Addis Fortune: Not surprisingly, and for obvious reasons, the health and wellbeing of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been the subject of intense discussion among members of the public. This came following photos released recently while he was in Mexico, where he was attending a summit by leaders of the group of 20 major economies (G20), and subsequent TV footage showing him receiving Sharif Sheikh Ahmed of Somalia’s transitional government.
In both images that the public was exposed to, it was clear that the Prime Minister had lost weight and visibly. With speculations wide and persistent, the source of his weight loss was thought by many to be due to ailing health.
Such a public perception was only fed by his absence from the public’s view over the past two weeks and was intensified because Parliament has still not gone on recess for the summer, even although the country’s official fiscal year came to an end on Saturday, July 8, 2012. What Parliament was, rather, scheduled to discuss on this day was issues such as approving the minutes from its 43rd session, ratifying a bill on national IDs, and giving recognition to a team of surgeons who successfully conducted an unusual surgery on a child.
MPs have yet to accomplish two of the most important tasks in the year. Listening to the Prime Minister’s address to Parliament on the state of the federation during the just-concluded fiscal year and voting on his report as well as ratifying the federal budget’s bill for the fiscal year that just began, which was approved by the Council of Ministers four weeks ago. Gossip sees that neither of these can take place in the absence of the Prime Minister, indeed, unless, of course, there is a situation that dictates otherwise.
At the heart of all of this lies the issue of whether there is a health challenge that Meles is facing that prohibits him from conducting his official duties. The administration, through its spokesperson, Shimelis Kemal, state minister for the Government Communications Affairs Office, vehemently denied rumours that the Prime Minister has been ill. Some close to the Prime Minister have similar views and attribute his recent loss of weight to a diet that he might have started lately.
Coincidentally, it was at a time of such uncertainty that senior officials at the Ministry of Finance & Economic Development (MoFED) instructed, last week, a recall of letters copied to various federal offices in relation to settling medical bills paid on behalf of the Prime Minister, gossip claims. Meles was in London last year for an official visit, where he had a routine check-up, claims gossip.
The way that such bills get settled through the bureaucratic paper trail is for the Prime Minister’s Office to write a letter of request to the MoFED, upon which the latter transfers the funds to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), which actually undertakes the payment, according to gossip. Such was what the Prime Minister’s Office did to see that the medical bills for the London check-up were settled almost a year after, gossip claims. Accordingly, the guys at the MoFED have already transferred the money to the foreign office, disclosed gossip.
Nonetheless, for reasons not explained, the paper trails circulating within the various federal agencies in order to process the request have been recalled, claims gossip. A couple of days last week were spent on such an effort, fuelling a new cycle of speculations on the wellbeing of the Prime Minister, according to gossip.
It looks like there is a lot more that the administration’s spin-doctors need to do on the public relations front to reassure an otherwise alarmed bureaucracy and public, before the grapevine spins things out of control, those at the gossip corridors agree.
No doubt that he has been outside of the country much of last week; whether that was for recovery due to exhaustion – and for skipping couple of checks up last year – or something else, gossip disclosed. Nonetheless, some at the diplomatic corridor claim that he is now in a very good health, expected to have been back to Addis Abeba on Saturday night.
If, indeed, the Prime Minister was sick and is now recovering, there should be no reason to keep the public in the dark about the health of their leader, many at the gossip corridor agree.