The 2023 Transparency International Corruptions Perceptions Index gave Mongolia a score of 33 out of 100 (with 100 being “very clean” and 0 being “highly corrupt”). Although the country’s score did not drop from last year, it did not improve either. Indeed, Mongolia’s score has been stuck in the 30s since the CPI adopted its current scoring system in 2012.
For comparison, Mongolia’s score puts it between its two neighbors: better than Russia (which scored 26) and worse than China (42). In terms of the global ranking, Mongolia placed 121st out of 180 countries in the index. That said, it’s in good company in the Indo-Pacific region, where the CPI has most countries scoring in the 20s, 30s, or 40s.
This year, as Mongolia seeks major investments from foreign partners, the government will need to tackle corruption in all facets of Mongolian public life, especially in the areas of procurement and public service.
Corruption has been an enduring affliction in Mongolian society for decades, shaving profits off the country’s economic potential. Although different administrations have launched anti-corruption campaigns and implemented laws, these efforts have failed to solve the issue.
There has been recent progress, however. In 2020, the launch of E-Mongolia, an online platform that provides government services, helped to reduce the prevalence of lower-level public service bribery, but high-level corruption remains a challenge. According to some estimates, losses from corruption in Mongolia plummeted by 83.1 percent between 2022 and 2023 – from 5 trillion Mongolian tugriks to 845 billion tugriks.
The administration of Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai declared 2023 and 2024 “Years of Fighting Corruption.” Rooting out corruption is crucial not only for Mongolia’s development but also for Mongolia’s international reputation and commitments, such as the U.N. Convention Against Corruption, which Mongolia ratified in 2006.
That said, the government’s anti-corruption strategy was also a response to increasing public outrage over a series of high-profile corruption cases. Mongolia has seen major cases including but not limited to “coal thieves,” missing money from a fund supposed to benefit small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), and most recently, the green bus scheme. These major cases continue to undermine public trust in the government’s anti-corruption efforts.
According to the 2023 Year-in-Review by Mongolia’s Independent Authority Against Corruption (IAAC), the commission “received 3,749 complaints and tips from citizens, enterprises, organizations, and officials.” Of those, the IAAC reported, 1,010 were complaints regarding alleged corruption and conflict of interest, while 2,156 were tips about crimes, which marks a 17 percent increase from last year. In 2023, the IAAC reported resolving 97.6 percent of received complaints.
The Mongolian government has been active in seeking international cooperation in its fight against corruption. Collaboration with international organizations can strengthen the country’s transparency and accountability, which are fundamental in implementing anti-corruption measures.
In 2021, Mongolian civil society, government, and anti-corruption groups joined the Brookings Institution’s Leveraging Transparency to Reduce Corruption (LTRC) to strengthen the country’s battle against corruption. The collaboration resulted in a new initiative, Beneficial Ownership Transparency (BOT), which aims to boost transparency and “advance integrity and building trust in institutions and systems.” International cooperation will also hold the authorities accountable if the recommendations are not adopted.
Another example is the recommendations suggested by the Financial Actions Task Force (FATF) to strengthen Mongolia’s compliance with international standards for preventing financial crimes. The FATF’s 2023 Follow-Up Report indicated that Mongolia has made considerable progress, and is now considered either compliant or “largely compliant” with FATF recommendations.
Following the announcement of “Year to Fight Corruption,” Mongolia officially named people living overseas who are accused of being involved in corruption cases. This is part of “Operation Bird,” a joint initiative between Mongolian authorities and Interpol to extradite corruption suspects and bring them back to Mongolia. For example, a former food and agricultural minister, Tunjin Badamjunai was located and arrested in the Philippines. According to a Mongolian news agency, Ikon. mn, since the announcement of the operation, there have been reports of suspects returning home without formal extradition processes.
Other parallel anti-corruption operations – five in total – also aim to seize millions of dollars previously lost to corruption. The government stated that it has saved more than $1.8 billion of Mongolian taxpayers’ money. As a whole, the strategy focuses on “extradition and repatriation of those under indictment, asset recovery, and transparency.”
This spring, an anti-corruption bill will be introduced to the Mongolian parliament. The so-called Sweeper Act aims to prevent those in parliament and their families from becoming influential shareholders in government-funded projects. Such legislation aims to restore public and private confidence in the integrity of Mongolia’s institutions – and the bill’s fate will be crucial in parliamentary elections, too.
As Mongolia continues to seek foreign investments, tackling corruption is of utmost importance. Mongolia’s participation and collaborative efforts with international organizations will have an impact on the country’s accountability as it makes more effort to tackle high-level corruption.
2024 will be a crucial year for Mongolia’s governance, economy, and how the country upholds international standards as a democratic nation. Fighting corruption must be a priority for the current government.