Kazakhstan, Georgia and Azerbaijan all showed significant decreases in corruption over the past year, according to a recently published worldwide survey by a Berlin-based watchdog group. The survey also showed that Armenia's rating declined, and the rest of the Central Asian states remained near the bottom of the rankings.
Transparency International (TI), which has been measuring global corruption for over a decade, came out with its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2009 on November 17. Central Asia, according to the survey, remained a sinkhole of graft. Perhaps the only bright spot was Kazakhstan, which saw its rating rise from 2.2 in 2008 to 2.7 this year. The rating is measured on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is the most corrupt and 10 the least corrupt. The 2.7 score put Kazakhstan in 120th place of the 180 countries surveyed by TI this year.
The other former Soviet Central Asian states did not see their rankings change significantly in 2009 over their slots in previous years. Tajikistan's rating was 2.0, Kyrgyzstan's was 1.9 and Turkmenistan's 1.8. Uzbekistan's 1.7 put it just six places from the bottom of the table, in 174th place.
According to a TI statement, Kazakhstan's improvements was linked to "government anti-corruption efforts aimed at improving conditions for foreign direct investment along with the country's much-discussed upcoming chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010." It added, however, that "Kazakhstan's low ... score indicates that corruption remains systemic, with the most problematic areas being the judiciary, police, customs, property rights, land registration and construction projects."
Kazakhstan's improvement may have to do more with the type of corruption there, rather than the actual amount, said Eric McGlinchey, a Central Asia expert at George Mason University. "The Kazakhstani government is a stable, stationary bandit that extracts rents in predictable ways. Multinationals as well as local enterprises understand the rules of the game; the judiciary, police, customs, etc., are corrupt but they are predictably corrupt," he said. "In Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, in contrast, corruption is constant. Yet the nature of this corruption is ever changing. It's the unpredictability of this corruption that is most maddening."
The survey gave mixed marks to countries in the Caucasus. Georgia's ranking increased from 3.9 to 4.1, good for 66th place and the distinction of being the highest ranked country in the Caucasus and Central Asia. "There is a general consensus among Georgians and the international community that petty corruption has been reduced significantly," the TI report said. "However, concerns remain regarding high-level corruption and on corrupt practices in the judiciary. The government should focus on promoting greater transparency and public trust in agencies with an anti-corruption role, and it should ensure that related reforms are continuously monitored and assessed."
Azerbaijan's ranking increased from 1.9 to 2.3 over the last year, and the country's score might have been higher if TI had taken into account recently released data, the APA news agency in Baku quoted Fuad Alasgarov, a top anti-corruption official in the government, as saying.
"In June 2009, President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree on strengthening measures against corruption in the management of public and municipal properties. Criminal prosecution for corruption was strengthened and concrete results were achieved," he said. TI said the improved ranking was mainly "a result of the government's commitment to improve the business environment and increased general awareness about the importance of curbing corruption." The report also lauded the work of local anti-corruption non-governmental organizations in Azerbaijan for raising public awareness about problems.
Armenia's score decreased slightly over the past year, from 2.9 to 2.7. "The political and economic elite continue to exert control over the judiciary, media, business and other institutions," TI stated.
"Continued inconsistency in implementation of anti-corruption legislation, and in meeting international obligations, as well as unwillingness of the authorities to address grand corruption are among the most critical factors that contribute to continued decrease in the country's score," the watchdog group added.
The improvement in the rankings of some former Soviet states was a "surprise," said Jana Mittermaier, head of Transparency International's Brussels office, in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "The reasons for this could be that countries -- and governments in particular -- came to the conclusion that anti-corruption efforts really pay off when trying to please donors on their conditions for foreign direct investment," she said.