Saturday, June 30, 2012

Conversation with Tsakhia Elbegdorj, President of Mongolia

Q: As many foreign and Mongolian businesses say, corruption is rampant in Mongolia. How will Mr. Enkhbayar’s case help Mongolia’s anti-corruption efforts?

A: Many developing countries fail because of corruption. Many countries remain poor and closed not because of lack of money, but because of corruption. That’s why corruption is a mortal enemy of developing societies.

Mongolia is an aspiring young democracy. Our growth into a mature democracy requires continued work to eliminate the scourge of corruption. Corruption deprives the people of their future.

Enkhbayar’s case is just one of about 20 high-profile corruption cases. Just like any citizen, accused in criminal offences, Mr. Enkhbayar must appear in front of court of law. He should be neither discriminated nor given preferential treatment. Laws should apply equally to each and every single citizen of our society.

Having said that, I must acknowledge, we are learning from this case too. This is the first time we are faced with a corruption case engaging a former head of state. Mr. Enkhbayar served in all imaginable high positions of Mongolia – Prime Minister, Parliament Speaker, President. Now the court of law questions whether he honored service to the people, whether he honored rule of law and justice.

Fighting corruption is a hard job. It is an uneasy battle. Sometimes you have to fight with your fellow partisans, your friends. It requires firm commitment and is a real test for political appointees and elected officials. Society free of corruption is a society of great opportunities for all individuals, for civil society, for businesses.

Q: Do you have enough capacities to combat corruption? Any success recorded so far in your fight against corruption?

A: Fighting corruption brings concrete results, and I know this from my personal experience.

I was fortunate to serve this country twice as the Prime Minister. When I became the country’s youngest Prime Minister in 1998 at the age of 35, I dismantled a corrupt scheme of embezzlement at Erdenet Copper Mine. This cost me my Premiership and the Parliament dismissed me of my post. I and my friends never gave up.

In 2004, again, for the second time, I became the Premier. I continued my anti-corruption agenda. That time, the customs service topped the public opinion poll by the scale of corruption. Again, the corrupt practices were eliminated, and again, this cost me my post. My political will and commitment were only reinforced by this act of the Parliament.

Fighting corruption gives people a confidence that they will live in a fairer society, where everyone is equal in front of law. Today the customs service is one of the least corrupt entities in Mongolia. Erdenet Mining Corporation is a diligent taxpayer today with a weighty role in our economy.

People see that fighting corruption can and does make a difference. People have started refusing to take bribes. People have started honoring subpoenas and appear in the court. These are first results of the fight against corruption.

Q: It’s been two months until you issued your statement urging for support in anticorruption agenda. Why so late after the arrest and detention?

A: In Mongolia the judiciary and the anti-corruption agencies are independent authorities. We in Mongolia thought our independent agencies were doing their work – fighting corruption.

Yes, we did hear of articles being published internationally, shockingly, in the most reputable sources. But when that well orchestrated PR campaign resulted in a one-sided story in mainstream publications, we could not sit silent. The organized PR effort started threatening the hard-won image of Mongolia as a democratic beacon in the East.

We were shocked by appalling misinformation and outright lies spread in the global media. And again, this served us a lesson - truth must be voiced out, truth must be told and it must be heard of, however discomforting and unpleasing it might be.

Q: Do you believe you can save Mongolia from corruption?

A: Since the cold November of 1990 I, with my people, have been fighting against the yoke of communism to build a free, open and fair society in my country.

A man can never ruin what he built with heart and soul. People can never tolerate to see how their hard-won values fall apart under the power of money, power of corruption and its ensuing evils. But Mongolia shall withstand corruption and prevail over it.

Mongolian democracy is not a foreign transplant. It is a wealth, which was created by very hard work of the Mongolian people. The seeds of freedom and their rights are born with our people. And our people nurtured their freedom for more than 20 years in order to achieve the level. And we will and can safeguard our value – justice and freedom.

Q: Senator Feinstein expressed a deep concern that the former president Enkhbayar was treated ill and that his human rights were violated?

A: I thank Senator Feinstein and our other friends and partners for the concern.

Human rights should never be violated. The judicial process has begun and is being conducted by Mongolia’s independent judiciary and anticorruption agencies.

Since the Reagan administration, every administration in the US has had an unwavering support for Mongolia’s transition to democracy. We have common strategic interests in protecting the core principles of human rights, freedom and justice throughout the world. When I say “common interests and shared values” I mean those interests and values for which we dream together, for which we fight together – our men and women in uniform stand shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan and other hotspots in the world.

True, our western and other foreign allies have indicated there is corruption in Mongolia and have urged to fight, demonstrate political will and take actions.

As for mistreatment, well, the people saw the facts, records of law enforcement agencies. The reality was different from what was told by Enkhbayar, his family and supporters.

Since his arrest, Mr. Enkhbayar has had unfettered access to his family, lawyers, national and international media. He has been treated with respect and accorded his full human rights and protections afforded to any criminal defendant under Mongolian Constitution. This is the truth I know, the people of Mongolia know.

Q: Mr. President, you are very determined in your commitment to fight corruption. Where do you get this courage and strength?

A: I am the youngest of 8 sons of an ordinary Mongolian herder couple. My parents treated all of their 8 boys equally. If, as the youngest I would be given a preferential treatment, I would be in a trouble. If treated unfairly, I would have suffered a lot. Freedom, justice is in my blood, in my genes. Same is true about the Mongolian people.

Mongolian people stand united in their conviction that the core principle of democracy is rule of law, equally applicable to all; no one is above the law, and that includes everyone from high government officials to ordinary citizens. Fighting corruption is the hardest, but the rightest choice.

Q: Some media reports link Enkhbayar’s case with the upcoming Parliamentary election. Was he arrested to prevent his membership in the Parliament, and eventually, as your opponent in the next year’s Presidential election?

A: I never fear fair competition. Since the first day of democracy all the political posts and elected positions I’ve had, I won through competition. I always welcome fair and just competition.

On the other hand, we must make one distinction very clear – that is, the Parliamentary election and Enkhbayar’s trial are totally different, separate issues.

Election moves Mongolia forward, it highlights our democratic values. Fair election is a feature of a free, open, just, functioning democracy.

Enkhbayar’s case is not a political case, it is a criminal case. It is an embezzlement, bribery and extortion case. Corruption suffocates freedom, justice, human rights. Democracy without rule of law is equal to chaos. 

Therefore, justice and corruption never co-exist together. Justice, and freedom are non-negotiable. Non-negotiable is the fight against corruption.

As for candidature for the next Presidential election, if I were to make the decision, I would have registered him, for my own sake.

The General Election Commission is an independent body, its officers are public servants. I was surprised to hear why he was not registered, and read the GEC’s statement: Enkhbayar is a criminal defendant on trial; the court hearing has opened, and by law it should continue without disruption. Candidates in the Parliamentary election should honor justice, rule of law. The General Election Commission ruled that Mr. Enkhbayar failed to fulfill these criteria.

Q: Were the media stories about Mr. Enkhbayar’s case biased? Do you think the media was objective in addressing this case?

A: Well, media is doing what it’s meant to do. Indeed, this is another beauty of an open and free society that through media an issue at stake is scrutinized from all possible angles. By law, Government is prohibited from owning any media. Enkhbayar has had full access to media, and he actively operates his own TV channel.

By training I am a journalist. I do know the happiness and miseries of this profession. If negative information goes out of media, I never blame journalists; I blame politicians who misinformed, under-informed or didn’t inform media at all.

Q: Mr. President, I find Mongolia caught in a dilemma – you can’t tolerate corruption; on the other hand, when you start fighting against it, you are attacked too. Tough, isn’t it?

A: That’s a very fair question, thank you. You are right, we are facing this dilemma. In fact, a man enters politics to face and solve dilemmas. A man or woman enters politics not for fun but for hard work. Public service is a wrong place to be for those who seek pleasure and profits.

Economic and social issues are easier to handle and resolve than corruption. So the dilemma is: rule of law or rule of corruption. We chose to fight corruption. Fighting corruption is a real test for politicians.

My message to the people is clear – let me take your grievances in exchange of my happiness. And this should be the message of my other fellow politicians. My legacy as the President of Mongolia is a fairer society and a better place to live.

Do you know why I love freedom so much? Do you know the beauty of a free and open society? Free people are responsible, and are creative. In a free and open society, every morning you hear good news – new services opened here, new products are produced there, new frontiers of development, new thoughts, new ideas and new actions are taken everyday. This is prosperity we aspire. And this again proves that corruption and freedom can never comfortably co-exist.

Q: Some say many of the candidates in the election, including Mr. Enkhbayar, seek immunity by trying to win a seat in the Parliament? How valid are such observations?

A: Immunity does not mean impunity. Impunity of MPs from prosecution is a history in Mongolia now. Our people, our media forced this.

If a person does not violate law, does not steal from the public, does not harm public interest, why would he be scared of justice and seek immunity, after all, against what? I soon will initiate a law on the immunity of a Member of the Parliament to enable immunity to be called off the Parliament if his or her involvement in a crime is proven by investigation. We have also adopted a Law on Conflict of Interests, the Public Service law is being revised, so the laws are being tightened.

Leadership should set models and demonstrate their commitment by action. Let me share a personal story. In 1994, when I was a Member of Parliament, I was accused in disclosing a state secret. On the day I received a subpoena, I wrote to the Speaker to annul my immunity of a Member, and on the same day I appeared in front of law. After the trial, the court reinstated my good name for I honored truth, rule law and justice.

Q: I see Mongolia has both good and bad news: corruption is rampant on one hand, on the other, you are one of the fastest growing economies. How are you going to keep the momentum of growth and handle your economic issues, especially too heavy dependence on minerals? How is Mongolia working to prevent a “resource curse”?

A: You are right, Mongolia is richly endowed with mineral resources. Whether we are going to be blessed for it, or cursed is a matter of governance.

Mongolian economy today looks dauntingly monochrome as it is mostly a mining economy. We need to diversify our economy – make a “rainbow” economy, for which we have all the necessary ingredients.

Q: Which sectors are you referring to?

A: First, Mongolia can offer tremendous potential in our agricultural sector. We have less than 3 million people on about 1.6 million and have more than 40 million head of livestock. Our vast lands can grow food, by the way, the most ecologically clean and organic food, and supply for the global needs.

Our geographic location makes Mongolia a perfect hub adjoining Asia, Europe and North America. 

Therefore, further investment in infrastructure – railroads, roads, airways – will be crucial for Mongolia.

Tourism is another sector of great potential in Mongolia. We have fascinating nature and Mongolia is an amazing destination for eco-tourists.

True, Mongolia is a landlocked country. But our skies are not locked, so civil aviation is one prominent sector. Plus, we share the longest boundaries with two of the world’s huge markets. This is another opportunity.

Mongolia can become an energy haven. In addition to over 160 billion tons of coal, both thermal and metallurgical, we can produce the cleanest energy from sun and wind, which is plenty in Mongolia. In fact, we are discussing a GobiTech project, which could supply the Asian continent with wind energy to be generated in the Mongolian Gobi.

Another very valuable endowment of Mongolia is our people – young and educated. Our literacy rate is one of the highest in the world – 98%.

We have a robust and resilient private sector, which now produces close to 80% of our GDP. These are all wealth, valued even more than the mineral resources. So Mongolia’s economy is an economy of opportunities, an economy of wealth creation.

Q: Any statistics to suggest our audience of the growth dynamics?

A: In 2000 Mongolia was a 1 billion USD economy with foreign aid and loans of 300 million USD, with 1.1% growth, whereas, a decade later, in 2011, Mongolia’s economy grew to 10 billion, with the growth rate of 17.3%, while the level of foreign assistance stayed the same, 300 million USD. Foreign assistance, which accounted for 30% of our economy back in 2001 today stands at mere 3%. This is a very telling statistics – this shows what huge potentials of growth we have.

Q: Mongolia has recently adopted a new regulation on foreign investment. How should foreign investors look at this move?

A: Well, a couple of important junctures to highlight. First, this is the first time Mongolia has enacted such legislation. You’d agree, Mongolia is not the only country with regulation of foreign investment in sectors of strategic importance, right? The issue was initiated 3 years ago at the Parliament on a bi-partisan basis.

Second, the law is related to the state owned enterprises. Since 1990s we have been reducing state ownership and encouraging private ownership and private-sector led economic growth. We limit state ownership of both Mongolian and foreign entities. We are open to listen to the concerns. And we did not target interests and economic entities of any particular countries.

Investors should be encouraged by this move - we have made rules clearer and more transparent. If investors are responsible, legal and transparent there is nothing to worry about.

Q: But you are still very much dependent on Russia and China, sandwiched between them: on oil on Russia and your markets on China? How are you going to reduce this vulnerability?

A: Mongolia finds her geographic location as very strategic and prominent. We have very friendly relations with our two immediate neighbors, who understand our aspirations and zeal. Mongolia’s economic prosperity only adds to the benefits of our neighbors, and their prosperity is good for us.

We share the longest land-border with China. Being next to China is indeed a great opportunity in terms of market destination, in terms of cost of trade. Neighboring with Russian Siberia, large untapped resource, is also another great opportunity.

Mongolia is pursuing an active industrial development, which includes deep processing of mineral resources, including coal, which we have plenty. Coal liquefaction will help us address the dependence on fuel imports.

By building domestic and integrating into regional infrastructure Mongolia is building her new gateways to new frontiers.

Mongolia is engaging in talks to expand mutual economic gains and is discussing trading schemes with certain countries. By these means, Mongolia is seeking ways to further amplify our existing opportunities and reduce our economic vulnerability.

Q: Your prediction for the upcoming Parliamentary election of June 28th?

A: I usually get it wrong. I have always wanted people to win.


1 comment:

  1. Mongolian are losing money because of Rio Tinto's spending practices and not creating fair and open competition by inept scopes of work written at the direction of Rio Tinto's Oyo Tolgoi leadership. Those scopes of work should allow the businesses in Ulaanbaatar to see, in minute detail, what is being asked and the business should be able to make an informed and educated bid. Instead, due to the insider trading occurring at the Oyu Tolgoi site, fair and open competition doesn't occur. Only through full and open competition can costs be driven down. Mongolia has no say about how Rio Tinto is spending THEIR money. Flying personnel into the site every 4 weeks instead is a huge and unnecessary expense. Lastly, it should be intently questioned about where the gold is going from the mine and Mongolians should watch the Alaskan Gold Mining series and see how easily the gold is recovered once it is sluiced. The Oyu Tolgi site has the largest sluicing operation in the world and, although some crushed rock will be sent to smelters in China, Mongolians will have no idea about what was recovered from the washing of the open pit or the underground mines. Mongolia should be demanding to be part of the procurement process and have a final ok about what companies are on the bid list and demand expertly written scopes of work and that they have a hand in the evaluation of proposals. For 6 years Rio Tinto and Ivanoe Mines have been selling sand to the Mongolians and it is time for them to have a say in the procurement process in a mine that they are such large shareholders of.