IN ASIA

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Mongolia: Tracking Public Concern about Corruption

July 8, 2015

By Amarzaya Naran

Mongolia’s public commitment to fight corruption has been strong, from the adoption of the Anti-Corruption Law of 2006 and the creation of the Independent Authority Against Corruption (IAAC) in 2007, to the Law on Information Transparency and the Right to Information of 2011 and the Law on Conflict of Interest the following year; and this commitment has recently been reaffirmed by the introduction of an anti-corruption action plan by the Ulaanbaatar City Municipality. But despite these official measures, a new survey by The Asia Foundation has found that the general public remains pessimistic about the persistence of corruption in Mongolia.

Photo/ E.Enkhtulga

A new survey by The Asia Foundation has found that the general public remains pessimistic about the persistence of corruption in Mongolia. Photo/ E.Enkhtulga

On June 22, The Asia Foundation released the results of its sixteenth Survey on Perceptions and Knowledge of Corruption in Mongolia (SPEAK). A collaboration with Sant-Maral Foundation, and supported by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, this longitudinal survey of 1,360 households nationwide measures evolving public perceptions of petty corruption, grand corruption, government institutions, and the impact of corruption on the day-to-day lives of Mongolians. SPEAK is one of just a few regular, nationwide surveys in Mongolia, and its results are widely cited and used by civil society and government organizations. Known from 2006 to 2011 as the Mongolia Corruption Benchmarking Survey, this is the fifth iteration of the survey since it was renamed SPEAK in 2012.

The June survey found that pessimism about corruption has increased among citizens. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said that corruption had increased in the previous three years, compared to 41 percent in September 2013. About a fifth of respondents in September 2013 and March 2014 said that corruption would increase (20.4 percent and 23.4 percent respectively). In April 2015, about a third of respondents (35.2 percent) said they expected it to increase in the next three years. Positive evaluations of the IAAC have also declined, from 29.4 percent in September 2013 to 22.6 percent in March 2014, and to 16.6 percent in the latest survey.

Despite these discouraging results, respondents who said corruption would not decrease in the next three years declined dramatically, from 52.5 percent in September 2013 to 27.4 percent in the new survey. And corruption fell one place in the rankings of major problems facing the country. The problems now ranked in the top three – unemployment, inflation, and the national economy – appear to reflect the current economic situation.

With parliamentary elections coming in 2016, the latest survey included questions related to campaign finance, which also elicited some pessimistic responses. Fifty-three percent of respondents said that campaign finance would be “not at all” fair and transparent. In addition, political corruption emerged as a strong concern for the first time in this survey. Three of the five institutions deemed most corrupt were political: political parties, national government, and Parliament. National government was ranked among the top five for the first time since the surveys began in 2006.

On the positive side of the ledger, there has been a persistent decline since the very first survey in citizens’ direct involvement with petty corruption. In 2006, 26 percent of respondents said they had paid a bribe in the past three months. By September 2010, this number had fallen to 13 percent, and it fell again, to just seven percent, in the latest survey. The average reported size of bribes paid has also decreased significantly, from 717,000 Mongolian National Tugrik ($377) in September 2009 to 277,000 MNT ($145) in the latest survey. Among factors seen as hindering the anti-corruption fight, a cultural trait, “the habit of solving problems through corrupt practices,” has fallen from first to second place, to be replaced by “imperfect legislation or sanctions.”

When it comes to anti-corruption initiatives by state institutions, respondents ranked “introduction of new technology” highest in both importance and effectiveness. Almost three quarters of respondents (71.6 percent) rated this as “significantly” or “extremely” important. As new technology generally means computerization, this suggests a pragmatic outlook. Next in the rankings by importance and effectiveness was the passage of the new Budget Transparency Law, popularly known as the “Glass Account” Law, which requires all government organizations to publicly report financial decisions and disbursements of public funds.

To further encourage public discussion and debate, The Asia Foundation provided the SPEAK findings to Nuudel Shiidel, one of the most-watched television forums on Mongol TV, an independent television broadcaster whose viewership is ranked in the top three nationwide. The 90-minute talk show featured six hard-hitting panelists, including Head of the Public Awareness Department of the IAAC Ms. Bat-Otgon, Member of Parliament Mr. Temuujin, and prominent figures from civil society. The host also took questions via Twitter.

The ranking of corruption as a major, national problem has been more or less stable in recent surveys, but over the longer term it has fallen significantly, from 28.8 percent in 2006 to just under eight percent in the latest survey. On the other hand, more than 80 percent of respondents continue to agree “strongly” or “somewhat” that “corruption is a common practice in our country,” as they have consistently since 2006. However, the public’s opinion of the impact of corruption on personal life has shown some improvement since 2006, which can be connected to the decreasing reports of bribes or instances of corruption in previous surveys.

Despite the decline in the positive evaluation of the IAAC, it remains the public’s institution of choice to lead the fight against corruption, a preference substantially unchanged since November 2012. This public support is extremely important, as a single agency cannot combat corruption alone. To fight corruption successfully, the IAAC must work in partnership with government ministries, the judiciary, Parliament, the private sector, professional bodies, civil society groups, donor agencies, the media, and the public.

Although Mongolia deserves credit for the positive steps it has taken to fight corruption, the findings of the latest SPEAK survey and previous surveys show a continuing need for more effective actions and policy implementation.

Amarzaya Naran is a consultant to The Asia Foundation’s Urban Services Project in Mongolia. She can be reached at amarzaya.naran@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Mongolia
Related programs: Strengthen Governance
Related topics: Corruption

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