Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Conflict of interests

Dear my country fellows, it is time to make a change that could boost efficiency of public governance, restore the respect towards the state, and increase the living standard of the citizens without much a cost.

This is to remove the conflict of interests that crawls like fungus on the walls of our governance, spreads throughout the society and rots our normal daily life.
Conflict of interest, at the present, is leading the state governance to bankruptcy, throwing off balance its normal operations, and making the governance almost dysfunctional.

The Mongolian society has not paid proper attention to this growing problem from the beginning and has not eliminated it on time. The Mongolian state itself has not held responsible any of the perpetrators, and this threat has dug deeper into the roots of the society.

Conflict of interests is a disagreement between personal and public benefits where the state and local administration officers abuse their public positions for their personal profit, both material and non material.

The major reason why there are relatively fewer occurrences of conflicting interests in other democratic societies is that they can take preventive measures before such instances occur. If it does occur, it is cut off immediately and the society is getting better immunized. That is why it never reaches there the level of crisis like in Mongolia.

Recently the German Health Minister took the official car to a beach in Spain for her own leisure and caused a huge media buzz. On the next round of parliamentary election two months later, German voters did not support her and her Social Democratic Party as a punishment for vacationing with the tax payers money. Thus otherwise the leading political party had lost the election.

When such a rich country resigns its minister for such a small stuff, how about our nation? What nonsense is the use of a government car for private pleasure! What about those public officials who make the whole ministry, agency and industry a part of his own business. It is a common phenomenon in Mongolian governance to see a minister, his deputy or other high ranking officials, who own businesses in the same sector, finance the election campaign of their party and run their own political election campaign at the cost of public and recover their cost several times after getting elected then nominated into position aimed. This has become a norm of Mongolian governance. The citizens are accustomed to that, and it looks like the foreign partners accepted it too.

A head of investment department of each ministry must always be replaced if the minister is changed. This position responsible for ministry’s investment package is higher than any political seat in that administration. This person invests public money through so called “tender.” If we consider that one third of everything Mongolians have produced in a year is redistributed through the public procurement, that investment department becomes a large shopping counter. But this is only one of thousands of counters in a “department store” of state and local governments.

The government is the largest employer in the country as the public servants became fifteen percent of the labor force. The dream job of many young people is a tax or a customs inspector, judge and police, or a political party’s, its affiliated organizations’ leader. Working for the government means having a chance to study abroad, getting an apartment or, if lucky, becoming a servant for the next government-born billionaire. These facts indicate that sad fact that the Mongolian society accepts and respects conflict of interests.

The basic condition for removing and preventing the conflict of interests is to make the government transparent and keep it that way. True information must reach the society on time in a country with a transparent government. That is the main role of the media. Only the citizens with true and complete information can join their voices and demand with power for transparency.

The political driver that presses for complete and true information is the opposition power. Since we have lost that opposition power, the true information of government reality has disappeared. Media is dependent on owners, who are in a coalition set up to cover the conflict of interests. Only complete and full information makes the government transparent and only a transparent government takes responsibility.

In order to remove conflict of interests, mature democratic societies aspire to prevent it by all means, openly disclose an existing conflict, do not allow the related officials to participate in the decision of those issues, make evaluation through a third party and enforce the code of ethics. Depending on the circumstance, they take few or all of these measures.

In order to prevent the conditions for conflict of interests, public officers sell their companies or the shares related to him/her. Working for the government means serving the people. In English they say, “to be a public servant.” In Mongolia they pretend to remove their company/share ownership by transferring the title to a family member.
If public officers believe there is a conflict of interests in their position, they disclose the information at the first opportunity, through the media. This has never happened in the history of Mongolia.

If any decision in the industry is related to his/her own company, that public officer does not participate in the decision making process. It is simply not allowed. If this happens in Mongolia, the government officers will just have fewer working hours.

If there is a conflict of interest, a third party is invited to make an evaluation. It is hard to find a third party in Mongolia. In one or another way, one of the two parties merges into the third party anyway. Mongolian judiciary system is exemplary of this fusion.

The enforcement of code of ethics is the most effective tool in a society because reputation becomes most important. In Mongolia, they organize a month or a year of code of ethics campaign, which results in nothing, as usual. Yet honor must be the most important character of any statesman. Remember a Korean leader who was accused of bribery in exchange of making profit for a private company? As soon as inspections started, he committed suicide. Here code of honor works.

Mongolian society needs to create a culture of non tolerance for conflict of interests. The government itself must take responsibility over those public officers who realize such conflict of interests. Only then we can remove this terrible fungus and increase social immunity. Is it that difficult a task?

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