Kazakhstan, Beacon of Anticorruption Activity?

by Alexander_Visotzky on 11/17/2009 · 8 comments

To preface this entry I should say that I’m not really in a position to be objective on this issue, but I’ll attack it nonetheless:

 When your girlfriend or wife asks you if she looks fat or ugly, you tell her no, even if she does look fat or ugly. Sometimes a little lie doesn’t hurt. Could Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index be somewhat similar?

 Transparency International, at long last, came out with their 2009 edition of the Corruption Perceptions Index. The CPI is often the subject of extensive criticism, partly because its’ detractors want it to be more than it really is. It only measures perceptions, which should be apparent in the name, but people tend to forget that in their zeal to beat up TI. It is, however, pretty flawed when it comes to objectively measuring perceptions, so much so that its’ creator recently channeled Dr. Frankenstein and lamented his creation.

 While the goal of accurately ranking all the countries in the world in terms of corruption may be neither attainable nor desirable, it’s one of the few tools that really makes an effort to assess corruption on a year-to-year basis, and the changes are usually an interesting barometer of attempts at reform.

 How came out Kazakhstan is pretty interesting.

While Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Afghanistan all hovered in the same territory as their previous rankings, Kazakhstan leaped 25 spots from 145th to 120th. More importantly, its score went from 2.2 to 2.7.

 What I’m wondering is, well, why? This year’s press was littered more than ever with stories of Kazakhstan’s missteps (partly on account of the upcoming OSCE chairmanship, partly on account of the international nature of some of their blunders). Is it that simple that Nazarbayev’s myriads of speeches declaring the earnestness of the battle against corruption have been believed? What concrete steps did Kazakhstan take in 2008-2009?

 Theoretically, Kazakhstan did a lot. The anticorruption agencies established hotlines to register complaints against corruption, large amounts of corruption-related legislation was passed, which agencies have the directive to fight corruption became more clearly delineated, and arrests of corrupt officials rose dramatically. In theory, a lot of steps forward—in practice, however, not much actually happened. Kazakhstan now has great laws, but few officials bother to follow them.

 It’s also certainly worth noting that debacles such as the Zhovtis affair, the deteriorating health of Dzhakishev, and the new internet restrictions may have occurred too late in the data collection process to influence the rankings, and will push Kazakhstan back a couple spots in the 2010 rankings (though not necessarily related to corruption, this trio of incidents isn’t hurdling Kazakhstan forward).

 The above should indicate that 2009 wasn’t exactly a year of groundbreaking steps forward. Perhaps it’s just the naiveté of surveyed officials, starry-eyed from another speech or conference in Astana declaring war on corruption and saying all the right things. But is it necessarily a bad thing?

 The leap produces both good and bad. On the bad side, the government may be emboldened by their rise in the rankings and stop any efforts (even if those efforts were symbolic placation) at reform and cleaning up the corrupt bureaucracy. Kazakh NGOs are already bemoaning this.

 Then there’s the good: investors, to an extent, shape the reality in which they operate. Whether or not this is a good thing is a whole other debate, but the climate that investors believe in is often more important than the actual climate. The better investors think of Kazakhstan, the more likely they are to start chatting with Kazakhs. This in turn will provide real incentives for Kazakhs to start cleaning up their bureaucracy and making the environment a little more navigable for foreign investors. You can argue whether or not catering to investors is a worthy cause, but in a country that needs jobs (not only for its citizens but for migrants from neighboring republics desperate for work), and certainly needs some modernization and retooling of its industries and agriculture, a little investment wouldn’t hurt.

 What say you, Registan faithful?

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Dafydd November 17, 2009 at 10:10 am

In as much as there have been arrests of corrupt officials, that must improve the perception of people on the ground. If you see your local police officer getting busted for taking a bribe, that, more than any political speech, will make you think that the government is taking on corruption. It would also limit the corruption of remaining police officers (assuming it is genuinely the most corrupt that have been arrested.

Those that have been arrested will by now have been replaced. To maintain (or improve) its place, the Kazakhs have to ensure the replacements are an improvement.

On that, only time will tell.

Maria shannon November 17, 2009 at 8:32 pm

I don’t know how u pegged me but i am glad u did. I have a son also in afghanistan. He is a sargent eor the 82nd airborne. His name is brenden shannon. U should connect with him. I feel ur aggravation.. I belidve u ard riit about the accompolirhments nf 2009. Gotta rtn. Beem on this thhng alk day

Ekspeditsya November 18, 2009 at 12:26 am

I’ll tell you what I think, but you’ll need to pay me first.
But actually, I am with Dafydd on this. Obviously, no one person can empirically know whether corruption is improving or worsening by a matter of degrees, but Kazakhstan has been full of news over the past year about high- and low-level officials getting busted for graft. That could account in part for the shift in perception.
My experience on the Almaty-Bishkek highway, however, makes me suspicious about any premature optimism.
Having said that, I needed to undergo a minor bit of surgery at a public hospital in Almaty late last year and was told that I could be treated in a more professional ward if I paid a higher fee. It only dawned on me months later what exactly it was I had done.
Which is another problem about perceiving corruption; sometimes, it is so ingrained you fail to recognise it as corruption anymore. It just becomes an everyday, hum-drum practice necessary to “grease the wheels.”

Alex Visotzky November 18, 2009 at 12:36 am

Yeah my visits to Kazakh border posts, interactions with the police, and various other outlets show how ingrained corruption is. When you’re hesitant about paying a bribe, people are totally befuddled and often say “Relax. This is just how we do things.” I’m still struggling to figure out what’s changed people’s perceptions so much that Kazakhstan leapt all these spots; partly I think it’s simply optimism that the OSCE chairmanship would force Kazakhstan to make more substantive changes.

oldschool boy November 18, 2009 at 3:18 am

If you think there is a flaw in the Transparency International methodology, just state it. It should be in there website, take it, read, and analyze. And if you think that there is an error in their calculations, let us know. Otherwise, the discussion is pointless. Corruption in Kazakhstan is bad, and we know it, but how do we know how bad it is in comparison to other places if we can’t compare and do not have the right methodology?

Alex Visotzky November 18, 2009 at 4:07 am

I think their methodology is for the most part sound given what it’s try to accomplish there’s no error in the calculations. I’m just talking about the divorce between reality and perception and whether or not it matters. At the heart of it, I think the CPI is an important tool for comparing countries, I’m just wondering what would push those surveyed to have a much more favorable impression of Kazakhstan than in past surveys. Furthermore I’m wondering if this tool will have a positive or negative effect on reform and hoping for some feedback.

The methodology, by the way, can be found here:

oldschool boy November 18, 2009 at 1:12 pm

I noticed in your article you try to make a connection between the corruption ranking and political events, like the Zhovtis incident. Although, these may somehow be connected, I do not think there is much of a correlation.
And of course it is all PR, as any ranking. All the rankings are politically motivated, and serve purposes of those who make them. It is somehow new corruption: you do what we want you to do, and we will make your ranks OK. You can’t seriously believe that in India there are more democracy and security, than, for instance in Russia, but the Indian government is more deferential to the West and, therefore, it has higher ranks.

Ahad_Abdurahmon November 19, 2009 at 12:47 pm

if you let corparations to extract ans sell your natural resources you are good (Kazakhstan)
if you don’t you are a shithole (Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan)
if you don’t have any resources and really poor and trying to be friends with Russia, we don’t give a damn whether you had a color revolution or not. You are bad, bad, bad!!! Try to guess who that was!
if you don’t have any resources, but really mad at those who have and at Russia at the same time, you are less corrupt no matter what (Tajikistan)!!!

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