropriate service delivery. Stationary items, computers and their accessories, printers, phone apparatuses, fax machines and other materials purchased with the tax payer’s money are not being handles properly resulting in shortening of their maximized period of use.

Public parks are meant to be used by the public for various purposes including entertainments, weddings and birthday celebrations and for a number of public gatherings. The facilities that are installed in such parks are deliberately set to help maximize the services that the public would expect upon arrival. Most of these facilities are provided by planned budget set by the government.

The appalling situation in public hospitals, health centres, clinics and health posts demands urgent attention. Pharmaceutical equipment, emergency service accessories like wheel chairs, stretchers and medical supplies in intensive care and obstetrics units, computer aided machines, X-ray machines purchased at exorbitant prices in foreign currency need special professional care to elongate their services.

Tampering with telephone booth apparatus at public places has already become common scenery that demands the attention of users. Previous experience shows that telephone booths in Addis Ababa and major cities of the country are mostly out of service due to mishandling and selfish attempts to steal coins from these booths and manipulations of the machines to try free calls.

Although the data is still reportedly under compilation, huge amount of public institutions like schools, ambulance vehicles, local government offices, health centres, properties of private investments and places of worship have been burned down to ashes as the result of public unrest that flared up in parts of Oromia and Amhara states.

The peoples of Ethiopia and the government cannot afford to sustain such lose of property harboured by anti-people ruffians who are out to destroy the development programmes of the nation. Whatever the motive is, such unacceptable stance only helps to proliferate anarchy to derail the nation’s efforts towards sustainable development.

On the one hand, it is difficult to assume that storage facilities in various government institutions are up to international standards. This is a critical area for cold and dry storage facilities which are already very few in number. It also impacts the quality and packaging of export commodities which earn the nation a considerable amount of foreign export earnings.

One important issue relates to standard rules and regulations regarding the process of storing, transferring and discarding public property is worth mentioning. It is obvious that rules and regulations pertaining to supply chain, distribution and discarding government property is already in place but the modalities of care for public property and services has not been given proper attention.

Standardized utilization of public property is part and parcel of good governance. Managing the economic use of public property is a major area of stewardship towards public fund and property thereof. The laws of Ethiopia prohibit any level of tampering with public property.

The Criminal Code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia prohibits the illegal use of public property (article 505) and provides “Whoever intentionally prevents, disturbs or interferes with the efficient working of a public service, or of a service operated in the public interest, of land or inland waterway, sea or air transport or communications, including auxiliary repair, overhaul, maintenance or construction services; or of installations, establishments or services intended either for postal, telegraph and telephone communications or telecommunications in general, light, gas, power or heat, is punishable with simple imprisonment or fine, or, in serious cases, with rigorous imprisonment not exceeding five years.”

The major misappropriation related to misuse and mishandling of public property essentially not only from lack of legal knowledge and consciousness over the issue but also from a negative attitude on any property labelled as public property.

Such negative attitudes have their roots either in sheer idiosyncratic attitude towards public amenities or from a subjective foregoing of public interest for personal egoistic and short lived benefits and complacency. Negative attitude towards public property cannot continue unabated. This calls for an integrated public response to curb the tendency ones and for all.

Public education on the importance of caring for public property needs to be conducted at all levels of social strata in Ethiopia. This may include further promotion of ethical and civic education at schools and public discussions on ways and means of using and protecting public property.

A couple of years back, the Ethiopian government has introduced the Kaizen philosophy in various public and private institutions and industries.

Kaizen refers to activities in manufacturing and service providing institutions that continuously improve all functions and involve all employees from the management to rank and file workers. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain. It has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life-coaching, government, banking, and other industries. The philosophy is already bearing the expected results in saving a huge amount of public fund that can be used for various development projects.

By improving standardized activities and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste. Kaizen was first implemented in several Japanese businesses. It has since spread throughout the world and is now being implemented in environments outside of business and productivity.

Ethiopia has a long way to go before poverty is completely eradicated from the country. The nation needs to create a situation in which the entire population gets into a cultural revolution geared towards appropriate use and protection of public property. If this is not put in place today the situation in the country could resemble the state of a man who tries to fill water in a bucket with a hole at the bottom.

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