Melaku Fenta is the former director general of the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA) whose high-powered career abruptly ended five years ago in relation to a high-profile corruption case. Two months ago, Melaku was released from prison following the decision by the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) to pardon all suspects and convicts in high profile corruption, terrorism and related charges. Melaku, 50, served in the Ethiopian civil service for over 24 years starting from an expert level with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. He quickly rose through the rank and file to lead one of the most difficult government agencies in Ethiopia – ERCA. As head of the tax authority, Melaku, who is an economist by training, is credited for spearheading many tax related reforms in Ethiopia and cracking down on tax evaders. A father four, Melaku is now free and trying to recuperate from the damages he sustained by the past years of imprisonment. Tamiru Tsige of The Reporter caught up with Melaku this week and sat down with him to reflect on the corruption charges he was implicated in and offer his overall views on the political developments in Ethiopia. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Tell me how you came to lead the Ethiopian tax authority?
Melaku Fenta: I was appointed as the director general of Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority with a ministerial portfolio in the new government that was constituted after the controversial 2005 general elections. Since the country was going through a kind of transitional period at the time, we (my colleagues and I) focused largely on finishing some of the reform measures started by our predecessors while on the side benchmarking some best experiences on how to reorganize the tax authority. Later on, we restructured the authority to incorporate both the revenue and customs aspects together and to be led by a director general.
Since then, until the day I went to prison, I was leading this authority. The new structure equipped the authority to go beyond its traditional tax collector role and assume the responsibilities of a service provider and tax law enforcement entity. Apart from that, we followed a different approach on recruitment and consolidation of our human resource by directly going to higher learning institutions and recruiting graduates who topped of their classes. We also tried to design specific systems and draft strategies for each workflow to enhance performance of the tax authority. These reform efforts actually worked quite well; when I took over, the capacity of the authority in terms of annual tax collection was limited to seven billion birr and by the time I went to prison it has already risen to 85 billion birr.