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East: Ex-Soviet Countries Score Badly On 2007 Corruption List --> An Azerbaijani cartoon against graft in education (file) (official site) September 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The countries of the former Soviet Union, except for the Baltic states, remain among the most corrupt in the world, according to Transparency International. The findings are in an annual survey issued today by the global corruption watchdog.

The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks 180 countries by their perceived level of corruption based on expert assessments and opinion surveys. It scores countries on a scale from zero -- the worst -- to 10. RFE/RL correspondent Valentinas Mita spoke with Miklos Marschall, regional director for Europe and Central Asia at Transparency International.

RFE/RL: Would you give a general picture of the level of corruption in the countries of the former Soviet Union and also describe general tendencies -- if they exist?

Miklos Marschall: The sad conclusion is that there is no improvement, generally speaking, and that is because of many reasons: because of geopolitical [reasons] -- there is a growing influence of Russia -- and there is less political will for reforms. Here I can refer to some geopolitics. Wherever there is a stronger influence of the European Union, you see improvement. Wherever Russian influence is growing, the corruption situation is worsening.

RFE/RL: But the Russian authorities say they are fighting corruption very strongly and are doing all they can to rein in oligarchs and make the business environment less corrupt. How does Transparency International rate Russia?

Marschall: The scores are disappointing and especially disappointing for countries like Russia, where a score of 2.3 puts Russia at the bottom of the global list of the index, which is really a great embarrassment for Russia. It shows the downward trend despite all the pledges and the commitments. According to the opinion of the international business community, the Russian public sector is pretty corrupt. And what is even [more alarming]: it is getting worse and worse, so there is no positive development.

RFE/RL: Does Ukraine, which says it is reforming, score better than Russia?

Marschall: In Ukraine, the score was 2.7, which is a very poor score. Nevertheless, Ukraine is ahead of Russia in our rankings, which shows that despite all the difficulties somehow the reform effort is paying a small dividend. Of course it will take decades -- and not years -- until real improvement will be seen. Nevertheless, some years ago Ukraine was behind Russia, now it is ahead Russia.

RFE/RL: The Belarusian authorities also claim to be fighting corruption, but Belarus is in 150th place on the index. Why?

Marschall: That is one of the most corrupt countries according to our ranking. Out of 180 countries, it has the 150th position, with a score of 2.1. It is one of the worst performers in the post-Soviet region. It shows that Belarus is a pretty closed country in the way that you cannot do business easily there and corruption seems rampant.

Miklos Marschall (courtesy photo)

RFE/RL: Are the countries of the Caucasus -- Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan -- doing any better?

Marschall: [There is] not much change. Armenia scores 3.0 and Azerbaijan scores 2.1, which is a low score. In Georgia, it is clear that [Mikheil] Saakashvili’s government brought about significant changes and that is being reflected in the opinion of the international business community, and that is reflected by our score.

RFE/RL: Is the situation changing in the countries of Central Asia?

Marschall: I think the bad news is that Central Asia is generally perceived as a very corrupt region in the world -- from Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan, from Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan -- these are perceived as very corrupt countries. One of the most corrupt countries this year on our list is Uzbekistan with a score of 1.7. And Uzbekistan is among the ten worst performers. So, I think that reflects that Uzbekistan, once a promising country, has lots of political, economic problems.

RFE/RL: You said that growing Russian influence correlates with growing corruption. So, what is the situation in the Baltic States, which joined the EU several years ago?

Marschall: We have good news to tell you as well and the good news is about the Baltic countries. They are doing better. Estonia has made significant improvements but also Latvia and Lithuania have improved. And that fact is reflected in our scores. So it shows that successful reforms of the public administration and opening up the economy can change the situation. And of course this is because of European accession, which was a very powerful external force that pushed reforms in those countries. Estonia stands out with a score of 6.5 (eds: 28th on the list). But, you know, Latvia (eds: 51st on the list) and Lithuania (51st on the list) with a score of 4.8, also can take credit for some developments.

RFE/RL: What is the corruption situation in another country which has been in the headlines for several years -- Iraq?

Marschall: Iraq is really at the bottom of our index and no one should be surprised about that because it has hardly a functioning government. So it is not a surprise that the public sector is considered by everyone as very, very corrupt. Only Somalia and Myanmar are worse.

Examples Of Corruption

From Turkmenistan

A man from western Balkhan province says, "Corruption is prospering in the country. It is almost impossible to get hired or to be admitted to university for study without bribes. Also, law-enforcement agencies are very corrupt." One resident of the capital, Ashgabat, tells RFE/RL that unemployment, drug abuse, prostitution, and other crime are all rooted in corruption. Bribery and corrupt practices are also said to be rife in the grain- and cotton-producing industries. Namely, inaccurate statistics about the annual harvest are provided by officials of the agriculture sector.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports that the country's level of corruption has reached such a terrible stage that it actually begins in the schools. Parents have to give bribes if they want their child to attend better schools. The Turkmen Initiative For Human Rights group, based in Vienna, says parents are giving bribes of between $50 and $100 in order for a child to be admitted to schools with Russian-language teaching. Such schools often provide a better education than those taught in the Turkmen language.

From Armenia

Armenia's Prosecutor-General's Office announced on August 2 that it has formally asked the Economic Court to strip the Ararat Gold Recovery Company of all operating licenses and fine it almost $22 million for "tax fraud and other violations of the law," according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. The case is the latest in a series of disputes in the Armenian mining sector, with an earlier conflict between the Environment Ministry and the U.S. Global Gold Corporation culminating in a decision by the ministry to revoke the company's license to carry out exploratory work at a mine located at Marjan, near the Iranian border.

Former Environment Minister Vardan Ayvazian also faced corruption allegations by the same U.S. company, which reportedly submitted documentary evidence to the U.S. government demonstrating the minister's demand for a $3 million bribe to allow the company to continue operating in Armenia.

From Kyrgyzstan

On September 24, five people were detained by the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry on suspicion of taking and giving bribes, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports. The detained include a senior marketing specialist of a local administration in Bishkek; the head of department of the transport company Kyrgyztemir zholu; a senior engineer of Kygyztelekom; and a deputy dean of one of the technical universities in Osh.

The Interior Ministry says all of them are accused of demanding money for some business favors or contracts. The fifth person was detained when he allegedly tried to bribe a police officer. Police say he offered a bribe of $700 in exchange for the closing of a criminal investigation. The ministry says the man is a suspect in a case of forging documents.