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If the political establishment has not yet figured it out, too bad, say many in the gossip corridors. The public mood in Addis Abeba is very depressing, gossip observed. The blame lies partly with developments that are beyond the control of the Revolutionary Democrats, while in part they are victims of their own making, according to those in the gossip corridors.

Above the surface, public exhilaration was provoked after the chief priest took a rare moment to show his patriotic side; a shortfall his critics have capitalised on for a long time. Laying a foundation stone at the site of a project now dubbed the Great Renaissance Dam (its fourth name since its inception back in Emperor Haile Selassie’s time), Meles projected himself as a leader who would stand up to any power to defend the interests of this country.

Predictably, his foot soldiers, trained to create mass enthusiasm, and their allies in the state media were quick to grab the opportunity to turn patriotism into mass hysteria. The popular purchasing of bonds and handing out of cheques to the state by almost all state owned entities lead one to quip, “The legend of Abay was to carry the logs of the highland to the deserts of Egypt; now it does so with the salaries of public servants,” gossip heard.

However, uneasiness and restlessness appears to be taking hold underneath the frenzy, gossip observed. Added to the escalation of prices of almost everything, the manner in which the Revolutionary Democrats have handled the economy is backfiring. The climate of insecurity they have created, particularly among the business community, seems to have locked its jaws, claimed those in the gossip corridor.

This is partly due to the unpredictability of the state’s behaviour, claimed gossip. The powers that be are frequently criticised for locking up alleged offenders and looking for evidence to incriminate them, often in a frantic manner. They cause a big ruckus with their allegations, only to fail measuring up to their original claims, gossip observed.

Many put the number of allegedly seized plots by real estate firms at as many as 30 or more. The EPRDFites originally claimed the executives of these firms breached a constitutional provision for selling land, only to concede later that the allegations were made due to political mistakes that were “unwise but within the boundaries of the law.”

The dust from what appeared to be a hyped-up affair settled down soon after when those heading real estate firms (bar the two who refused to surrender) pleaded for mercy from the state. The latter was gracious enough in letting their transgressions go, but with “hefty fines,” as the chief priest described it once.

These fines have now arrived at the gates of districts across the city who are tasked to collect their prizes, gossip discovered. Ironically, close to 36 of these real estate firms (out of a total of 124) have financial penalties amounting (in aggregate) to a little over 10.6 million Br, claimed gossip.

Over half of these companies have their sins engraved as “expansionism,” while a few were found guilty of changing the nature of their projects, building in green areas and buffer zones, and engaging in construction without permits, according to gossip.

The accused were also blessed with the city administration’s mercy; they will pay their fines in five instalments, the first amounting to a little over four million Birr, claimed gossip.

The largest fine goes to a real estate firm known as Michael Area Housing Real Estate, which leased a 23,000sqm plot in Bole District, in 2005, with the expressed intention to build 22 villas and 640 condominium units. This firm is accused of committing all three transgressions, and must shoulder a total fine of 3.7 million Br.

It was followed by Mulunesh Fiti’iret, a firm that leased 66,763sqm plots in Bole District. It has to pay 2.4 million Br for its offence of changing the nature of its project, gossip disclosed. Then there are the high profile companies, such as Sunshine Real Estate, that are subjected to a 1.1 million Br fine; and SATCON Plc, which has to pay 236,419 Br, according to gossip.

The smallest fine of 2,509 Br goes to Sisay Desta Real Estate which leased a 18,000sqm plot in 2007 in Bole District.

Many of these companies have been served notices to pay their dues to the city within three days, gossip also learned.



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