-  Oromiffa to be 2nd official tongue

                    A draft bill issued over the week on the special interests and status of Oromia locales within Addis Ababa proposes Afaan Oromo to serve as the official working language along with Amharic while the capital is to be referred to as both Addis Ababa and Finfine.

The long-awaited draft bill, which has been a major discussion point following the popular protest that affected wide areas across Oromia, was presented to the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) after it was adopted by the Council of Ministers.

Deputy Government Whip Meles Tilahun presented the draft bill during the house’s busiest regular session at which more than 10 bills were presented. The draft bill was welcomed by MPs who described it as the “government showing full commitment to respond to questions raised by the people and fulfill their demands”.

However, some MPs raised questions over the timing of the draft legislation that has come for their approval.

“It is not the right time to bring this document to this house for discussion; yet we have only a week before the end of the current term,” an MP asked while another one raised a similar concern saying, “It is not impossible to conduct proper discussions on this bill with the inputs required within a week before the house closes for recess.”

Responding to questions and concerns raised from members, House Speaker Abadula Gemeda indicated the possibility of postponing the draft bill to be treated at next year’s parliamentary session.

“Taking all concerns in to account, of course there is no need to rush,” Abadula said.

Noting that there will also be extensive public consultations and input on the proposed bill, he further told MPs: “It is not expected to be approved in the remaining one week.”

Among provisions stipulated in the draft bill is one designating Afaan Oromo as a working language in Addis Ababa and, along with Amharic, adopting it as a working language of the federal government.

Meanwhile, according to the same draft legislation, Addis Ababa and Finfine would equally serve as names of the capital city pending approval by parliament.

In a statement it released earlier, the Council of Ministers said the decision came after it discussed the draft legislation prepared as per the dictates of the 1995 Ethiopian Constitution that bestowed special interests on Oromia within Addis Ababa.

However, neither the Council’s statement nor other documents affixed to the draft law say how giving another name as well as assigning another working language to Addis Ababa tally with constitutional provisions.

The government’s decision came 18 months after it had scrapped plans to develop an integrated master plan for Addis Ababa and the surrounding towns in the Oromia Special Zone. The original plan triggered widespread protests and deadly clashes between protestors and law-enforcement personnel. It also induced the government to declare a six-month state of emergency which has been extended for an additional four-month period.

It is to be recalled that deadly clashes claimed more than 140 lives after students from Oromia region staged street protests against the proposed “integrated master plan”.

According to a document distributed for MPs along with the draft bill, the bill has been designed and presented with specific consideration of Oromia’s special interest on Addis Ababa in terms of service delivery, conservation and use of natural resources as well as on common administrative issues considering Addis Ababa’s geographical location in the central part of Oromia.

The legislation also included special considerations and benefits related to land and water supply, dry waste disposal and transport services, housing, business centers and sufficient compensation and rehabilitation in the event of relocation of farmers from land earmarked for development activities.

Similarly, the draft legislation grants land on lease free of charge to institutions of the Oromia Regional State that want to erect buildings for government activities and public services. Meanwhile, the Addis Ababa City administration will set up market places for farmers residing in neighborhoods adjacent to the city, according to the draft bill.

Furthermore, an office is to be established with the specific role of coordinating efforts for the rehabilitation of farmers when they are relocated from their land for development purposes as well as insuring proper payment of compensation for evictees.

The city administration will have further role such as responsibility to facilitate conditions for the construction of primary schools for natives of the regional state who want their children to receive schooling in their native language (Afaan Oromo).

After discussing the draft bill, the house overwhelmingly voted to refer it to the pertinent standing committees.