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Kyrgyz Start Anti-Corruption Drive, Again

Fears that renewed war on corruption will fail to capture the biggest fish.
By Sultan Jumagulov

A new government campaign to stamp out corruption is getting under way in Kyrgyzstan, but analysts say it's unlikely to have much effect because top officials won't come under scrutiny.


Ever since President Askar Akaev announced the drive on April 8, the largely pro-government media have been carrying stories on corruption, naming policemen caught taking cash, or mid-level officials evading taxes.


The campaign began when Akaev set up a national council for good governance, which will include government and non-government representatives.


The president preceded the announcement by setting out the scale of the problem at a meeting of the country's Security Council on March 31. He noted that corruption is rampant in all areas of life and that it is harming economic performance, as well as having a demoralising effect on society.


He gave the example of smuggling, often facilitated by senior bureaucrats, which costs the government at least 18 million US dollars a year - a lot of money in a country where state spending comes to around 250 million dollars a year.


This will come as no surprise to people in Kyrgyzstan, who are all too well aware of official corruption. Dinara Joldoshova, an analyst with the World Bank in Bishkek, cites alarming statistics from a survey conducted among a cross-section of the public, "Fifty six per cent of the population think that bribery has become the norm, and that law enforcement agencies are the most corrupt."


Officials are upbeat on the chances of effecting change. The deputy head of the new good governance agency Jomart Otorbaev told IWPR that the point is to use regulatory reforms as a weapon against fraud.


Bolot Januzakov, head of security and defence in the president's administration, says the campaign focuses on the causes rather than the effects of corruption, "Until now we have been combating the consequences mostly using punitive measure against corrupt officials but the method proved ineffective."


But observers say the talk of getting tough on graft is less than it seems, and that the campaign is doomed to failure. It is, they say, likely to publicise bribery cases involving low- and mid-level officials, while leaving those at the top unscathed.


As Abdygany Erkebaev, speaker of the lower house of parliament, told the March meeting, "There are quite a few bureaucrats involved in corruption in the highest tiers of authority."


"Officials in the president's entourage now talk openly about how top leaders in Kyrgyzstan have Swiss bank accounts," Rina Prizhivoit, a journalist on the independent newspaper Moya Stolitsa-Novosti, told IWPR.


The pessimism voiced by critics comes partly from the fact that this is the fifth in a series of major campaigns begun in the past decade, only to fizzle out. In one of them, a number of senior officials in the finance, foreign trade and environment ministries were jailed in 1998. But most were let out after a while.


Absamat Masaliev, an opposition deputy in parliament, told IWPR, "In 2001 parliament passed a law which would have given deputies an opportunity to monitor the way the corruption law was implemented - but the president vetoed it."


The extent of public cynicism is reflected by the view that the drive is just part of a bigger game, involving a division of spoils among the elite. "The corrupt officials who hold senior posts in the presidential administration and the government have thought this up so as to wipe out their competitors," said parliamentary deputy Dooronbek Sadyrbaev.


Bishkek journalist Shailobek Duisheev thinks things are unlikely to get better, "The public can no longer see the difference between this one and the previous ones. But they understand very well that corruption prospers wherever there is power and money."


Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek


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