Bribery and Bold Statement
“Watch out, or I’ll bury you with money,” yelled a scruffy looking old man at the driver who nearly ran him over as he carelessly crossed the road while counting a bundle of money drawn from an ATM on the roadside.
The car zoomed away, and the passersby who noticed the affair chuckled.
The old man’s remark may seem strange to some, but in Mongolia, it is a cynical joke that accepts the giant stigma of society that is corruption.
It’s a mark of how deeply corruption has engraved itself into society, when the issue is viewed as a norm. A typical view of the average Mongolian is that every politician and high ranking authority figure is corrupt, and the sad part is, that they are largely correct in that notion.
The 2012 filing of assets and net worth of Mongolia’s parliamentarians amounted to a total of 1.13 trillion MNT in net assets, or approximately 785 million USD. Of the 74 MPs who disclosed their wealth, the top four control about 64 percent of the total.
According to mining.com, the amount is equivalent to 7.6 percent of Mongolia’s economy. Basically, only a handful of people control a significant portion of the total assets in Mongolia. I will not presume that they acquired power through illegal means, but I’m sure it wasn’t a moral method either. Carefully crafted laws, whose implications are hidden from the public are a dime a dozen, as well as legislations that are never implemented.
It is also common knowledge that parliamentarians have to pay a substantial “donation” to the state in order to take part in elections. In the 2012 election, it was some 50 million MNT in donations alone. In other words, a poor person, or even an average income individual, cannot set the country’s rules.
The way the so called “donation” was explained just before the elections, was that 50 million MNT is “not a lot of money for someone with public support.” The paradox is that poor people don’t get support because they lack money to promote themselves and their ideals. The system basically helps the people already in power stay in power, while giving practically zero chance to others interested in public service. Therefore, it is no surprise that many manage to save a seat for themselves election after election.
But it’s not just politics that are corrupt, Mongolia’s society itself is corrupt due to poorly constructed systems that lack initiatives against corruption and bribery.
If you want a loan issued quickly, the easiest way is to know someone at the bank. If you want basic hospital treatment, from personal experience, I know that gifts to the doctors and nurses will do the trick. If you want a better grade or if you want to start up a business and need approval, it is certain that someone will want a favor in return.
Just the other day, when I was lining up to have my car inspected, a random stranger knocked on the window and asked me if I wanted to move up the line. The way he explained it, he would take my documents up to the inspector and have them approved, and they wouldn’t even need to check my car – for a fee of course. I declined, as I would have to entrust my documents to a random stranger who happened to reek of alcohol.
Two hours later, when the inspection was finally over, I caught myself wondering whether I should have just accepted the offer and saved myself a whole lot of trouble and time.
I also wondered, how many people have accepted such offers while honest folks waited hours to receive a simple state service. Indeed in today’s society, many doors are wide open if you’re willing to deal in favors. On the other hand, all doors are closed and everyone is unavailable if you do it the proper way.
The issue is so much a part of our way of accomplishing tasks that we don’t even morally question such things anymore. This is appalling. It is no wonder that critical sectors such as education, media and health are toppling because of corruption that erodes their structures from top to bottom.
Corruption is the worst issue that Mongolia, as a country, faces today, and thankfully it has captured the attention of international organizations as well as state organizations.
The Independent Authority Against Corruption (IAAC), The Asia Foundation, The Sant Maral Foundation, and Mercy Corps Mongolia (MCM) just released the Survey on Perceptions and Knowledge of Corruption (SPEAK) report as part of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Strengthening Transparency and Governance in Mongolia (STAGE) project. The project aims to strengthen democratic governance by building a more transparent and accountable regulatory and legislative environment while promoting principles of checks and balances.
Implemented in September 2013, the survey provides important nationwide data on perceptions of corruption at the household level. This report reflects the third round of the survey conducted under the STAGE project. A total of four SPEAK surveys are to be implemented through the end of the project in March 2014.
By providing information on long-term trends in every day corruption and new information on citizen views on grand corruption, the Foundation believes that the surveys will trigger invigorated and critical dialogues on issues of transparency, accountability, and corruption in Mongolia. Designed to capture long-term, nationwide data on perceptions of corruption, the SPEAK survey builds on the semi-annual corruption benchmarking survey conducted under the USAID funded Mongolian Anti-corruption Support (MACS) project, implemented from 2006 – 2011 by the Foundation.
The survey enrolled 1,360 households in seven districts in Ulaanbaatar, and 21 soums in six provinces in September 2013; a total of 11 surveys were conducted before SPEAK, which allowed for data comparison over time.
Progress in the war against corruption has to be noted too. In the Corruption Perception report by Transparency International, Mongolia moved up 11 places since 2012. Mongolia was listed 83rd out of 177 nations with a score of 38 this year, while it was listed 94th in 2012 with the score of 36.
The President happily declared that Mongolia became the biggest progress maker in the fight against corruption last year.
The government is also introducing the e-procurement program to increase transparency of the tender process for state initiated projects. The new e-procurement system will reportedly allow free and equal distribution of information among bidders, both foreign and domestic, letting the right bidder for the job receive the commission.
Although the fight against corruption is slowly gaining momentum, progress in this area has been woefully slow to make any difference in the lives of the public. The real indicator of a successful government and law makers is their impact on people’s lives.
If the bold statements about the big progress against corruption by higher officials is real and true, it only indicates the depth of how bad corruption is, because Mongols experience the impacts of corruption every day.
Every politician likes to show an optimistic facade, and “Mongolia has a bright future” is the most used line in political speeches. I agree with the sentiment, but nobody clarifies when that future will become the present. As long as corruption is the main concern of this nation, that future will continue to be the future and not the now.
We all know that transparency is the key to resolving corruption, as people don’t accept injustice when it is being done behind a glass door. But they can’t protest injustice if they can’t see it. The main point is that, despite all the talk of progress, the impacts of corruption are being felt everyday by everyone, and this needs to change or that promise of prosperity will always be talked about in the future tense.
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