The questions of ‘Rent Seeking Behavior’

By Habtamu Alebachew
In present Ethiopia, which one of us, (individuals, groups, political parties, government officials, local populations, the society, etc), is precisely a rent seeker or rent collector and corrupt?

Still, this is a gross question having to be broken down into hypothetical or actual case studies. Let us take the following examples:

A. I heard a real story that the people of the small town of Kara Kore in Amhara Region went on demonstration against the asphalt project that the government intended to cross the town from Addis Ababa to Combolacha. The people rejected the project for an alleged reason that sight clearance would cost specifically businessmen right and left of the road more than the expected gain from getting improved and standard asphalt road. The government could not force or convince the people and finally so decided that the project jumped Kara-kore town. As probably a strange story by world standards, is this act of the people a rent seeking resistance?

B. I also heard and saw at the 9th EPRDF Congress at Bahirdar that the Ministry of Agriculture reported that there was a retreat in agricultural spurt because the Extension program has not made progress to touch 75% of Ethiopian farmers. The Amhara Regional Bureau of Agriculture admitted the failure but blamed it in a triangular fashion on the political leadership, processionals, and resistant farmers.

The political leadership has power, professionals the skill and famers the land but poor coordination caused a decline in produce. In the story, is there an act of rent seeking? If yes, which group or actor is the rent seeker?

C. Let us say a big mass of students and teachers at a certain university in Ethiopia suffer above all else shortages of basic learning-teaching facilities like books, computers, class rooms, stationary, laboratory, printing press, etc. However, the university management prioritized a construction of swimming pools, fashionable walls or gates or a staff cafeteria on its purchasing list.

Obviously, there is a mismatch between demands and provisions but without any appreciable intention by the Management to benefit itself through corruption. If so, can we call such a mismatch an act of rent seeking?

D. During Election 2005, distorted perceptions that resulted from inexperience of free and democratic election convinced a good number of urban dwellers in Ethiopia to grab urban plots of land by their own hands and built houses. It was a difficult time for EPRDF to show for the urban voter that opposition programs could never cause fast-track socio-economic development midst a loss of several cards.

By way of salvaging the decline in mass support, some city administrations preferred ignoring the massive land grabs, even, decided to approve illegal settlements while those dwellers who refrained from this remained disadvantaged. Is it an act of rent seeking or collection on both sides of the encounter, land grabbers and city administrations?

E. The Federal Anticorruption Commission arrested a list of Customs officials before months in suspicion of involvements in corrupt acts. Police also announced that it seized illegally hoarded currencies and other assets at the house of one of these officials. This precipitated a range of public opinions on the morrow. Some Ethiopians wondered why the official kept that much high amount of valuables at home while he should have hidden it elsewhere. Others asked why this officials wanted to continue with his post after he secured this much wealth. Still others expressed suspicion that there might be political motives behind. In this discourse, is there a phenomenon of rent seeking behavior? If yes, which one?

F. A certain medical doctor at a public hospital is widely known for his accuracy about procedures. He arrives at work place on time; he fulfils all requirements of the hospital as expected by the Management. He cares about government resources and never abuses any property. However, he is very slow at helping patients. He unnecessarily takes several hours while examining admitted cases and at times causes the deaths of some patients. On the other hand, another colleague of him is a very creative doctor who visits a good number of patients at a time and has no record of deaths. She is quick at learning about a certain disease, which she treats skillfully and innovatively and cures the patient sooner than the previous doctor. However, this doctor is poor at respecting procedural requirements. She, for example, leaves office for home if there are no customers. She misses consultation meetings and fails to wear uniforms. At the end of the year, the Management decides to decorate and raise the salary of the first doctor for his procedural loyalty. Is there any act of rent seeking in this case?

In general, what are our measurements of rent seeking behavior in a country structurally different from Western societies where the concepts initially originated?