Unethical officials must be reprimanded!
- By Misheel Lkhasuren -
- Nov 17,2021
The accountability system in Mongolia is “weak”, as experts assess. Some high-ranking government officials have no ethical ability to simply apologize for their mistakes. Moreover, lawmakers and ministers are not subject to ethical scrutiny or punishment.
Recently, Minister of Culture Ch.Nomin gifted batches of vegetables to legislators, which has sparked public outrage. She sent a sample of Gatsuurt Company’s produce (potatoes, carrots, and garlic) with bread to parliamentarians. The company is run by her father. The most serious thing is that she gave them as a minister, which can be suspected as a bribe. In particular, the gift envelope read, “We are delivering samples of fresh vegetables grown by Mongolians in the fertile soil of our country. From Minister of Culture Ch.Nomin.”
In fact, lawmakers have no right to receive gifts, not even potatoes from Cabinet members whose performance they review and monitor. However, neither the giver nor the receiver seemed to realize that it was wrong. The culture minister has not yet made a statement on the matter, and her husband and lawmaker N.Uchral have condoned Ch.Nomin’s actions on their social media accounts.
Her husband twittered, “There is a long tradition of sharing samples of new crops. We have been doing this for more than 10 years. But I don’t think politicians will be corrupted by potatoes.”
He wrote again, “It’s wrong to write her position on a gift. Very wrong. In order to avoid making such a shameful mistake again, we must correct the flaws in our decision-making process. As her husband, I want to protect my wife, whether she is right or wrong. But I will endure.”
N.Uchral wrote on his Facebook account, “It is a Mongolian custom for friends to share samples of their new products with each other. It should not be politicized.”
In other words, they don’t seem to consider giving out gifts to lawmakers as a serious problem.
REASONS TO HOLD CULTURE MINISTER ACCOUNTABLE
There are several reasons to hold Culture Minister Ch.Nomin accountable for her action. Some provisions of relevant laws can clarify whether bestowing gifts to lawmakers is an excusable act for a Cabinet member.
It can be seen that Minister Ch.Nomin’s action was aimed at promoting Gatsuurt Company. Government officials are defined as public officials. However, public officials are not allowed to advertise things in any form other than their official duties. In particular, Article 13.1 of the Law on Regulating Public and Private Interests in Public Service and Preventing Conflicts of Interest states, “a public official shall be prohibited from using his or her official position for any form of advertisement, except in cases related to his or her official duties.” Also, Article 14.1 of the law stipulates, “It is prohibited for an official to represent public service for personal gain.”
The law sets out penalties for violating these provisions. Specifically, it provides for a 30 percent reduction in salary for up to three months if items set out in Article 13 are violated, and for a demotion if Article 14 is violated. Therefore, in accordance with this law, Minister Ch.Nomin’s use of her ministerial position in “advertisement” for her own interests is a valid reason to hold her accountable.
However, a Cabinet member who gives a gift to a lawmaker cannot be prosecuted for violating the Anti-Corruption Law. This means that there is no regulation to punish her actions by law.
In fact, Cabinet members took an oath to Parliament, promising to be “free from corruption and conflicts of interest”. The minister, who violated her oath, may not have to resign in accordance with the law, but should take ethical responsibility.
While bestowing gifts is an important part of Japanese culture, political gift-giving is simply not allowed in Japan. Actually, any time employees or family members go on a trip, no matter how brief, they are expected to bring back souvenirs known as omiyage. Guests never arrive empty-handed. Companies give midyear and year-end gifts to clients. And the custom of bringing money to a funeral helps families defray costs. Small tokens like tea or dried seaweed are usually offered in return. But Japan’s establishment has enforced the strict rules on political gift-giving ever since notorious multimillion-dollar scandals rocked Japan in the 1970s and 1980s. The rules, which include precise limits on compensation for campaign staff members, are intended to prevent the wealthy from gaining an unfair advantage in politics.
Japanese politicians have an ethical code to publicly apologize for accepting or sending gifts and resign of their own volition. For instance, former Trade Minister of Japan Isshu Sugawara, who was accused of sending cantaloupes and crab to constituents, as well as paying about 185 USD as a funeral condolence gift to a voter, resigned to atone for his actions. Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai stepped down after being reported for gifted potatoes he received from a fellow politician to some constituents. Even though the two ministers did not acknowledge any wrongdoing, both apologized and stepped down immediately.
Professor of political science at Hosei University Hiroshi Shiratori once said, “Even if it is 10 JPY or 100 JPY, it is a bit problematic for politicians to step over the rules.”
Moreover, Japanese former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga apologized to the public after a key spokeswoman resigned along with other senior bureaucrats for attending expensive dinners hosted by Suga’s son. “I’m very sorry that a member of my family was involved in behavior that resulted in public servants breaching the ethics law, and I apologize deeply to the citizens,” Suga stated.
These examples show that the Japanese have a high political culture of apologizing and taking responsibility for any wrongdoing, especially those linked to “gifts”. However, the actions of Mongolian government officials confirm that this culture is underdeveloped in local politics. Giving a gift to a government official, no matter how small or big it may be, is an unethical practice in politics. Politicians need to have an ethical code of apologizing and taking responsibility for their actions like Japanese officials.
Generally, in Mongolia, high-ranking government officials are viewed incapable of apologizing. For instance, Deputy Prime Minister S.Amarsaikhan was accused of possible abuse of office, but did not acknowledge his wrongdoing or apologize. He is suspected of abusing his position by helping his son acquire a soft loan from the Education Loan Fund under the Ministry of Education and Science. Also, his wife was the subject of a major scandal in March when she was reported to have potentially violated the COVID-19 protocol by failing to isolate herself after leaving the infection zone of the National Center for Communicable Diseases. The deputy prime minister denied his wife of committing any violation despite clear evidence to the contrary. Neither the deputy prime minister nor his wife were held accountable for purposely spreading the virus and violating the COVID-19 protocol.
Conversely, Peru’s Interior Minister Luis Barranzuela Vitere recently resigned following reports that he violated COVID-19 restrictions. “I have made the democratic decision to irrevocably resign from the post of minister of interior, rejecting the false accusations against my professional career and respecting the governability,” Barranzuela said on Twitter. Moreover, British Minister Matt Hancock resigned over his admitted breach of COVID-19 lockdown rules.
However, in Mongolia, when a rule is violated, relevant officials are simply let off with a warning in most cases. For example, the Digital Nation event, which gathered large crowds during the pandemic, was organized by the Communications and Information Technology Authority in violation of the pandemic regulation. Head of the authority B.Bolor-Erdene pleaded guilty but was not held accountable at all.
She said, “The event is traditionally held every year. According to a survey of participants in previous years, very few people came. This year, we have maintained a good infection control regime and worked with city authorities. Vaccination certificates of each participant were checked and they were tested for fever. The opening was attended by more people than we expected. Our goal was to show young people the technological advances that the private sector can make. At the time, everyone was wearing a mask. It was also considered to be relatively low risk because it was conducted outdoors. Chief Cabinet Secretary Ts.Nyamdorj warned me. It is our fault that we did not take into account the possibility of so many people coming.”
INACTIVE ETHICS COMMITTEE
Some unethical government officials continue to hold office due to the poor performance of the authorities responsible for monitoring them. Government activities and performances are overseen by Parliament, and the Standing Committee on Ethics and Discipline monitors and reviews ethical practices of both lawmakers and Cabinet members.
For the first time in the 30-year history of a permanent Parliament in Mongolia, the former Ethics Subcommittee was expanded this year and the Standing Committee on Ethics and Discipline was established. However, the committee has not taken any action against the shameless, unethical, irresponsible, unlawful and vicious actions of public officials.
In principle, the Standing Committee on Ethics and Discipline must perform the following functions in accordance with the law:
• To determine basic principles and guidelines for lawmakers’ ethics.
• To impose liability on any legislator who commits an ethical violation.
• To review and resolve citizens’ petitions and complaints on member ethics.
• To prevent ethical violations, maintain the order and attendance of meetings, and resolve issues related to the declaration of assets and income of lawmakers.
• To develop bills and other decisions of Parliament in order to improve ethics, discipline and responsibility of all civil servants and government officials.
• To govern the ethics and discipline policy of civil servants and ethics committees at all levels of the civil service.
Judging by the current situation, it is necessary for the standing committee to fully perform these functions to improve the ethics and discipline of all government officials. Today, Mongolia lacks a political culture of responsibility. Therefore, there is an urgent need to improve the legal environment for oversight and accountability of ethical issues and intensify the work of ethics committees.