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Closing ‘the back door’: Youth participation as an approach to counter corruption in Mongolia

by  Laura McKenna, Youth Integrity Program, Transparency International Mongolia

Young​ ​people​ ​in​ ​Mongolia​ ​are​ ​well​ ​educated,​ ​connected​ ​and​ ​are​ ​the​ ​country’s​ ​first​ ​generation​ ​to grow​ ​up​ ​in​ ​a​ ​democracy​ ​after​ ​the​ ​collapse​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Soviet​ ​Union.​ ​Mongolia​ ​has​ ​undergone​ ​significant socio-economic​ ​and​ ​political​ ​changes​ ​over​ ​the​ ​past​ ​twenty​ ​five​ ​years,​ ​and​ ​subsequently​ ​young people​ ​are​ ​experiencing​ ​unique​ ​challenges​ ​and​ ​opportunities.​ ​One​ ​particular​ ​challenge​ ​facing Mongolia​ ​is​ ​widespread​ ​corruption​ ​and​ ​the​ ​lack​ ​of​ ​generalised​ ​trust​ ​citizens​ ​have​ ​in​ ​their politicians,​ ​systems​ ​and​ ​institutions.​ ​However,​ ​young​ ​people​ ​in​ ​Mongolia​ ​are​ ​not​ ​disillusioned​ ​nor are​ ​they​ ​politically​ ​disinterested,​ ​providing​ ​an​ ​opportune​ ​environment​ ​for​ p​ olicymakers​ ​and leaders​ ​to​ ​engage​ ​with​ ​youth​ ​on​ ​policies​ ​that​ ​affect​ ​them​ ​and​ ​to​ ​include​ ​young​ ​people​ ​in​ ​the development​ ​process.​ ​Based​ ​on​ ​a​ ​review​ ​of​ ​available​ ​literature,​ ​the​ ​article​ ​will​ ​identify​ ​and describe​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​impacts​ ​of​ ​corruption​ ​on​ ​Mongolian​ ​youth​ ​and​ ​the​ ​role​ ​of​ ​youth participation​ ​as​ ​an​ ​anti-corruption​ ​approach.​ ​Additionally,​ ​three​ ​local​ ​youth​ ​focussed​ ​initiatives will​ ​be​ ​described​ ​that​ ​aim​ ​to​ ​involve​ ​young​ ​people​ ​to​ ​strengthen​ ​democracy,​ ​governance​ ​and counter​ ​corruption. Young people aged between 15 - 34 years living in Mongolia account for approximately 34.9% of the population. Young Mongolians are well educated, connected and involved in a range of community activities. Mongolia has undergone a rapid transformation in the last twenty five years, transitioning to a democracy after decades of Communist regime. With the transition, Mongolian society has undergone a number of a political, socio-economic changes which have affected everyone, including young people who are the country’s first generation to grow up in a democracy. This article provides an introduction to Mongolia and the social context of young Mongolians, reviewing available literature to give an overview of some of the experiences and challenges facing young people in Mongolia today. One significant challenge affecting the country is the widespread issue of corruption. Corruption and how it affects Mongolian society will also be explored, providing findings from key public perceptions studies that suggest the issue of corruption continues to affect many people and is widespread throughout the country. Moreover, how corruption adversely affects young people will be discussed. Marginalised young people face multiple forms of inequality and exclusion and are generally not represented or consulted in politics or policy development. Therefore the role of youth participation in countering corruption will be explored, and how young people living in Mongolia want to be be involved. Finally, this article will describe three youth programs based in Mongolia that are focussed on strengthening democracy, governance and 1 ultimately countering corruption. Background​ ​to​ ​young​ ​people​ ​in​ ​Mongolia Mongolia is a landlocked country located in central Asia between Russia and China, with a population of approximately 3 million people making it the least densely populated country in the world. Mongolia has undergone significant socio-economic and political changes over the past twenty five years. During this period, rapid changes have transformed the country from socialism into a multiparty democracy and market economy (United Nations Development Program 2016). Mongolia’s peaceful transition and subsequent reforms have attracted international attention (Save the Children 2015).

Team work during lecture, Student’s from Mongolian university of Science and Technology

The country is known for it’s nomadic culture and approximately 30% of Mongolia’s population continue to live nomadically in rural provinces, depending on agriculture to sustain their livelihoods. Mongolia’s climate is harsh and the impact of climate change has meant that there are often frequent natural disasters such as dzud, drought, floods, wind storms and extreme cold and hot temperatures. Nomadic people’s lives have changed also and there have been significant negative effects. Climate change and environmental pollution from mining has increased the vulnerabilities of rural herder households. (Save the Children 2015). Today, Mongolia is a unicameral parliamentary republic in which the people directly elect the President and members of parliament. Changes of political leadership commonly result in exchange of personnel from top to lower level officials, state owned enterprises and even the private sector. Pressure groups, private and state owned enterprises are influential in shaping policies. Moreover, the last fifteen years has seen Mongolia’s economy has grown exponentially and the recent mining resource boom has boosted the economy at a rapid rate. The average annual growth in gross domestic product has increased to 12.2% in 2010-2014 from 5.6% in 200-2005 (United Nations Development Program 2016). Young people in Mongolia are the first generation to grow up under democracy, and face different challenges to previous generations. In Mongolia, youth (15-34 years) account for 34.9% of the population. With the rise of technology and globalisation, young people in Mongolia are more well connected to each other and the world through online technologies (UNDP 2016). Mongolian respondents aged 16-30 years from the Global UN Survey, ‘The World We Want’ listed the top five most important issues: better healthcare; a good education; better job opportunities; an honest and responsive government; protecting forests, rivers and oceans. In addition, Mongolian youth are facing challenges such as poor employment prospects, increasing crime and violence and struggling education systems (World Vision 2014). One of the most dramatic changes in Mongolia’s population in recent decades has been the increase in rural-to-urban and external migration. Specifically, young people are most likely to migrate in search of better opportunities. Nearly 60% of the migrants to the capital city, Ulaanbaatar in 2000–2010 were in the 15–34 age-group, and the peak migration occurred among the 15–24 age-group. According to the 2010 Population and Housing Census, over 107,000 Mongolians had been residing in foreign countries for more than six months, of which 63.0 percent were youth aged 15–34 years (UNDP 2016). Currently, 72 percent of young people live in cities and this is often at a social cost; existing relationships and parental support are often lost upon migration to the city. The United Nations Development Program Human Development Report (2016) states that "the issues of urbanization and migration must be addressed in the light of issues of human development and 2 concerns about youth to devise suitable solutions that foster balanced and inclusive human development across the country and among all people." The growing urban population has had major impacts on infrastructure and social equity in Ulaanbaatar, which is now home to approximately 1.4 million people. Approximately 64% of the city's population live in the ‘ger district’ of Ulaanbaatar where residents have a number of issues including sanitation, electricity, education and employment. (UNDP 2016; Save the Children 2015). The number of people living in the ger districts continue to rise as people migrate from rural areas to seek out employment and education opportunities in the city. In addition, air pollution is a significantly dangerous issue for Mongolians living in Ulaanbaatar. The excessive air pollution that contributes to risk of acute respiratory illness, chronic obstructive lung disease, cancer and asthma is mainly caused by the burning of raw coal in the ger district during the winter months to keep warm when temperatures can plummet to negative 40 degrees celsius (Save the Children 2015). In stark contradiction, and measure of inequity, apartment dwellers in Ulaanbaatar live in centrally heated homes. Corruption​ ​in​ ​Mongolia​ ​and​ ​the​ ​impact​ ​on​ ​young​ ​people There are a magnitude of ways that corruption affects societies. However, corruption is often described as an abstract concept, and ordinary people can feel powerless to eliminate or reduce it. Corruption as Transparency International (2017) define it is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain and dependent on the amounts of money lost and the sector in which it occurs, corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political. In Mongolia, corruption remains a significant issue and is considered widespread throughout the country (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development 2015). Rapid growth in the economy and recent exploration of significant mineral resources have exacerbated governance and corruption challenges. Whilst Mongolia ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in 2006, the country’s democratic institutions have failed to reduce the rise in corruption, inequality, unemployment and poverty and the long-term prospects of Mongolian democracy remain precarious (UNDP 2016; Save the Children 2015). Transparency International’s world renown Corruption Perception Index 2016, ranked Mongolia 87 out of 176 countries and scored Mongolia 38 out of 100 (perceived level of public sector corruption 0 being highly corrupt and 100 being very clean) (Transparency International 2016). Over the past five years, Mongolia has scored between 36 and 39 points suggesting stagnation in the public sector’s anti-corruption efforts in recent years. Traditional customs of gift giving and family and kinship ties amongst a small population, has meant that lines are somewhat blurred and the notion of reciprocal favours, long term barters and utilising relationships have influenced commerce for centuries in Mongolia. Using connections and relationships or the “back door”have been an alternative way to bypass formal procedures that are complex and time consuming. (Quah 2011). The direct and indirect costs are high and many Mongolians believe that corruption has increased over the past three years (The Asia Foundation 2016). The Asia Foundation’s Survey on Perceptions and Knowledge of Corruption (2016) found that there had been no positive changes in attitude towards the statement ‘corruption is a common practice in Mongolia’ since 2008, whereby respondents either agree or somewhat agree with this statement (The Asia Foundation 2016). In Transparency International’s People and Corruption Global 3 Barometer Survey (2017), people were surveyed about how they perceive their government to be doing in terms of tackling corruption. 61% of Mongolians surveyed perceived their government’s efforts as “doing badly”. Furthermore, only 49% of respondents believed that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption (Transparency International 2017). Even the key anti-corruption agency in Mongolia is the Independent Authority Against Corruption (IAAC) seems to have somewhat lost the public’s trust. Assessment of the IAACs activities remained unchanged from 2015, but the public’s confidence in the IAAC’s fight against corruption and impartiality has declined since 2014 (The Asia Foundation 2016). For young people in Mongolia, corruption has a myriad of detrimental impacts on their daily lives. Young people are often more exposed to bribery and particularly vulnerable to corruption due to their lower status and position they hold within society. However, available literature specifically focussed on youth, and moreover research asking young people about their experiences is extremely limited in Mongolia. In addition, there are specific corruption concerns that directly affect young people in the education sector, employment sector and the economy. One particular factor for young people, is their trust in the political system and governance. Whilst this is not the only corruption issue affecting young people, grand corruption and trust in politicians is a major one.

Youth Strengthening event of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption at Independent Authority of Against corruption of Mongolia (I.A.A.C)

According to the United Nations Development Program Human Development Report 2016 "the conduct of politicians and political parties in recent years has eroded the trust of young people in political institutions and consequently lack of interest in politics." For both urban and rural young people, youth in lower socio-economic households tend to have less confidence in political institutions. This perception of corruption held by young people in terms of quality of governance has large implications for how young people engage with their elected representatives. In the education sector, which significantly affects young people in Mongolia, there are concerning corruption issues in terms of procurement and bribery. In 2017, The Asia Foundation published their large scale quantitative study that documented the issues of corruption and ethics within the education sector in Mongolia. The study found that the variety and incidence of corruption in education are at high levels damaging public morale, especially amongst youth. In primary and secondary schools, respondents widely believed that parents always, often or sometimes use bribes, connections or position to enrol their children (70%) change their classes (62%), change their grades (61%) or secure scholarships (47%). The findings suggest that respondents believe that the situation is even worse at colleges and universities (The Asia Foundation 2017). Whilst corruption exists and people participate in it, eradicating the issue is not a matter of just telling people to stop paying bribes. Furthermore, issues with corruption will not simply go away if Mongolia has strong economies and high employment because the inequality in the environments of young people could still persist. It is these corrupt environments that need to be addressed, so that young leaders and activists feel empowered to demand more transparency and accountability in their daily lives and do not continue to accept cases of corruption as the unfortunate norm (Transparency International 2014). Transparency International (2014) believes that the main responsibility for changing the environment that discourages young people from acting with integrity lies with their governments and the education institutions, which hold most power over young people’s lives and thus form their worldview. 4 The​ ​role​ ​of​ ​youth​ ​participation​ ​as​ ​an​ ​anti-corruption​ ​approach Participatory youth programs, and more broadly public participation is a key way to counter corruption. Participation in decision making is known to create further transparency and make governments more accountable to their citizens. In Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s report (2015), a key recommendation was to include public participation in anti-corruption policy work, raising awareness and public education (OECD 2015.) Young people have a key role to play in fighting corruption and pushing for change in their societies and the survey results. However, young people cannot be expected to bear the full responsibility alone: they must be equipped with the capacity, provided with the opportunities and encouraged to build their confidence to stand up against corruption and for integrity. Youth Integrity in Asia ( Transparency International 2014) respondents were asked about the role youth could play in building integrity and in anti-corruption efforts. The findings shed some light on young people’s belief in their own power and ability to bring about change. Personal integrity is the basis for young people who reject corruption and could potentially lead to activism and leadership that rely on transparency-oriented leadership values. Such energy should be harnessed and supported by all the stakeholders, including parents, government, education authorities, civil society and the private sector. More than 80% of young people surveyed thought that youth can play a role in promoting integrity-building, which would then strengthen the fight against corruption. If educated and properly supported to oppose corruption, young people could ultimately become more involved and role models for future generations (Transparency International 2014). In Mongolia, there has been a distinct lack of policies to support young people engage within their community despite youth being active and involved. Young people are engaged in social activities, including through civil society organisations and volunteerism. Additionally, young people in Mongolia are using online platforms to connect with others which has proven to be a key medium for mobilising participation (UNDP 2016). Whilst not always present in the past, it appears that participatory youth programs are gaining momentum in Mongolia and young people are wanting to express their opinions in decisions that affect them. In the latest report by Save The Children (2017), 86% of children felt that it is vital that decision-makers listen to children’s voices and opinions. In addition, 87.4% of children consider that there are limited or no opportunities to raise their voices and express their opinions to decision-makers. The National Human Development Report states that a comprehensive youth development policy was being prepared by the government at the time of writing (UNDP 2016). This policy was seeking to promote further investment in youth, and seeking their perspective in overall policy making. From an Australian perspective, youth participation is a multifaceted, largely ambiguous term with a range of contested understandings (Farthing 2012: 72). A seemingly commonsensical concept, youth participation has gained traction within government policy, community development, research and youth work practice (Couch 2007: 37). From radical empowerment of otherwise oppressed youth to creating efficiency/performativity in youth organisations (Farthing 2012:71), it has become a positive catchphrase used to attract funding and recognition that is perceived to be unequivocally desirable (Farthing 2012:71). Furthermore, by ‘doing’ youth participation, western governments are seen to 5 be addressing social problems whilst enhancing citizenship amongst youth (Bessant 2004: 388). Understanding power dynamics, systemic structures and the impediment of age is critical to youth participation. Furthermore, understanding power, systemic structures is critical to coordinating anti-corruption initiatives. The very basis of youth participation comes from the idea that young people are in a disadvantaged social situation and need to be given the space and assistance to have their voices heard. Resting on this default position requires rethinking why young people are generally perceived to be subordinates to their dominant elders (Gallagher 2008: 137). In addition, when thinking about young people and their position within society for young Mongolians it is very different experience to Australian young people and their experiences of participation. As already outlined, the conduct of politicians and political parties in recent years has eroded the trust of young people in political institutions in Mongolia. However, young people are not disillusioned nor are they politically indifferent or disinterested. Policymakers and political leaders should view this lack of trust as a means to make improvements in governance and to engage with youth on policies that affect them and to include young people in the development process. This will provide young people with an opportunity to hold officials to account and at the same time contribute to strengthened governance in institutions. Anti-corruption​ ​in​ ​practice Democracy​ ​Summer​ ​Camp​ ​Program,​ ​ ​Zorig​ ​Foundation. The Democracy Summer Camp Program is aimed at 18-21 year olds who have an understanding of human rights and are passionate about effecting positive change in their communities. Through a series of seminars, lectures, field trips and other activities, young participants in the Democracy Summer Camp Program learn about a range of economic, social and political issues. Focusing upon democracy, governance, law justice and integrity the program is a two week intensive summer camp aiming to empower young people to be able to make positive change in their own lives and more broadly, their community. Furthermore, values principles and Mongolia’s development is explored throughout the program, and importantly what is holding Mongolia back from further social progress. Throughout the program, young people have an opportunity to develop their own ideas about how to better address Mongolia’s national challenges. Leaders​ ​Advancing​ ​Democracy​ ​(LEAD),​ ​World​ ​Learning The LEAD program aims to upskill and empower young people and contribute to the democracy of Mongolia. The LEAD program is facilitated by World Learning in a cooperative agreement with USAID and partners International Republican Institute and Center for Citizen Education. As part of the LEAD program, young people participate in groups to address social and policy issues in their community. The program includes an international exchange opportunity for participants, and an opportunity to put their advocacy, networking and civic education skills into practice by developing a project that has a positive impact. One of the group projects, LEAD-Mongolia Transparency & Anti Corruption focussed on launching a ‘Transparent and Accountable School project’ in Nalaikh City, an area on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar with a large Kazakh community. The project involved teachers, students, parents and school administrators to promote public participation in school planning, evaluation, budgeting and implementation processes. The project titled We Ensure School Transparency (WEST) 6 included the development of a training package to encourage participation and transparency within schools which will in turn lead to better education outcomes. The​ ​Youth​ ​Integrity​ ​Program​ ​by​ ​Transparency​ ​International​ ​Mongolia The Youth Integrity Program coordinated by Transparency International Mongolia seeks to achieve participation in decision making and a transparent government. Through digital platforms such as mobile applications and websites, Transparency International Mongolia aims for young people to become more educated about corruption and the causes and effects of corruption. In addition, young people have access through these digital platforms to report concerns relating to corruption. The Parliament Watch app allows people to read about the State Great Khural - Mongolian Parliament, parliamentarians and take a quiz. The Public Watch application and website allows users to report corruption and includes information about corruption for users. With social media as the main advocacy tool, the Youth Integrity Program aims to engage young people through a medium that young Mongolians are familiar and comfortable with. In addition to this, Transparency International aims to engage young people through events and activities. This article has explored the socio-political context of Mongolia and described some of the challenges that the young, fledgling democracy faces. Whilst Mongolia has experienced significant economic growth and a peaceful transition to democracy, the country has also experienced difficulties and ongoing issues with corruption decreasing the public’s trust in government and institutions. Whilst this article is not exhaustive in scope, it highlights some of the key issues facing young people in a corrupt environment. Furthermore, the need for further more in depth research about the topic is apparent. There is limited available research about the impacts of corruption on young people’s lives, and perhaps more importantly the lack of research from the perspective of young people’s experiences of corruption is seemingly non-existent. Finally, this article has looked at how youth participation can foster transparency in government and make systems more accountable. Three Mongolian initiatives: Democracy Summer Camp Program, Leaders Advancing Democracy and the Youth Integrity Program were described, demonstrating positive steps forward involving young people in the fight against corruption.

7 Reference​ ​List Bessant, J. 2004, ‘Mixed messages: Youth participation and democratic practice’, Australian Journal of Political Science, v.39, n 2, pp. 287-404. Couch, J. 2007, ‘Mind the gap: Considering the participation of refugee young people’ Youth Studies Australia, v.26, n. 4, pp.37-44. Farthing, R. 2012, ‘Why youth participation? Some justifications and critiques of youth participation using new Labour’s youth policies as a case study’ Youth & Policy, n.109, pp.71-97. Gallagher, M. 2008, ‘Power is not an evil: rethinking power in participatory methods’ Children's Geographies, v. 6, n.2, pp.137-150. The World we want (http://data.myworld2015.org/?country=Mongolia) Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 2015 ‘Anti-Corruption Reforms in Mongolia: Joint First and Second Rounds of Monitoring of the Istanbul Anti-Corruption Action Plan.’ Quah, Jon. S. T. 2011, Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries: An Impossible dream? Research in Public Policy and Management v.20, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, United Kingdom. Save the Children 2015 ‘Child Rights Situation Analysis in Mongolia’ The Asia Foundation, 2016 ‘Survey on Perceptions and Knowledge of Corruption’ The Asia Foundation 2017, ‘Transparency, Ethics and Corruption issues in Mongolia’s Education Sector Study Report’ Transparency International 2014, ‘Asia Pacific Youth: Integrity in Crisis’ Transparency International 2016, ‘Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2016.’ Transparency International 2017, ‘People e and Corruption: Asia Pacific Global Corruption Barometer’ United Nations Development Programme in Mongolia, ‘Mongolia Human Development Report 2016: Building a Better Tomorrow: Including Youth in the Development of Mongolia’ World Vision 2014, ‘Mongolian Youth research Report’ 8 Author Laura McKenna is currently volunteering at Transparency International, Mongolia as part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative.

 

 

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