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The widely expected appointment of new cabinet members this week by Parliament saw some fresh faces joining the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD). In a country where meritocracy has rarely been a consideration in appointments to government positions, the fact that two of the new appointees are not affiliated with the ruling Prosperity Party (PP) came as somewhat of a surprise. While the premier said during the confirmation hearing that the appointment of nominees who are not members of PP demonstrated that knowledge and experience were the sole yardsticks by which they were selected, PP and its predecessors have always been guilty of sacrificing meritocracy in favor of party membership and loyalty when bestowing appointments to public office. This has had a profound impact not only on the quality of the services government institutions provide to the public, but also the stability and overall development of Ethiopia.

The nominees to any government post, be it at the federal, regional or municipal levels, ought to put the interest of the nation above theirs; possess the necessary educational credentials, work experience and moral standing; and earn the respect and trust of the public. They also need to be imbued with a deep sense of service to the nation and the public. Sadly, a considerable majority of public sector officials in Ethiopia are either incompetent, corrupt or bent on abusing their power for personal gain and generally devoid of any redeeming trait. Given they are unfit to hold office they are incapable of generating or implementing innovative ideas which address the multi-faceted problems facing the nation. The fact that they are not given the space required to function with independence within the framework of the overarching policies of the administration they work for does not help things either. The proliferation of such individuals within all government structures has not only made a mockery of the principles of transparency and accountability, but also spawned discontent and lawlessness. Unless the leadership of the ruling party and the government stop from sacrificing meritocracy on the altar of political expedience, the ramifications are bound to be unpleasant for Ethiopia and its people.

Following rigorously a merit-based system in the appointment of holders of public office is crucial for fostering a fair and efficient administrative system, promoting transparency and accountability, and ultimately driving socio-economic development. The significance of merit-based appointment and its potential impact on Ethiopia are manifold. First and foremost, it ensures that individuals are selected for positions based on their qualifications, skills, and experience rather than factors such as nepotism, favoritism, or political affiliation. Prioritizing merit enables the government and public institutions to attract and retain competent and capable professionals who are best suited to perform their duties effectively. This, in turn, can go some way towards making the public sector more efficient and productive since employees are selected based on their ability to contribute meaningfully to the country’s development goals.

Merit-based appointment also promotes transparency and accountability within government institutions. When recruitment and promotion decisions are made solely on the basis of merit, there is a reduced likelihood of corruption and unethical practices influencing the selection process. This is vital in terms of building public trust in the government and its institutions, as citizens have confidence that appointments are made in a fair and impartial manner, free from undue influence or manipulation. Furthermore, embracing merit-based appointment can contribute to the professionalization and capacity-building of the civil service in Ethiopia. By prioritizing qualifications and competence, public institutions can create a culture of continuous learning and development, encouraging employees to upgrade their skills and knowledge in order to remain competitive, helping create a more skilled and competent workforce, that is capable of delivering high-quality services to the public and implementing policies and programs effectively. In addition, merit-based appointment can help mitigate the brain drain phenomenon afflicting Ethiopia by providing talented individuals with opportunities for career advancement and recognition within the country. When individuals see that their hard work and capabilities are being rewarded through merit-based processes, they are more likely to remain committed to serving their country and contributing to its progress.

The importance of merit-based appointment in Ethiopia cannot be overstated. Ethiopians have had more than their fair share of incompetent and unprincipled public officials that care only about their personal interest or the interest of their clique, ill-treat them, mired in corruption up to the eyeball, and lack the necessary knowledge, experience and principles.

If priority were to be accorded to the possession of such considerations as skills, experience and integrity as opposed to party membership or loyalty in recruitment and promotion processes, the country can find itself in a better position to build a professional, transparent, and accountable public sector that is better equipped to drive sustainable development. Embracing merit-based appointment is not only a matter of fairness and equity, but also a strategic imperative for Ethiopia’s progress in the 21st century.

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