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Kyrgyz sceptical of new government anti-graft website

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 5 Apr 2011 11:35 GMT
Author: TrustLaw correspondent
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BISHKEK (TrustLaw) – Kyrgyzstan’s government wants people to fight rampant corruption by filing complaints directly through a new website, but despite its high profile launch few have heard of the online campaign and even fewer think it will work

Twice over the last six years, revolutions have swept aside Kyrgyzstan’s government. Each time frustration over government and official corruption was one of the protesters’ main grievances.

The Osh bazaar, named after a town in the south of the country, is the heart of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. Here people barter, shop and swap stories, news and opinions. But nobody had heard of the government’s new anti-corruption website.

 “It’s not possible to defeat corruption,” said Ulan, who sold pirated CDs of Western films out of a wooden box. He laughed and shook his head.

“Is this website going to write about how officials and inspectors take bribes?”

Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries in Central Asia and for most people crime and rising inflation are their biggest concerns. Corruption is just part of life and most people dismissed the idea it could be defeated as fanciful.

A short walk away from Ulan’s CD stall, Shukhrat Sadyrov cooked hamburgers over a grill. He said people in government probably initiated the anti-corruption drive to tarnish their political enemies, a sceptical view of anti-graft campaigns often held by people living in former Soviet states.

“I’m sure the authorities came up with this idea for themselves,” he said. “Though it would be interesting to read the cases they decide to publish on the website.”

Corruption is rampant in this country of about 5.5 million people. Like other former Soviet states it is ingrained into people’s lives. Tax inspectors demand bribes from store owners, doctors from patients, teachers from pupils and traffic police from drivers.

In its 2010 Corruption Perception Index, the non-government organisation Transparency International ranked Kyrgyzstan at 164 out of 178 countries, level with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea and Venezuela. From the former Soviet states, Transparency International ranked only Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as more corrupt.

SCEPTICISM

Kyrgyzstan’s First Deputy Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov unveiled the new website on March 18 at a press conference interrupted by tremors from an earthquake.

“This is a phenomenon that is afraid of publicity,” he said of corruption. “That’s why we’re giving our citizens the chance to tell us about these corrupt schemes.”

Allegations of corruption and crime riddle Kyrgyz politics and business and earlier in March two Russian politicians accused Babanov himself of corruption over an investigation into ownership of Megacom, the main Kyrgyz mobile phone operator.

Babanov has denied any allegations of wrongdoing but commentators have said the government needs to be seen to be combating official corruption.

On the new website, www.anticorr.gov.kg, an online form invites people to register complaints. It promises to investigate each one.

In the right-hand corner a photo shows a mousetrap hammering a hand grabbing at a fistful of dollars. In the left-hand corner the prime minster promises to fight corruption and crime.

So far, though, public enthusiasm for the initiative has been light. Since its inception the website noted it had logged 32 complaints, of which 22 are under consideration and 10 have been rejected as they were from anonymous sources.

And this scepticism is reflected on the streets of Bishkek.

“They’ve opened a website?” said student Daniyar Zhumagulov. “That’s interesting, although it is unlikely that anything will change.”

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