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Executives of Chinese firm dismiss ill treatment claims

Executives of Chinese firm dismiss ill treatment claims

After a deadly fire claimed the lives of seven and injured many at the construction site of the 60,000-seat Adey Abeba Stadium, a contracted premises of the Chinese State Engineering Corporation Ltd (CSCEC) in Ethiopia, executives of the company dispelled what they believe is unsubstantiated claims made about the treatment of the now deceased and rumors of ill treatment of the still injured.

The company invited The Reporter for an extended conversation with the executives of the company, along with their attorney Biset Beyene Molla, and employees who were witness of the accident and its aftermath.

“There is a different narrative than the ones that are being reported by various media,” Michael Tefera, an employee, said. “We have given the best care, travelled up to 800 km to pay our respect and open the conversation with the family about what had transpired.”

Michael also told The Reporter that the families had been hearing secondhand information that the fire was started as a result of ethnic and religion conflicts.

“That was not the case,” he said. “We did not separate any of our employees based on ethnicity or religion.”

Providing physical documents to dispute all claims made against the company, one of the premier construction companies in the world, locally involved in the construction of the conference center of the African Union and the headquarters of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and NOC Ethiopia, they claimed there are two sides to the story that has reached the attention of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of China as well as international media, including The Washington Post.

To begin with, they contend while the fire started at the makeshift dormitory of the site of what would become the biggest stadium in the country; it was not a gas cylinder that started as alleged but a kerosene cylinder that was used illegally by the employees. The dormitory was meant to be used for change-of-cloth, they said, but it was turned into housing without their knowledge and became a populated hub for many workers that came from the Arsi, Sekota and Delata.

“Before we knew it, it has been housing many people, including people that were not employees of the company,” Ferehiwot Mamo, a bilingual (Cantonese, English) employee of the company, who is in charge of assisting the injured, said. “We had repeatedly evicted them, but only to have them come back, bringing friends that were not employees with them as most perhaps were in no position to rent a place in their adopted city.”

“Most use fake IDs to enter the premises, forcing us to change security companies several times to secure the premises and make it safe for all.”

The Deputy Manager of CSCEC, Zheng Chun Hua told The Reporter how the attention has brought controversy and negative reaction as they are entering partnership on mega projects within Ethiopia and across the region.

“We are profoundly sorry, but it was an accident and we are providing all we can to the patients and we have travelled far away to personally express our profound condolence to the families of the deceased,” Zheng told The Reporter. “We are going to take lessons from what happened. We are going to increase our investment on safety, build better dormitories for our local employees, localize development and offer the siblings of the dead employment on many of our projects in the country.”

The stadium hosts about 800 local employees but currently have only have about 650 employees.

At the time of the accident, Frehiwot claimed that she was witness to the many private ambulances that ventured in to the premises to transport the injured to various hospitals. “They were not sandwiched into a single ambulance as the media has reported,” she said. “We used seven ambulances in addition to all of our automobiles.”

She provided The Reporter copies of payment receipts proving the fact they were all transported on a timely manner, despite accusations by area hospitals that most of the victims were transported by a lone ambulance sandwiched all together. 

She confirmed that there are now two patients at two local hospitals and one received extensive surgery on Thursday. She also said the faces that victims that appeared in the media were not employees of the company but were friends of employees that were illegally sleeping in the makeshift dormitory.

The Reporter has confirmed that all of the families of the deceased have received 25 thousand birr each as what the company described a goodwill gesture. Biset Beyene Molla, the lawyer of CSCEC told The Reporter that any money paid by the multinational is a goodwill gesture, not admission of guilt and takes the victims legal right.