Policymaking Practice and Challenges of House of Peoples Representatives (HoPRs)

Tiruye Alemu


In any form of government the principle of separation of powers divides the state powers into three branches: the legislative, executive and judicial powers. According to this principle, adopting laws/policies is vested to the legislative; most policy initiatives are enacted into law, and thus must be approved by the legislature. The very name of this branch suggests law making and is assumed to be the primary function of legislative branch; and this function consumes considerable time and energy of the same (Birkland, 2001). Legislatures are required to identify problems, study issues, receive expert and public inputs, formulate or approve policies that are designed to remedy the problems or issues.

The extent and nature of legislatures in playing their law/policymaking role vary significantly from country to country. The legislature role in the policy making is, in the first place, dependent upon its relationship with other political institutions and actors, most notably, chief executives in presidential systems, cabinet members in parliamentary system and party elites in those systems characterized by strong political parties (David & Michael, 1991). Some legislatures are proactively able to develop their own legislative proposals and thus participate along with the executive in directing the policy agenda (Saiegh, 2008). Such legislatures are also likely to be active and e?ective in overseeing policy implementation (ibid). At the other end, legislatures may be fairly marginal players, serving as a rubber stamp on the executives legislative proposals and having little capacity or willingness to scrutinize the conduct of government. Although,  there is a wide area between these two extremes, most scholars agree  in developing countries, the impact of the legislative bodies' in public policymaking is not only much less that they are also passive instruments that can be manipulated rather than active contributors (Gridle and Thomas, 1991).

In the history of Ethiopia, the 1931 constitution was a landmark for the legislature to the present day. The constitution convened the first bicameral parliament and concisely defined the structure of the legislature to consist of two deliberative chambers. The chamber of Senate were to consist of members appointed by the emperor drawn from the nobility where as the Chamber of Deputies were appointed by the nobility and local chiefs until such time as the people were considered ready to elect the members of chambers of deputies themselves (The 1931  Constitution, Article 31 & 32). Likewise, in the 1955 revised Constitution the Senate were formed from elite groups such as the princes, high government officials and other local governments appointed by the Emperor. Differing considerably from the 1931, members of the Chamber of Deputies were elected by the people of Ethiopia. In both cases, however, the ultimate power was still in the hands of the Emperor; and the power of approving and disapproving parliamentary legislations resided on the supremacy of the monarch. The parliament was neither meant to carry out the usual functions of an elected legislature, nor was it a source of public authority. Shiferaw in Mulugeta Abebe (2005) also commented that, there had never been any channel of communication between the public and those at the top of policymaking structures; and consulting the affected parties both before and after policy decisions was not in practice.

After the downfall of the Emperor in 1974, for thirteen years, there had been no written constitution in Ethiopia that provided the constitutional base for policymaking. The Derg dissolved the imperial parliament and officially declared the establishment of a Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC, 1974­). Afterwards, the policymaking had been entertained by a limited circle of Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) which had practically alleged on agenda setting and the policymaking process (Mulugeta, 2005). After the declaration of the 1987 constitution, although in theory it was claimed that public power resided in the national Assembly called National Shengo, it was the party that made policy choices and decisions in advance. This is because the constitution empowered the party to be the leading organ of the state as well as the society (Constitution, 1987). Furthermore, in the wake of the establishment of Peoples Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the newly emerging state organ, administrative and autonomous regions were integrated into the machinery of central planning, party and state institutions. Thus, it can be conclude that in both regimes the job of the legislature was passive and was a type of rubber-stamp or merely endorsing already made policy decisions.

Since the 1990’s, Ethiopia has transformed from a nearly  failed state as a result of various brutal dictatorships, to  one that has made progress through introducing radical political and structural changes. A new Constitution was adopted in 1995, establishing a Federal Democratic Republic. The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has brought about fundamental constitutional and political changes and has fundamentally influenced the policymaking process in Ethiopia. Since then, Ethiopia has conducted four elections held within a legal framework institutionalizing pluralism and democracy. These changes have, inter alia, necessitated the formulation and implementation of economic and social policies that will give effect to the principles embodied in the new Constitution. The structure of government and the principles of policymaking entrenched in the Constitution, aimed at redressing the imbalances created by the past. Accordingly, Ethiopia is structured along the lines of bicameral parliament consisting of a Federal Council and a House of Peoples’ Representatives where both a federal government and a state shall have legislative, executive and judicial powers (FDRE Constitution, 1995). The legislative organs are constitutionally declared to be the highest political authority and the law making power is vested on the same. Being one of the most important tasks of the parliament, policymaking is the chief device of elected bodies used to represent the needs and wishes of citizens through the policymaking process.

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