The Mongolian public service has been criticized by political parties, businesses, and the public for being ineffective, unaccountable, and nontransparent. There are some signs of improvement, but discussions often lead to suspicions of superficiality and conspiracy. What’s wrong with the Mongolian Public Service? Why do people express doubts in reform efforts?
The authority of the General Election Commission has increased than previous elections, and made decisions strictly under the revised election law and new conflict of interest law. Now the election will be organized at all levels by public servants as opposed to a mix of party officials and public servants, especially in the counting of votes. Candidates must prove their resignation from the public service six months prior to election, if they have served in the government, as well as disclose their political and business involvements in the last ten years. The courts and the police has to provide clearances. Political parties are required to explain the sources of their funding, but only for the year prior to the election.
The Mongolian Civil Service Commission seems to increase autonomy and to emphasize transparency and merit-based hiring in contrast to its heavily politicized past. These are all good developments. Mongolia has improved its law, regulations, and standards concerning the public service for several times. On paper, Mongolia now has an ideal legislative framework. However, there are three specific spoilers – political parties, business entrepreneurs, and local lobbying – that delaying ‘tipping points’ for enforcement of this fine legal framework.
When either of the two major political parties has achieved a parliamentary majority (DP in 1996, MPRP in 2000), each attempted to assert their influence at all level of central and provincial governments. The politicized hiring and firing devastated transitional bureaucratic institutions. Political parties even managed to take over key ministries and agencies in charge of privatization, foreign assistance, tenders, mining as well as state-owned enterprises (Erdenet copper plant, railway, airlines). Later, this party-led competition spread into judicial and law enforcement agencies – perhaps either to provide safe havens or marginalize political opponents. Today, political parties need to eliminate their postings of party-affiliated officials in the public service. And, public servants either at national government or local offices at the provinces and counties need to demonstrate their non-partisanship.
The second spoiler are business entrepreneurs. Similarly to many other post-communist states, Mongolia produced winners and losers first, from privatization, second, government tenders, and then mining projects. To gain power and authority (to protect their business interests or accumulate resources), numerous business entrepreneurs have joined political parties or run independently to the parliamentary election as well as local elections. Even today, a clear half of the candidates of any party have business entrepreneurs’ backgrounds or some connections with business. The new law on conflict of interests and attempts of the anti-corruption agency discourage many to openly express their business interests, but still could not prevent them from being offered public service positions.
Finally, local lobbying groups have a very negative impact on public services. The lobbying groups, often called ‘nutagyin zuvlul’ (Local Homeland Councils), now play a detrimental role in parliamentary as well as local elections. Local Homeland Councils were created in the early 1990s to maintain rural and urban links and to generate supports for provinces and counties. Each council consists of and is run by influential and famous people who originated from that locality. Although their main goal is to generate support at the government and capital regions for their local provinces and counties, they are gateways for politicians and business people enter into national and local politics and business. All 21 provinces have their own lobbying councils. Negatively, these lobbying groups attempt to support their natives to gain higher positions in the government services.
To enforce Mongolia’s fine public service laws and standards, influences of political parties, business entrepreneurs, and local lobbying groups must be eradicated. This needs strong political will from each party by removing party-affiliated personnel first, from the judiciary, law enforcement and auditing agencies,then, ministries and agencies, and finally, from the state-owned enterprises. Otherwise, laws will remain on the paper and parties will use the state institutions for revenge, intimidation, and opportunities, surely in rotations.