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In Mongolia: Corruption and the Canada Parallel

June 11, 2008

By William Foerderer Infante

In 2007, both Mongolia and Canada improved their corruption-fighting performance by the same nominal amount, two tenths of a point, according to the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. And this is almost where the parallel ends: Canada ranks number 9, and Mongolia ranks number 99.

According to numerous polls, Mongolians believe that corruption is among the most important challenges facing the country, after soaring inflation and high-unemployment.

For over 15 years, corruption has sunk its roots deeply into politics, the economy, and society. Despite this, Mongolians nationwide report that they do not accept corruption as a way of life and that they want to actively counter it. This public intolerance explains why more than 1,500 citizens have called Mongolia’s corruption fighting agency over the past eight months to report bribery, abuse of power and other corruption-related crimes.

The Independent Authority Against Corruption (IAAC) was created in 2007 and launched an aggressive campaign to root out corruption in Mongolia. Between September 2007 and April 2008, alone, the Authority opened 142 investigations against junior, mid-ranking and senior officials, including Members of Parliament and line agency heads. 104 cases were referred to prosecution, and three convictions were handed down: two provincial judges and one prosecutor. In May, three more corrupt officials were put behind bars.

The preliminary success of the IAAC is attributable in part to leadership and commitment by the Prime Minister. Shortly after taking office in January 2008, Prime Minister Bayar issued a decree that convened an interagency corruption-fighting task force, including anti-corruption stalwarts such as the Minister of Justice and Home Affairs, Munkh Orgil, who championed passage of the landmark 2006 Anti-Corruption law that created the IAAC.

Minister Munkh Orgil, IAAC Commissioner Sangaragchaa, Cabinet Secretary N. Enkhbold, and other task force members were entrusted with implementing the Prime Minister’s decree, which includes broad-scale assessment of corruption risks in all ministries and line agencies. For this purpose, the Prime Minister sequestered all State Secretaries, Mongolia’s highest ranking career civil servants, from each Ministry and line agency, for a two-day seminar in late March. The Prime Minister made his policy clear: “Zero tolerance for corruption”. He tasked each Secretary with assessing the corruption-related risks and vulnerabilities, and with developing individual ministry and agency anti-corruption action plans. The fuse was short: action plans were due on May 31. And on May 31, 27 of 29 state bodies filed their plans with the IAAC.

Parliamentary elections loom at the end of June. Prime Minister Bayar may or may not be re-elected. Recognizing this, he said at the seminar that he wants to put in place an “irreversible and irrevocable policy of fighting corruption” that will be sustained by whomever assumes leadership. With institutions such as the IAAC — and the backing of the public — such a goal is plausible.

Let’s hope that in the future Mongolia moves closer to the ranks of countries like Canada on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, and that moving up two tenths of a percent is only one of many parallels that exist between the two countries.

William Foerderer Infante is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Mongolia.

Related locations: Mongolia
Related topics: Corruption


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