Georgia’s Lessons from the Reforms: Could They Help Ukraine?

Georgia’s percentile rank in the World Governance Indicators has improved from 7thto 64th in 2002-2012 for controlling corruption

New York Magazine

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It is widely accepted that Georgia has a good track record in carrying institutional reforms.  Fighting corruption was at the heart of these reforms. To illustrate that, Georgia’s percentile rank in the World Governance Indicators has improved from 7thto 64th in 2002-2012 for controlling corruption. The rank of Ukraine remained virtually unchanged during that period, being at 16th in 2012 up from 13th in 2002. Undoubtedly, Georgia’s experience could be very useful for Ukraine, and it is worthwhile to understand key ingredients of the successful reforms.

In 2012, the World Bank has made a good case study of Georgia’s efforts of tackling corruption in public services. The report provides a very comprehensive summary of lessons that drove the success story:

1.     Strong political will and execution. “A Georgia without corruption” became a motto and the single dominant theme of the protests and then the new government.

2.     Early successes are critical for credibility. Having come to power in the early 2004, the government instantly cracked down on “symbols of corruption”, so called thieves-in-law, destroying respect toward the criminal underworld, and demonstrating the authority of formal legal institutions over informal ones. The authorities confiscated illicit money and houses, making some of them government offices or police stations.

3.     Rapid frontal action instead of slow planning. Georgian policymakers understood that piecemeal reforms would not work, as vested interests would be able to block them. Bold actions followed. As an example, when reforming the corrupt traffic police, the government decided the best way was to fire all 16,000 traffic police overnight, rather than trying to change existing system.

4.     Attract new qualified, Western-educated staff in the public offices. Georgia’s leaders looked outside politics and government to recruit looking for young, bright, educated, and ethical people, especially with private sector experience, Western qualifications, or both.

5.     “Limited government” vision among reformers. Georgia’s leaders shared a view that tackling corruption, especially petty one, would be best reached through fewer government regulations and greater economic liberties. Approach to deregulation was “guillotine-style”: whole regulations and entire agencies were eliminated at once, if they didn’t add value.

6.     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. Jailed corrupt officials and tax cheats who admitted guilt and paid heavy fines were released from prison.

7.     Unity of purpose, coordination. A small group of policy makers, headed by the president, formed a core team that shared common values, coordinated closely, and stayed together.

8.     Tailor best international practices to local conditions. The government borrowed from international experience in designing reforms. The new criminal code, for example, borrowed heavily from Italian anti-mafia model, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in the United States, and British conspiracy law. Where necessary foreign practices were adapted to local circumstances.

9.     Harness technology. Extensive adoption of technology, some of it home grown, eliminated many direct contacts between e-government, online procurement, tax filing systems were successfully adopted and helped minimize contacts with public officials, as well as streamline procedures. Video cameras were installed in customs and in the police stations.

10.  Use communication strategically. Early on, government leaders used the media effectively to share images of high-profile arrests of corrupt officials. Frequently, tax evaders were arrested with cameras rolling. Using media in this way spread the word that corruption was no longer tolerated, changing people’s views about what was acceptable.

What should Ukraine learn?

From my perspective, out of those 10 lessons several are the most critical for Ukraine. It is clear, that strong political will to change is at the core of success. In practice, it means “zero tolerance” for corruption and “maximum tolerance” for reforms. However, willingness is not enough if ability to implement and credibility of efforts are absent.

The ability to implement reforms hinges on peoples managerial and operational skills. Thus, it is critical to attract qualified executives and young professionals in the public offices not only at the senior, but all levels. New staff will significantly improve human capital in the government and will help to develop completely new culture and to reshape image of public service.

As for credibility of the reforms, it is important to realize that for any government “political honeymoon” does not last long and the political capital will be gradually eroding. This means that only decisive actions resulting in early wins could extend the window of opportunity and give time for longer-term reforms. Time is playing against the reformers.

Following the remaining lessons may be less pressing, and some of them will be achieved naturally. For example, limiting role of the state (i.e. deregulation, cutting red tape and bureaucracy) is widely recognized as a necessary step, therefore the direction of reform is already known. Then, if new professionals are recruited into public offices, they will most likely be able to find and to use unconventional methods to deliver changes. Again, qualified managers are usually aware of the value technology adds to the processes, as well as they might be much more keen on learning international experience.

To summarize, there is nothing unique and impossible in Georgian success with reforms that can’t be replicated in Ukraine. Strong will, new people, and quick visible successes are the most important ingredients for the beginning. Unfortunately, the past 5 months showed that apart from declared commitment for reforms real actions were very modest. If the government really wants to succeed in reforms given that a lot of time has been already wasted, it should accelerate attracting qualified and motivated people to the government and act fast and drastically (there are a lot of “low hanging” fruits) at delivering visible changes.


Disclaimer

The author doesn`t work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations