Does CIS stand for ‘Corruption is Systemic’?
My methods aren’t the most scientific, but I was spurred on by this article out of Foreign Policy yesterday. The first two paragraphs might as well be describing Azerbaijan. In the following, just replace any notion of Russia with Azerbaijan:
For most Russians, the biggest problem with Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime isn’t the rigged elections or the lack of independent media. It’s the entrenched corruption that permeates every sphere of life: the traffic cop lurking on the road to collect bribes from drivers, the surgeon in the supposedly free state hospital who refuses to operate unless he gets a “gift” from his patient, the teacher who hands out good grades for cash. And Russians universally think that such petty acts of greed are a pale echo of what goes on at top levels of the bureaucracy, where officials live in a cocoon of privilege symbolized by the migalki — the blue sirens atop government officials’ cars that allow them to defy the rules of the road. Despite periodic proclamations that the authorities are finally set to tackle the problem, things have gotten so bad that global graft watchdog Transparency International ranked Russia 146th out of 180 countries in its 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, putting it on a par with Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.
The problems of corruption in Azerbaijan are probably not caused by Putin (at least as far as I can dig, which is not far). However, I was curious about what the corruption levels are like for Azerbaijan and the rest of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. Using Transparency International’s 2009 ratings and their In-Depth Regional Highlights, we can see where post-Soviet countries stack up in corruption. We’ve already covered how they do happiness here (could corruption and happiness be related?) Of the 15 former Soviet Republics, 11 are currently CIS members (Georgia renounced it’s membership after it’s war with Russia in summer of 2008). Looking at the four who are not members of the CIS, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Georgia, all of them fall in the top 66 countries rated, all within the top 35% in terms of corruption. The 11 countries left over all fall in the bottom half of the corruption index. If not for Moldova, all would be in the bottom third of countries.
While I don’t really ever deal with anything that has anything to do with the CIS, it appears that avoiding the CIS is the way to reduce corruption. Georgia has been moving up steadily, but has reached it’s peak after leaving the CIS. Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia are all in the top third and have never been a part of the CIS. In terms of elections, I tend to trust the OSCE when it comes to evaluating the freedom and fairness of elections. Apparently the CIS has a record of disagreeing with the OSCE and they have certified elections in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan as free, fair, transparent, legal, legitimate, etc. Can they be serious? The Moldovans and the Ukrainians gave up on CIS observers for their elections and proceeded to do just fine. Seeing as Russia is the major power in the CIS, and it’s corruption levels are at an astronomical level, combining that with Russia’s seeming disposition to continue at least an informal dominance over the region through the CIS, it’s hard to imagine that any of these CIS countries will make true strides in reducing corruption while Russia has its hands on the levers.
The Transparency regional report has some positive news for Azerbaijan, despite it’s 143 ranking:
The Azerbaijani government has been committed to improving the business environment and increased general awareness about the importance of curbing corruption. In the past five years, five TI Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) – offices that help citizens to claim their rights in cases of corruption – opened across the country and the government has entered into an open dialogue with civil society through a network of local anti-corruption NGOs and TI Azerbaijan. These are positive developments, though corruption remains entrenched throughout society. The government should improve law enforcement procedures to ensure that anti-corruption legislation works.
Yet, the real question is, how sincere is the Azeribaijani government in breaking these chains of corruption? How can they defy once again the influence of Russia’s corrupt practices?