(By Basanta Pokharel www.asiafoundation.org ) Last week, The Asia Foundation, the Sant Maral Foundation, and Mercy Corps Mongolia released the fourth semi-annual corruption survey, revealing citizens’ perception of corruption in one of the fastest growing economies in the world. As in the three earlier surveys, corruption was named the third most critical problem, and over 8 percent of respondents believed corruption to be the most critical problem in the country. Conducted in March 2014, the Survey on the Perceptions and Knowledge of Corruption (SPEAK) surveyed 1,360 households in seven districts in Ulaanbaatar across 21 soums in six aimags. This is the 12th edition of the survey using the same methodology; the first was implemented in 2006. While perception surveys run the risk of presenting what might seem like conflicting interpretations, a comparative analysis of data over time presents undeniable trends for policymakers. With the current economic downturn, it is timely, especially for a government that has prioritized anti-corruption efforts, to review what Mongolian citizens have to say about the levels of corruption, and the efforts of the government and institutions to fight corruption, and the overall impact on their lives at this juncture.
In 2014, only 8 percent corruption as the most critical issue, ranking third behind unemployment and inflation, respectively. Three considerations are critical in combatting corruption: the legal environment, the institutions that are expected to implement the laws, and the culture. The number of respondents in this survey who thought the legal environment is not satisfactory is about 80 percent. We can argue that this might have something to do with either “not knowing anything about the laws” or “a general dissatisfaction about the levels of corruption.” In both cases, this lack of understanding or discontent is because the fight against corruption largely depends on awareness about the laws as well as people’s participation (reporting incidences of corruption, for example) which cannot happen when there is a general dissatisfaction over effectiveness of laws. However, the good news is the perception about the legislative environment has improved when compared to 2006 when it was 89 percent. Culture plays an important part in any reform efforts, and there are a very few signs of a decline in cultural tolerance to corruption, which is still very high in Mongolia. Nearly 34 percent of respondents still agree that some levels of corruption should be acceptable. There are no fundamental shifts in attitudes since 2006 (decline by two percentage points in eight years). Similarly, nearly 23 percent of respondents would still pay if they are asked for a bribe (same figure in 2014), and only 13 percent will report (declined by 8 percentage points). The good news is if compared with data over time there are small improvements. But there is a little doubt that the current levels of “acceptance to corruption” is very high, and must be tackled through well targeted education programs, public discussions, appropriate training to media, and re-evaluating the ethical contents of education curriculum. According to respondents, the impacts of corruption on family, politics, and businesses, although show declining trends, are still significant. If the real progress of anti-corruption efforts is to be seen in the reduction in the corruption levels, there is a real reason to be proud in terms of levels of petty corruption. There is a sharp decline in the reported incidence of bribes at the household level, declining from its highest point at 28 percent in September 2006 to 8 percent in 2014. Undeniably, this is important progress. However, it still makes sense to inq