Addendum: Paying Bribes

By Julian Dierkes

I recently wrote that year-over-year changes in the Corruption Perception Index for Mongolia didn’t mean much, and also tried to benchmark corruption in Mongolia against post-state socialist countries, resource economies and democracies.

Now, Transparency International offers some more information in their “Asia Pacific – Global Corruption Barometer“.


First – as I do often – a quick note on methods.

Figures reported in the GCB are based on face-to-face surveys conducted in Mongolia in December 2015 (Nov 25 2015 – Jan 2 2016). 1,500 respondents were interviewed.

A number of reported measures come with caveats, often involving Mongolia. For example, questions regarding whether corruption had become better or worse were not asked in Mongolia and no explanation was given why that might have been the case.

“TNS” is listed as having conducted the survey in Mongolia.


Reports of Bribes Actually Low for Mongolia

At the broadest level, the survey reports that 20% of Mongolians report having paid a bribe. That is remarkable and worth noting.

World Bank country manager Jim Anderson notes this right away:

It is worth looking at this regional comparison a bit more closely. Transparency International colours its map by deciles, i.e. 0-10% reporting paying bribe, 11-20%, etc.

Alternatively, let’s group countries with very low corruption, i.e. under 7%: Japan (0,3%), Hong Kong 2%, South Korea (3%), Australia (4%), Taiwan (6%). I imagine that Singapore and New Zealand would also be in this group had they been included.

Then there is a jump to Sri Lanka (15%), Mongolia (20%), Malaysia (23%) and China (26%).

After that, reported figures jump to nearly a third of respondents (Indonesia 32%), and rise all the way to over two thirds of Indians reporting having paid a bribe.

Note that all the low-corruption countries are the Asian OECD countries plus Taiwan and Hong Kong. The very high figure for India, on the other hand, suggests that levels of bribe-paying are not necessarily strictly related to per capita GDP.

What could we best call Mongolia’s group of 15-26% reported bribe paying? Moderately corrupt? Not bad company for Mongolia to be in, but clearly this points to a lot of room for improvement.

Perception of Government Efforts

One of the areas where the Mongolian results are much less encouraging is the perception that the government doing badly in combatting corruption. At 61% of Mongolians responding with this assessment, the sense in the population is obviously that the government is part of the problem, not the solution. This is especially discouraging as the survey was conducted at a time of a DP government. The DP and especially President Elbegdorj has always laid claim to anti-corruption as a central differences with the MPP. The electorate is obviously not impressed by these claims.

It should be noted that the same countries where citizens report low levels of bribe-paying also report high levels of dissatisfaction with government measures against corruption. Along with Mongolia that is South Korea (76% “government doing badly”), Malaysia (62%), Japan (60%). This assessment is also high in some countries where corruption is rampant, for example Cambodia with 56% saying the government is doing badly with 40% reporting having paid a bribe.

Clearly, the relationship between paying bribes, perception of corruption, and government action is in no ways a direct/linear one, as I have long suspected for the CPI and other measures.

Adding to this negative perception of government efforts is Mongolians’ sense that “ordinary people” have limited impact in the fight against corruption. 51% of Mongolians disagree with the statement “Ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption”. That is the highest figure across the region except for Pakistan (67%). Note that on this question as well, Mongolia is similar to Japan (51%) and Malaysia (55%).

I still believe that corruption has a lot of potential for mobilizing Mongolians and also for causing some major shift in party politics, along with air pollution as an issue. My belief in this regard does not seem to be confirmed by these figures, however.

Where do Mongolians Pay Bribes?

Mongolian respondents clearly identified the police and public hospitals as places where they paid more bribes than in schools or for registration and other administrative tasks. Note that Mongolians were not asked about utilities or the courts.

The identification of the police as a weak link in anti-corruption efforts seems fairly common across the Asia Pacific region.


Corruption is a complex challenge. Talking about it more is not a cure-all and, ironically, the case of Mongolia perhaps demonstrates that greater awareness of corruption may go hand-in-hand with lower prevalence (or vice-versa).

The complex causal relationships around perception and actual prevalence of corruption, as well as the efficacy of anti-corruption efforts, to me suggests that even more than with other global indices, the various measures used by Transparency International are of very limited meaning. At best, they may be pointing to trends over time, at worst, they seem to be subject to popular mood swings and really suffer from a lack of country-to-country comparability.

But, at the same time, corruption is a scourge on Mongolia and there are no significantly better ways of measuring it available in a consistent manner.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He toots and tweets @jdierkes
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2 Responses to Addendum: Paying Bribes

  1. Briefly, on “bribes” not being a particularly large part of what counts as “corruption” in Mongolia:

    In my experience, Mongolians automatically seek out relatives, friends, and other connections when they need medical treatment, to interact with government agencies, etc. I have also experienced them to be very generous in sharing access to these networks. From the outside, these transactions might be called “bribes,” but my sense is that there is less being “outside” in Mongolia than in Russia and Romania.

    For more in this vein, I would direct you to David Sneath’s “Transacting and Enacting: Corruption, Obligation, and the Use of Monies in Mongolia” and Caroline Humphrey’s “Favor and Normal Heroes: The Case of Postsocialist Higher Education.”

  2. Without looking more deeply into the info on the methodology, survey responses, etc. that you discuss and link to here, I suspect that to large degree the response to “government doing badly in combating corruption” could be read as “the government is itself corrupt” in its dealings — the kind of stuff that Elbegdorj et al. are trying to address with “shilen dans.”

    Mongolians are much more concerned with corruption involving large enterprises, tenders, things that they see having systemic effects on the country’s economy, which the government and high-level politicians (uls turchiid are not bureaucrats interfacing with the public…) are charged with managing.

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