Friday, 10 August 2007

76 Toyboys

I've mentioned before the subject of corruption in Mongolian public life - from government through hospitals to the police force - and the general perception that it is widespread and inescapable. Last year a bill passed through parliament established the IAAC - the Independent Authority Against Corruption. Public officials are now required by law to register their earnings and other financial interests and those of their families. The figures that have come in now that the majority of officials have complied with that requirement (and published in last week's UB Post) prove interesting reading. There's a law which according to the Post "does not allow MPs to have a private business entity", so how do the country's 76 monkeys manage to get by?

The returned figures show how progressive Mongolia's MPs are in promoting women's rights, against a culture which generally puts women in second place: the majority of MPs earn less than than their wives. Considerably less in many cases. Prime Minister Enkhbold earned a very modest 3.2 million Tugrik - around $3,000 - last year, while the Prime Minister's wife brought home Tg24.2 million. L. Gundalai MP, chairman of the Popular Party, registered his earnings at Tg3 million , Mrs L. Gundalai is doing a bit better with Tg74 million, although even her paycheck doesn't seem to account for how the minister acquired his Toyota Landcruiser, Mercedes Benz, six motor boats, three horses and Tg500 million of shares in the SOS Medica Hospital. I guess, contrary to the general economic trend in the country, 2006/7 was a lean year for MPs. B. Erdenbat has the pretty thankless task of Minister of Fuel and Energy, earning him a paltry Tg3.2 million. His immediate family managed to improve on this with Tg66.3 million. And I guess if times get hard he can always fall back on his Tg17.2 billion worth of shares in Erel bank, Erel Insurance and assorted companies or sell one of his two Mercedes Benz 500s, or his Lexus 470 jeep, two Land Cruiser 100L jeeps or maybe one of his pair of Hummers.

Well, the list goes on (Supreme Court judge A. Batsaikhan has 20 pigs) and can be seen on the UB Post's website. It's interesting reading, and clearly shows that the law against MPs owning businesses is not achieving much.

In President Enkhbayar's case, the declared earnings provide more food for thought - he earned Tg121.9 million, owns a Tg35 million apartment, and aparently his family earned nothing. To quote the Post "He does not own any mining license, savings, land, credit, debt, shares, automobile, or commercial property." I don't think that many people in Mongolia believe a word of that, but (if only because of his good taste in translating Rudyard Kipling and Virginia Woolf into Mongolian) I'd like to believe in his honesty and probity. Of course he doesn't have to declare how many of his cousins and friends are doing very well indeed thankyou, and I shouldn't think that he'll do too badly in retirement. The real test is what he achieves in his job. The President has been a prominent supporter of anti-corruption laws - now that those laws are revealing to the public the extent of the problem (if largely by inference), what Mongolia needs to see now is action to correct this. Otherwise the cynicism with which government and indeed democracy are viewed will surely grow.