Local Tajik NGO Fights Bribery through Media and Public Discussion
In Tajikistan today, the existence of corruption is as pervasive as society’s indifference to corruption. Low wages, high unemployment, and the absence of functioning civic institutions or invested, responsible government all contribute to a sense of helplessness permeating the Tajik landscape, while the wary population has come to see corruption as a normal phenomenon.
Despite the significant steps the country has made in building a democratic society, corruption remains one of the primary factors inhibiting the pace of economic, social and civic development. Corruption pervades almost every sector of society, from neighborhood kindergartens to top government institutions where every position from Mayor to Minister is up for sale.
One outstanding example is the level of corruption found in Tajik universities, where students pay bribes for admission, good grades, and their diploma. This phenomenon has affected all educational institutions without exception, and has had devastating effects on the quality of education. For instance, faculty demands for bribes force good and bad students alike to pay for grades.
The prevalence of corruption in Tajikistan is nothing new. During the height of the Soviet Union, elites often appointed their relatives and friends to high paying positions or managed to gain admission for their children to the most prestigious universities. Although such violations were harshly punishable by law, a very small percentage of those found guilty of corruption were prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Moreover, fear of the Kremlin somewhat restricted the growth of corruption during this time. Unfortunately, the widespread lawlessness that accompanied Tajik independence has allowed corruption to flourish unrestrained.
The Civil Society Support Center (CSSC) “Shahrvand,” an IREX partner under the USAID-funded Civil Society Support Initiative (CSSI) was concerned about this growing societal indifference to corruption. “If we don’t act to prevent corruption today, we are endangering the future of the country and nation,” states the CSSC Director, Dodarbek Saidaliev.
In 2004, Shahrvand launched a campaign to fight corruption. One of the first events the CSSC organized was a civic forum entitled, Society without Bribery, for representatives of NGOs, political parties, the local justice system, department of internal affairs, the press and local neighborhood committees. Since this event, Shahrvand has continued to actively promote public discussion of corruption, and has further developed a set of recommendations that all stakeholders can use to address the issue. Those recommendations include:
* Increasing the severity of punishment for engaging in acts of bribery;
* Creating an atmosphere wherein bribe-takers feel they are being observed;
* Increasing the level of legal literacy among the general population;
* Encouraging government bureaucrats to work in a transparent manner, and;
* Creating mechanisms to encourage public awareness and bureaucratic accountability
Another recent roundtable hosted by the organization brought together representatives of the Khukumat, press, and political parties who discussed opportunities to jointly tackle corruption. The participants concluded that to effectively fight corruption is to mobilize and educate a broad section of society while simultaneously embracing the crucial role of the media. Most fittingly, local TV, radio stations and newspapers covered the event along with broader features on corruption in the country.
Although the government publicly states its intent to fight corruption, the population is afraid to speak openly about the issue. Therefore, Shahrvand uses round tables, civic forums and the press as primary instruments to raise awareness about corruption.
By disseminating one thousand anti-corruption posters across Tajik government agencies, the Civil Society Support Center "Shahrvand" is subtly and tactfully encouraging government employees to question corruption, mitigate their potential engagement in it, and ultimately reduce corruption in Tajik society.