Update: State media skips Saudi loan news after hostile remarks
Saudi Arabia’s Finance Minister, Dr. Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf, who was in Addis Ababa yesterday afternoon, in what appears to be a pre-planned visit.
His meeting with PM Hailemariam focused on "the need to strengthen activities of Saudi Arabian investors engaged in the agriculture sector in Ethiopia", including exhibition of Agricultural products by the same investors, according to state media reports.
The Minister also signed agreement with his Ethiopian counter-part, Minister Sufian Ahmed, for a total of $25 million dollar loans and on taxation issues.
The signing of agreements was reported on the state owned broadcaster yesterday evening, but it is missing on its website. The same is true for the websites of Addis Zemen and Ethiopian Herald, published by the Ethiopian Press Agency.
Though the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) reported the agreements on its website, it was only in the English version with a vague heading: "Ethiopia signs loans, avoidance of double taxation agreements". A title unlikely to catch attention in a country that seems to sign aid, loans and agreements every other day.
The news caught my attention when I visited Saudi Press Agency’s website, which posted it as follows:
March 01, 2013, SPA — The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia signed here yesterday an agreement on preventing double taxation and tax evasion.
The agreement was co-signed by Finance Minister Dr. Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz Al-Assaf of Saudi Arabia and Finance and Economic Development Minister Sufian Ahmed of Ethiopia.
In a statement following the signing ceremony, Dr. Al-Assaf said that the volume of trade exchange between the two countries increased from SR206 million in 2000 to SR849 million in 2011, adding that this is the 31st agreement signed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with other countries on preventing double taxation.
Meanwhile, Dr. Al-Assaf and Ahmed signed an agreement under which the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) shall provide Ethiopia with a loan worth of SR56.25 million to support the Ethiopian government plans in enhancing economic and social development and reducing poverty in rural areas.
More interestingly, any reference to Saudi Arabia was conspicuously missing on A Week in the Horn, the bulletin released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs every Friday. It reported neither the Saudi Minister’s meeting with PM Hailemariam, nor the signing of the agreements.
Even more strangely, the Ministry’s website has no mention of its spokesperson’s interview transmitted on prime time the national Television, though it is posted on ETV and ENA websites titled, "Accusations by Saudi Deputy Defense Minister shocking, unacceptable: Ministry".
The under-reporting of the agreements on loans (which would be 460ml birr in local currency) and taxation issues is significant. Such news are often highlighted in the state media as a showcase of the nation’s successful foreign relations and economic diplomacy.
Not to forget, the Saudi loan is destined finance the implementation of the Gode Kebridehar Rural Electrification project in the Somali region of Ethiopia (a.k.a. "Ogaden", as the western media like to call it).
It would be tricky to make too much of the under-reporting of the loan in the state media, though the case of the Foreign Ministry’s website is too strange too ignore. It is worth keeping in mind, however, until something more concrete unfolds.
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