|1. Parliament and the Constitution
The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, adopted in December 1994, established two representative bodies for the federal government, namely, the House of Peoples' Representatives and the House of Federation. However, the Ethiopian Parliament is not bicameral in the traditional sense. The House of Peoples' Representatives has legislative and oversight functions while the House of Federation has a constitutional role to safeguard the interests of the nations and nationalities of Ethiopia.
The Constitution follows a parliamentary model by vesting both electoral and legislative power in a popularly elected House of Peoples’ Representatives. This body passes the legislation that defines the powers of government, as well as controlling important sources of revenue. The House of Federation represents nations and nationalities and is given both quasi-judicial and legislative obligations in determining the use of joint revenue sources (shared by the federal government and states) and in determining the apportionment of revenue sharing monies.
The Constitution makes the House of Peoples' Representatives accountable in several ways. Individual members, elected for a term of five years, may be recalled or removed by their constituencies. Although substantial power resides in the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, these officials are elected to their positions by the House of Peoples' Representatives and are called before the House regularly to report on their activities. The government as a whole– including Parliament – is obliged to conduct its business in a "public andtransparent" manner.
2. The House of Federation
The House of Federation is not an "upper" house but has unique duties and responsibilities to interpret the Constitution and protect the rights of the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia. In many countries, matters of constitutional interpretation are decided by the Constitutional Court or by the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Assembly, elected to ratify the Constitution, decided that because of the multitude of nations and nationalities in Ethiopia, the House of Federation would be the best place to protect and ensure the rights of all nations and nationalities.
- Article 62 (3-11) of the Constitution gives the House of Federation responsibility for interpreting the Constitution;
- Organizing the Council of Constitutional Inquiry;
- Deciding on claims based upon the rights of nations, nationalities, and peoples to self-determination, including their right to secession;
- Promoting the equality of the peoples of Ethiopia enshrined in the constitution and promoting their unity based on their mutual consent;
- Exercising the powers and the functions concurrently entrusted to it and the Council of Peoples’ Representatives;
- Striving to find solutions to disputes or misunderstandings that may arise between States;
- Determining the division of revenues derived from joint Federal and State tax sources and the subsidies that the Federal Government may provide to the States;
- Identifying civil cases that require legislation by the House of Peoples’ Representatives
- Ordering Federal intervention if any State, in violation of this Constitution, endangers the constitutional order;
The House of Federation has 108 representatives who are elected by the state governments for a five-year term of office. The composition of the House of Federation is determined according to a system of proportional representation where each nation and nationality is entitled to at least one member and one additional representative for each one million of its population.
The House holds at least two sessions annually, each lasting a week, and also holds a joint meeting annually with the House of Peoples' Representatives at the start of the Parliamentary session. The members of the House of Federation are usually members of their state governments as well and, in this way, they are close to the issues of their people.
The House of Federation is semi-autonomous in that its budget is submitted for approval to the House of Peoples' Representatives, and currently, the Secretary General of the House of Peoples' Representatives, who is an MP, is also the Secretary General of the House of Federation. Apart from sharing the same Secretary General, both Houses also share the same staff and buildings with the House of Peoples' Representatives.
The House of Federation has set up three committees and nominated three members to represent it on the Council of Constitutional Inquiry.
2.1 The Council of Constitutional Inquiry
The Council of Constitutional Inquiry is set up to investigate matters of interpretation of the Constitution. The Constitution gives the Council the following powers and duties:
1. All constitutional disputes shall be decided by the Federal Council
2. The Federal Council shall decide within thirty days after the Constitutional Court has submitted any dispute to it.
Powers and Functions of the Council of Constitutional Inquiry
1. The Council of Constitutional Inquiry shall have judicial powers. However, only when its decisions are confirmed by the Federal Council shall they become final.
2. The Council of Constitutional Inquiry, after examining claims submitted to it by a court or a party to a dispute relating to the contravention of this Constitution by Federal laws or State laws, shall submit its findings to the Federal Council for a final decision.
3. The Council of Constitutional Inquiry shall draft procedures and it shall submit the draft to the Federal Council for approval.
4. When issues of constitutional interpretation arise in other courts the Council of Constitutional Inquiry shall follow the following procedures:
a. If it finds no reason for constitutional interpretation it shall remand the case to the competent court. However, a party not satisfied with the order issued by the Council of Constitutional Inquiry may appeal to the Federal Council.
2.2 The House Committee for State Affairs
b. If it finds a reason for constitutional interpretation, it shall decide the case and submit its decision to the Federal Council for final determination.
This House of Federation committee has been established to take measures that promote unity based on the consent of the peoples and oversees the implementation of the rights of nations and nationalities falling within the jurisdiction of the House of Federation.
It is also responsible for establishing fact-finding ad-hoc committees to solicit remedies to disputes or misunderstandings that may arise between States. The committee, if necessary, may present a report to the House for a federal intervention if any state, in violation of the Constitution, endangers the constitutional order.
The committee is also entrusted with the power of reviewing claims of the right of nations, nationalities and peoples to self-determination including secession.
2.3 House Committee for Revenues Administration
The Committee presents recommendations for the division of revenues derived from joint Federal and state tax sources, which the Executive branch of government proposes and the subsidies that the Federal Government may provide to the States.
Similarly, the committee presents recommendations with regard to the amendment of the division of revenues based on the proposals of the Executive branch of government. In consultation with the House Speakers, it may name an ad-hoc committee that drafts the budget of the House and conducts a follow-up and ensures that this is done at the right time.
2.4 House Committee for Legal Affairs
The mandate of this committee is to identify civil cases that need to be incorporated in the Code. It is also entrusted with investigating issues that require constitutional amendment or reviewing of similar cases and presenting recommendations to the House. The committee ensures that the rights of deputies are protected and makes them accountable for the crimes they may commit. It also reviews disciplinary action to be taken on deputies, and identifies disciplinary measures to be taken by the House when the quorum for sessions repeatedly fails to materialize.
3. The House of Peoples' Representatives
The House of Peoples' Representatives is democratically elected and has 548 members elected for a term of five years. The House of Representatives has one annual session from October to June. It holds regular twice-weekly sittings, which usually take place on Tuesdays and Fridays.
The House of Peoples' Representatives is a powerful legislative body with its legitimacy based on popular election and representation. It is granted broad legislative powers in a large number of areas and it controls the purse strings of the national government, which cannot levy taxes or spend money without its approval.
The Constitution entrusts Parliament with significant electoral, legislative and budgetary powers. Article 55 of the Constitution enumerates the legislative powers of the House of Peoples' Representatives, which include the power to legislate in the areas of:
Currently, the House of Representatives has nine standing committees each comprising of 13 members. The committees are as follows:
- Land and natural resources;
- Inter-State and foreign commerce;
- Transportation, postal and telecommunication services;
- Enforcement of political rights;
- Nationality and immigration;
- Standards of measurement and calendar;
- Patents and copyrights;
- The possession and bearing of fire arms;
- Labour, commercial and Penal Codes
- Civil laws "which the Federal Council deems necessary to maintain and sustain one economic community" and
- The organisation of national defence, public security and national police force.
- In addition, the Constitution gives the House of Peoples’ Representatives important fiscal and budgetary powers, including the power to:
- Approve general policies and strategies of social and economic development, and fiscal and monetary policy of the country;
- Enact laws on matters relating to the administration of the National Bank, exchange of foreign currency, and local currency;
- Levy taxes and duties on revenue sources reserved to the Federal State. It shall ratify the Federal budget.
1. Foreign Affairs Committee
2. Economic Committee
3. Social Affairs Committee
4. Defence and Security Committee
5. Finance and Budget Committee
6. Legal Affairs Committee
7. Administrative Affairs Committee
8. Women’s Affairs Committee
9. Media and Culture Committee
The nine standing committees examine bills referred to them after preliminary readings. The Bills may be initiated by the House itself or drafted by the executive chamber of government. Having received the Bill, the relevant committee arranges a Public Hearing at which all concerned parties and individuals are invited to present their views and opinions. To enable full and public participation in these public hearings the committee announces the dates and times of the public hearing and the agenda through the mass media – radio, TV and newspapers. People are also encouraged to contribute to public hearings through letter or telephone.
After the public hearing, when all views have been collected, the committee prepares its report with recommendations it may wish to make. The report, including suggestions, amendments and public opinion is submitted to the Speaker of the House so that it can be itemized in the agenda for the next regular meeting of the House. The Public Hearings held by the House of Peoples’ Representatives are as follows:
First Year October 1995-June 1996 14 Public Hearings
Second Year October 1996-June 1997 21 Public Hearings
Third Year October 1997-June 1998 16 Public Hearings
In addition to the public hearings, the meetings of the House of Peoples’ Representatives are broadcast on radio and TV and a weekly programme about the Parliament is televised. A regular newsletter is published by the Parliament and, as part of civic education, students are able to visit and see the House of Peoples’ Representatives in session.
Although a relatively new Parliament, still establishing frameworks for democratic governance, the members of both houses are making great efforts to conduct their work in an open and transparent manner. They are also committed to strengthening their capacity. To this end, Parliamentary delegations have been on study tours to see the working of other Parliaments and delegates regularly participate in the meetings and sessions of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Although the numbers of female parliamentarians are small, they have a strong voice. In fact, the Speaker of the House of Federation is one of only two Parliamentary House Speakers in the African continent. It is therefore with pride that Ethiopia hosted the fourth international conference of Women House Speakers in 1997.