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Holding Government Officials Accountable: Mongolia’s Fight Against Corruption

February 24, 2010

Last week – February 15 – marked the deadline for Mongolia’s highest-level officials and civil servants to reveal all: all of their financial and material worth, that is. Civil servants and officials were required to submit Asset and Income Disclosure (AID) statements by that deadline, with disclosures from the top 270 officials posted on a public website. Collecting the statements is one of the main responsibilities of the Independent Authority Against Corruption (IAAC) of Mongolia, established soon after the passage of the Anti-Corruption Law in 2006. The legislation requires that the president of Mongolia, all Parliament members, judges, central bank governors, auditors, prosecutors, civil servants of ministries, implementing and regulatory agencies, local government authorities, and state-owned entities must submit their AIDs every year.

To say corruption is pervasive in Mongolia would be an understatement. It has been ranked in the top five of Mongolia’s most critical problems for four years running, in benchmarking surveys conducted by the Sant Maral Foundation with Asia Foundation support.

Since 2006, when the IAAC was first established, the Mongolian government has attempted to fight corruption using Hong Kong’s three-pronged approach: deterrence, prevention, and education. AIDs are a proven tool in that approach to help increase transparency and accountability.

The IAAC posts the disclosures on this website for broad public scrutiny, and also publishes them in the State Bulletin, an act which makes them official and legally-binding documents. IAAC also provides training to civil servants, developed a simple manual for completing the disclosure form accurately, and operates a hotline to respond to inquiries. As a result of IAAC’s efforts, submission compliance was 95.2 percent with 39,855 disclosure forms in 2007, the first year of AID collection, and reached 99.8 percent in 2009 with 52,916 forms submitted.

Once disclosure statements are collected, IAAC reviews, investigates, and analyzes them. So far, IAAC has identified 297 officials who either willfully misstated their assets and income or submitted their statements late. They are then reported to the relevant civil servant’s ministry or agency head for administrative measures, such as reduction in salary and a write-up in their personnel files, or even dismissal, as occurred in at least one case. Many identified as submitting false statements are senior officials, including: vice director of the General Authority of Civil Aviation (dismissed from his position in 2008 for willfully misstating his assets and income); senior officials from the Ministry of Finance and Petroleum Authority of Mongolia; director of Ulaanbaatar Customs Department; and the governor of Bayangol District in Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolian television and print media cover each of these cases extensively, further exposing their wrong-doing and fueling public dismay at civil servants who are corrupt. With IAAC’s engagement and collaboration with media, journalists have been increasingly using the assets and income disclosures in their reporting. Clearly, the statements are an effective first step in holding government officials accountable and increasing transparency in the civil service of Mongolia.

Davaasuren Baasankhuu is The Asia Foundation’s Director of the Governance Program in Mongolia. He can be reached at davaa@asiafound.mn.

View all posts by Davaasuren Baasankhuu

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