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Leading businessmen and women in Addis Abeba are nervous; federal agencies working in areas of tax, land, and corruption are the most feared entities these days. There is hardly a businessperson who is in the mood for expanding and spending more on businesses, it seems.

The mantra in business circles has become one of “retain what you have” or “wait and see.” Well-known businesses are frustrated with what they claim is pestering by those in the public sector, and they would rather have a small business (a kiosk or restaurant are their preferred outlets), keep a low profile, and spend the fortune they have accumulated over the years at ease and in luxury.

Even those who openly and unabashedly supported the EPRDFites during their election campaign have become reticent about voicing their disgruntlement with the measures the authorities are taking against businesses alleged to have grabbed land, dodged tax, or been involved in corrupt practices. Ironically, their complaints could not go further than the gossip corridors in town for lack of unity in the expressed dissatisfaction.

Nothing has come from their botched effort to address their collective grievances to the Prime Minister in writing a few months ago. It was too absurd that many of the business leaders involved in crafting the letter subsequently pointed fingers at each other, following the Prime Minister’s reaction that was not to their favour, the gossip corridors noticed.

The authorities at the mid-rank level of the political structure and owners of big businesses in town appear to be in a quiet struggle of flexing muscles, gossip noticed. It is as if the power of money is trying to overcome the power of political appointment, or that is how it is portrayed in the gossip corridors.

Nonetheless, if the politicians put their chief priest on national TV to demonstrate that whatever the private sector is up against is fully supported by the highest authority in the political structure, it would cause little surprise. On the contrary, those who are advising him that such aggressive moves against businesses may have unintended and harmful consequences for economic activity have done their bit in trying to persuade the chief priest to give a statement to balance, and, hence, reassure provoked businesses, claimed gossip.

Provoked they are, judging from what the gossip corridors were awash with last week.

The word has been out for sometime now that authorities in the city administration’s justice bureau are preparing to prosecute their own officials who they allege had a hand in what they call a massive transaction in land sales, in contravention of the constitution. Interestingly, people from the private and public sectors appear to be talking two different languages when it comes to “land sales committed against the Constitution.”

However, the prosecution of alleged offenders may not be limited to those in the city administration, past and present, claimed gossip. Word on the street is that it is highly probable that the city justice bureau will include those in the private sector and owners of a couple of real estate firms in its prosecution, claimed gossip.

In a city where the institution of charges is directly related to the arrest of a suspect, it will come as no surprise that many known businessmen have left the country over the past few weeks, gossip observed.

The absence of many of the leading businessmen from town is too good to be a coincidence, claimed those in the gossip corridors. 



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