Belaynesh Teklay: A Civil Servant at Her Best

In the month of August, AWiB celebrates and spotlights Belaynesh Teklay, the self motivated, and very straight forward woman, who doesn’t take no for an answer and intolerant of any excuses in life.

Every June approaching the end of the fiscal year for most businesses in the nation, AWiB holds a program on doing Business in Ethiopia—issues related to being a business person — “dos” and “don’ts” and the responsibilities that come with it.  Part of being a business person is also to pay taxes on time and help a nation develop. Last June’s guest was Belaynesh Teklay, Deputy Director General/Branches Coordination and Support Division of Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA). Her responsibility is operational and 80% of the total 7000 workforce in ERCA falls under her command. The attendees were all taken by this dynamic young woman’s charm and articulation who is not afraid to tell it as it is. And we were all relieved to find out that all civil servants are not created equal. This woman knows her stuff and is passionate about her message — as citizens we all have the responsibility to pay our taxes due to the nation.  If we don’t want to see ignorance or a mother out on the street with her young children, she says, we better be serious about paying our dues and no doubt she is serious about collecting them. Meet Belaynesh Teklay, a civil servant at her best!

Belaynesh was born in Adwa, Tigrai region in 1974 and raised in a single parent household and she owes all her successes and determination in life to a strong woman who raised her. Belaynesh is the last child of the mother who has five kids–three boys and two girls. Growing up, Belaynesh says they didn’t have much and the mother had to struggle to make ends meet but never saw the mother complained or depressed about life. Instead this mother told Belaynesh and her siblings that the way out of poverty was through education. Belaynesh took the message to heart and made good on the mother’s investment.

When Belaynesh graduated from Nigiste Saba Elementary School, the family moved to Addis. Thanks to an older sister who went abroad to help out the family, their life ameliorated. Upon graduation she attended college and earned her first degree in accounting. Her first job was with Mesebo Cement Factory and had to relocate back to Tigrai. But Belaynesh who grew up in a close family couldn’t survive the separation and came back home to join the rest of the family. After venturing out her career in another corporation—the National Bank, she decided corporate life was not for her and went on to pursue her love for education, this time as a lecturer at the Unity College and later at the Civil Service College. As a woman with a purpose, she also continued her education while working full time as a lecturer. Belaynesh proudly tells us that she earned a master’s degree in finance and a first child three days apart in that order while working full time. Certainly busy and productive!

Belaynesh loved teaching and she wants to work on her Ph.D someday. She believes education helps change attitudes, builds self confidence and develops better citizenship.

After a few years of experience as a lecturer and armed with a master’s degree, Belaynesh decided to try a career in politics. She joined EPRDF and went on to work for the city of Addis Ababa in the finance department. When the finance arm of the city joined with the federal, she was appointed to her present position in October 2010.

At a young age of 38, Belaynesh has a big responsibility to her motherland, to the mother who raised her to be a good citizen and to two daughters. As a woman at the helm, a lot is expected from her and she is determined to do her best and is doing her best. She says when she is at work or leading her life for that matter, she doesn’t think about her being a female in a man’s world. She seems to be oblivious but not naïve about the difference or the status assigned to women. She answered what her husband would say about her? He would say Belaynesh is a person who will not waiver a bit from what she is set out to do; unique and strong. And how about the mother? My mother would tell you she is proud of me and that she raised a strong woman. “Gobez” she would say. So, what describes Belaynesh? Self motivated, not taking no for an answer and intolerant of any excuses in life and very straight forward. So, how does that fare where she works? “Oh, they think I am stern. I don’t mind being challenged but people need to own up to their responsibilities and come up with solutions not excuses”. If they can’t make it, she says, they should say so and give way. But that is not what you find in the nation’s work ethics we asked? “I realize that and our country can’t wait. We need to hurry. In ten years, we must reach our goal of becoming better educated and prosperous society. We need to be serious about our attitude when it comes to our nation’s development”. So, how do you deal with that…by working together, learning from each other, bringing the best in others and making example of those who are doing their best. She seems to be successful.

We also wondered and asked if where she is today is because of her political affiliation or her brain? She says certainly not because of any competition or any exam that she sat for to be here but she also believes the appointment wouldn’t have come to her had she not been capable of doing the job. So, she believes no matter how she came to this position, it was meritorious.

What are the challenges of this position? Many actually but to highlight a few: people’s attitude towards paying taxes, lack of trained personnel to carry out the tasks, lack of good communication skills, inability to take initiative, using excuses for responsibilities not fulfilled and lack of commitment. So, one can work hard but the results leave a lot to be desired.

Because she was a novice to a leadership position, she had to go through an accelerated training on what a leader is. She admits her knowledge was pretty theoretical but on the field where every situation warrants a crisis, she had to learn quickly and learn to think on her feet. Her position requires the real thing. The program directives impact the investment development of the nation and she better knows what she is doing. She says “everything is teams’ effort and we all work together to accomplish the objectives of the day and we learn from each other”. She talks about her colleagues supporting each other and work hard for a common good. She says she learns everyday from her boss, from her colleagues and from her subordinates. She says she has matured politically as well. “What you think in your own turf and what happens when you are on the hot seat are not the same”.

She is ambitious and works hard to help accelerate the economic development of the nation. She is appreciative and feels privileged to be given the opportunity as one of the leaders of the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).

Through her leadership the Addis Ababa city government revenue increased from 2 billion birr in 2007 to more than 8 billion and the total revenue of the Federal Government has doubled from 35 billion Birr to 70 Billion Birr in just two years. Currently she is leading a project “Mercato Compliance Enhancement” to get all traders in Mercato– the largest open market in Africa—comply and to update the tax payers information and modernize revenue collections and in the process change attitudes for the better Ethiopia. Tax and legal system can be arcane and corruption could get in the way of smooth and transparent operation. Her responsibility regarding modernizing revenue collection spreads through all branches and all sub-cities. She believes, this program however arduous is moving ahead and is pleased with the result. Pensively, she says it is all a process…

As a responsible citizen she also gives her time, energy and resources to better her community. She belongs to several organizations that deal with sustainable development and helping the less advantaged to better their lives.  She helps and encourages women employment. ERCA’s 33% of employees are women and the last round of employment hired 64% women. ERCA’s nature of business demands integrity and the belief that women are less corruptible makes it attractive to hire more women. Also ERCA’S compensation package is attractive– a strategy perhaps to attract the best, the brightest and hopefully to deter corruption.

Belaynesh has two small children and is married to a long time lover and best friend Solomon Belete. She has a circle of good friends and a family to die for. Her mother lives with her helping with raising the two daughters. She smiles joyfully thinking that this strong mother who instilled the best values in her and her siblings is also doing the same for her daughters. She is happy about her life and certain that her country is heading the right direction. She is a swimmer and whenever she manages the time, she swims. She also likes to pamper herself and look pretty. We have no doubt by looking at what she does and who she is, she acts pretty too.

She believes her daughters will take over an Ethiopia that is prosperous; an Ethiopia where her citizens will not wonder seeking for a greener pasture but stay put at home. An Ethiopia where the economic situation is strong for all and most society’s problems inherent of poor economy would diminish. She hopes for Ethiopia where her two daughters will be judged by their ability to contribute to a better society but not by their gender.

She wishes for an Ethiopia where the citizens respect each other and work in unison for the common good. She wants to see a nation where ethics rule. She believes all Ethiopians are strong and guard their freedom dearly. But she says freedom from poverty could only be accomplished if we all work together. Economic freedom goes hand in hand with personal freedom. “They are not mutually exclusive and we all should work towards that goal”.

We wish this dynamic promising political leader all the best!

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