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Hic Dracones: Corruption across the Caspian

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Corruption is an issue and dilemma for every country in the world. No state is immune. No culture has developed a vaccine. Despite this, the issue of corruption and systemic criminality is arguably more important in regions of the world currently undergoing in one form or another democratic transition and entrance into the global market economy.

Their successful consolidation and emergence signals opportunity and prosperity not just for the titular nations in question but for the global community as a whole: the world is indeed a truly interdependent economic amalgamation. As such success or failure does not just elevate or degrade one particular region but carries with it cascade effects that can potentially impact the lives of countless hundreds of millions of people the world over. By utilizing statistical rankings and indexes covering no less than ten categories, a fairly stark picture emerges for the Caspian littoral nations. What it shows is a region clearly struggling to make progress in fundamental aspects of structural freedom and guarantees, which signal a lack of real opportunity for popular prosperity and stability. Worse, when these general rankings are conceptualized within a single graphic at the end of the article, and compared against a modern consolidated democracy fully integrated into the global economy (Germany), the journey still left for the Caspian Five is seen as both long and rocky. This does not mean it cannot be traversed or the Caspian is doomed to eternal political and economic doldrums. But it does arguably mean the road taken so far is likely not the best path to the greatest future.

Below are the rankings provided from numerous quantitative studies collected and freely published by Transparency International. I have compiled the ones most significant for the purposes of ascertaining corruption and structural criminality for the Caspian Five in specific. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranks 175 countries around the world, giving a very sharp and important estimation of how people within the examined countries themselves consider their own problems and challenges. The average Caspian score is a dismal 138 out of 175. Put another way, the Caspian Five score a ‘25’ on a 100-point scale in terms of a general societal corruption perception. The region averages only 13% in terms of controlling corruption governmentally, with Turkmenistan standing out in particular by scoring an absolutely abysmal 2% overall.

The average Rule of Law percentile score for the Caspian region is a low 25%, with Turkmenistan again somewhat wrecking the curve by scoring only 4%. The very interesting Voice and Accountability percentile rank puts the region as a whole at only 13%. While it is true Turkmenistan continues its tradition of bringing up the rear for Caspian countries, scoring a quite laughable 1% overall, Iran also scored in the single digits, achieving only 7% as a score. Ironically, it was Russia that scored the highest in this category, though it was still a relatively poor 21%. Press freedom is a particularly egregious subject matter for the Caspian littoral states: out of 179 evaluated countries around the world, the region averages only 162nd place. Again, Iran and Turkmenistan are the worst offenders, scoring an amazing 175th and 177th respectively out of 179 countries. But again, with the average score of 162, this means every single country surrounding the Caspian has quite a long way to go before it can consider its access to information and freedom of expression to be even slightly adequate. Finally, the undervalued but crucially important survey of judicial independence gives the Caspian region a less-than-stellar 95th out of 142 ranked countries. This score, however, comes with a mitigating caveat as Turkmenistan simply was not able to be included in the evaluation for lack of verifiable data. This of course allows one to conclude that if Turkmenistan had been able to produce a score it would have inevitably only made the regional index worse.

 

Country Azerbaijan Russia Iran Kazakhstan Turkmenistan Germany
Corruption Perceptions Index 126 out of 175 136 out of 175 136 out of 175 126 out of 175 169 out of 175 12 out of 175
Score 29/100 27/100 27/100 29/100 17/100 79/100
Control of Corruption 9% 13% 20% 15% 2% 93%
GDP 51.77 Billion USD 1.48 Trillion USD 331 Billion USD 149 Billion USD 20 Billion USD 3.28 Trillion USD
Open Budget Index Score 43 60 N/A 38 N/A 68
Judicial Independence 83 out of 142 123 out of 142 66 out of 142 111 out of 142 N/A 7 out of 142
Score 3.4/7 2.6/7 3.8/7 2.7/7 N/A 6.3/7
Rule of Law Percentile Rank 22% 26% 20% 32% 4% 92%
Voice and Accountability Percentile Rank 12% 21% 7% 14% 1% 93%
Press Freedom Index 162 out of 179 142 out of 179 175 out of 179 154 out of 179 177 out of 179 16 out of 179

 

In vivid contrast to the statistics above, an exemplar country study is provided below in Germany. Each of the ten categories used to evaluate the Caspian littoral states were similarly used on Germany. While it is arguably unfair to compare the Caspian Five with an advanced and stable Western European country, it is nonetheless important to provide a counter-balance case study to show how it is possible to score at the other end of the spectrum with these indexes. Some of the comparative contrast between the two sides is quite dramatic: Germany has a CPI of 12, with corruption control, voice and accountability, and rule of law percentiles all above 90%. Accordingly, both press freedom and judicial independence rankings are extremely high in Germany. In my opinion this is not explained as a testimony to a longer period of time under democratized rule and free-market capitalism in Germany: after all, it was only the middle of the 20th century when that country was under the thumb of extreme fascism. Rather, it indicates that when a country transparently and systematically commits to holistic structural transformation, then dramatic improvement can occur and concretize. In that way the case study can be an inspiration for the Caspian region, if also a rather demanding and uncompromising one.

Finally, for the sake of clarity and graphical review for the readers, all six countries are presented together across six of the most important structural indexes. When done in this way a decidedly negative tendency can be seen within the comparison: when a high positive ranking is desired, Germany stands alone; when a high negative ranking is possible, the Caspian states all seem to score in lock-step with each other, whereas Germany is far off the mark. Most fascinating of all is to see how regional ‘brotherhood’ really does occur, regardless of culture, religion, ethnicity, or history: across the board all five littoral states score remarkably similarly in the six documented categories. This seems to demand that future analysis and research needs to be done on just how pervasive and pernicious corruption tends to be and that solutions and strategies to combat it really cannot rely on traditional sociological or cultural traits and traditions.

A Portrait of Anti-Progress? The Caspian Corruption Table

chart 01

Key:

ConCorr% : Control of Corruption Percentage (out of 100%)

Judicial: Assessment of an Independent Judiciary (sample size: 142 nations)

CPI: Corruption Perception Index (sample size: 175 nations)

Rule of Law: Percentile of Structural Commitment to the Rule of Law (out of 100%)

V and A%: Voice and Accountability Percentile (out of 100%)

Free Press: Overall Ranking Estimating Freedom of the Press vs. Government Control (sample size: 179 nations)

This investigation was not conducted to spite or humiliate the Caspian littoral states. Rather it sought to shine an insightful light into the immensity of the problem of corruption across the region, within every state. Ways to fix this issue are likely not forthcoming anytime soon. But that may also be partly explained by an individualistic approach that has prevented the Caspian Five from realizing they are much more likely to be effective by creating strategies that bridge across the region. Just as negative trends tend to breed more negative, so can positive success become a catalyst for future successes across new areas. One can hope this will be the case for the Caspian. Otherwise, the region will remain best designated on corruption maps with the warning Hic Dracones: Here be dragons.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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Eastern Europe

Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers

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Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv.  In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.

The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.

It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.

They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!

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Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?

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Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.

A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.

One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.

The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.

Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.

First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.

Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.

Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.

Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.

The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.

The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.

Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.

But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.

The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.

Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.

This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank

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Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia

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Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

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