Learner’s Submission: Georgia’s Anti-corruption Reforms and Success Stories

The atmosphere was tense and charged on the cold and cloudy night of November 22, 2003. Georgia’s beleaguered and stoic population had finally had enough, with pervasive corruption, ever-present crime, and dysfunctional public services. Criminal gangs, called “thieves-in-law,”operated with impunity, engaging in extortion, smuggling, carjacking, theft, and protection rackets. They often allied with government officials to rig contracts and otherwise plunder the treasury. Many corrupt government officials had been enriching themselves for years. Street demonstrations had grown in intensity every day since the flawed, corruption-riddled parliamentary elections several weeks earlier.

Economic reform and anti-corruption were placed at the top political agenda of the Georgian government led by former President Saakashvili. Since 2004, Georgia had made tremendous progress in the clamp down on corruption and reinstatement of good governance. The total dissolution of the corrupt traffic police in 2004 and the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Interagency Council in 2008 were successful examples of the reform.

Georgia achieved remarkable results in reducing corruption in a short period of time. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer ranked Georgia first in the world in 2010 in terms of the relative reduction in the level of corruption and second in the world in terms of the public’s perception of the government’s effectiveness in fighting corruption. A set of cross-cutting factors emerge that have driven Georgia’s success story.
1. Exercise strong political will. The overwhelming mandate from voters and the dire reality of the situation Georgia’s new leaders inherited bolstered their will to act quickly and forcefully.
2. Establish credibility early. The new leaders struck hard against corruption to establish early credibility and extend the window of opportunity voters had given them. High-profile arrests of corrupt officials and criminals signaled zero tolerance for corruption.
3. Launch a frontal assault. Rather than spending precious time strategizing, worrying about sequencing, or consulting on action plans, the government launched a rapid and direct assault on corruption in a broad array of public services. It acted quickly to keep vested interests at bay.
4. Attract new staff. The leaders of the Rose Revolution formed the core of the government’s executive branch. They looked outside politics and government to recruit qualified, often Western-educated, staff to spearhead the reforms and paid them well.
5. Limit the role of the state. The reformers shared a vision of limited government. They also believed that limiting contact between citizens and civil servants.
6. Adopt unconventional methods. Extraordinary times required innovative approaches. A special fund financed from outside sources paid for increased salaries and bonuses for a short initial period.
7. Develop a unity of purpose, and coordinate closely. A small group of policy makers, headed by the president, formed a core team that shared common values, coordinated closely, and stayed together.
8. Harness technology. The government used technology extensively to limit contact between the state and citizens, implementing e-filing of taxes, electronic payments for services, and traffic cameras.

Involving citizens in governance leads to high levels of social trust, which has been linked to reduced corruption in many countries. The involvement of citizens can help to reduce corruption simply by participating in the governance activities of their locality, region or nation but also as part of targeted anti-corruption strategies such as the work of anti-corruption authorities. What we have seen from Georgia’s experience is this. In Georgia, Citizens were involved through information, consultation and active participation. The government realized the need to enlist citizens and foster their support, thus public enlightenment and public access to information on the reforms were the key factors that contributed immensely in actualizing the reforms, especially in government effort to streamline and eliminate unnecessary procedures, where junior level staff often gives feedback and suggestions on the ways to improve service delivery. By far, it might have been the core of the success stories scored in Georgia as mentioned above.

The reformers viewed that corruption dominated much of the lives of ordinary citizens in Georgia. Intentionally, and of course in certain compulsory circumstances, the governed will be obliged to pay bribes, as they may not be able to get appropriate services in public institutions. This is the ultimate manifestation of the prevalence of corruption in particular and bad governance in general in a certain country (in this case Georgia). The next step after the identification of the problem and its intensity and impact on public service rendering, is to take steps to reduce and if possible to eradicate such plague in the country. However, measures that do not put the integration of the citizen (the society), civil society organizations, the government and other actors at its center, are more likely to be an unsuccessful. While this is done, these various stakeholders will develop a sense of satisfaction and ownership in every activities taking place in their country. Thus, the reformers debated the approach to reforms in a series of meetings and concluded that the reforms could not be gradual or in parts.” – Mohammed Yimer – Arba minch, Ethiopia


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