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Though Improving, Mongolia Still Reeling Under Corruption

December 11, 2013

On Dec. 4, 2013, The Asia Foundation and the Sant Maral Foundation released the third installment of its bi-annual “Survey on Perceptions and Knowledge of Corruption,” revealing that efforts to curb corruption in what is considered, as some sources put it, one of the world’s most corrupt countries could in fact be working.

UB Mongolia

A new Asia Foundation survey in Mongolia shows a significant drop in the percentage of respondents who believe corruption has increased in the last three years. Photo/Tenzing Paljor

The latest survey, conducted in September of this year, featured face-to-face interviews in 1,360 households across Mongolia, including seven districts in Ulaanbaatar and 21 soums (counties) in six aimags (provinces). The survey shows a significant drop in the percentage of respondents who believe corruption has increased in the last three years, from 38.9 percent in November 2012, to 18.3 percent currently. In contrast, in 2006, a majority of respondents (63%) indicated that corruption has increased “a lot” in the last three years.

The survey also shows that corruption has declined in importance as a critical social problem since 2006. Among the top 10 social problems (poverty, environment, unemployment, inflation, alcoholism, and health, among others), only 7 percent of respondents said corruption is an important social issue at the moment. In 2006, almost four times as many respondents said it was an important social problem. Unemployment has been cited as the most important problem since 2006, although it saw a decline of over nine percentage points from the last survey in March 2013.

Despite these positive signs overall, respondents indicated that corruption remains a serious issue in some specific key areas. A majority (76.6%) cited that widespread corruption in the law enforcement agencies is one of the main reasons the government has been unable to tackle corruption effectively. When corruption is perceived to be this widespread, the attention will obviously turn to the performance of the apex anti-corruption body, the Independent Authority Against Corruption (IAAC). In what might seem surprising, the verdict here is encouraging: the survey shows that the IAAC is slowly but surely beginning to gain confidence among citizens. The percentage of those surveyed who think that its performance is “good” or “very good” increased from 7.8 percent in March 2010 to 20.3 percent in March 2013. In September 2013, the result shows a new high of 29.4 percent. However, only 25 percent of respondents in the latest survey said they were aware of the IAAC’s telephone hotline, compared with 29 percent in March 2013. Findings also reveal that only 35 percent of men and 24.5 percent of women surveyed are aware of the recently enacted conflict of interest law. Only 11.7 percent of the respondents are now willing to report a corruption case compared to 15.5 percent in March 2013, and 20.5 percent in November 2012.

People’s perceptions on corruption are often shaped by personal experiences. Although very few respondents in the survey said that they had actually paid a bribe themselves (8 percent, about a 3-percent drop from 2012, and an 18-percent drop since 2006), as noted before, many are not willing to report instances where they are asked for one. Similarly, 36 percent of respondents said they would not pay a bribe, but 26 percent indicated that they would pay if they had the financial capability. The Mongolian government and the IAAC have their work cut out for them, and must pay close attention to implementing targeted awareness programs, changing school curricula, and investing in a culture of public discussion and contestation.

In a democratic society, public perceptions should count. Mongolia is determined to get rid of corruption amid significant institutional and cultural obstacles. Tangible results take time, but as these results show, the recent efforts by the government and civil society to combat corruption seem to be slowly paying off.

The Survey on Perceptions and Knowledge of Corruption (SPEAK) was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), as part of The Asia Foundation’s Strengthening Transparency and Governance in Mongolia (STAGE) program, which aims to strengthen democratic governance by building a more transparent and accountable regulatory and legislative environment while promoting principles of checks and balances. Read more about the program.

Basanta Pokharel is The Asia Foundation’s chief of party for the STAGE program in Mongolia. He can be reached at basanta.pokharel@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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