The Wealth of Parliament Redux: What's It Worth?

Government officials holding high-ranking elected and appointed positions have been required since 2007 to annually disclose their level of wealth and financial holdings to the Independent Authority Against Corruption (IAAC), Mongolia's agency charged with investigating corruption within the government. This data is publicly available on the IAAC website,1 and it can be used to answer some interesting (and appalling?) questions such as: How much is Parliament worth?

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Opposition Poses a Challenge to the Special Session

The special session of parliament started off last week with a bang--literally. The environmentalist group "Gal Undesten" (Fire Nation) showed up outside the parliament building on the first day of the session armed to the teeth with guns, hand grenades, and military grade explosives to protest the modification and repeal of environmental and investment laws on the agenda.1 Several arrests were made, and a national conversation began about the political fringe in the country. But, it also ended any speculation about whether PM Altankhuyag's government would have an easy time passing legislation with the expressed aim of demonstrating, as Foreign Minister Bold said at the World Economic Forum the weekend before, that "Mongolia is open for business."2 Instead, it showed that politically things are far from under control at a time when consensus and decisive action are sorely needed.

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Baabar: 'The Absurd History of Legislators'

This week popular historian and former politician B. Batbayar (a.k.a. Baabar) published a rather scathing editorial entitled "The Absurd History of Legislators" directed at "resource nationalists" and the self-destructive attempts by parliament to appease them with legislation aimed at foreign investors. It struck me as a very compelling counter-balance to the usual inclination of international observers to view public opinion in Mongolia as being fantastically homogeneous and fully aligned against foreign investment. Mr. Baabar's opinion is only one, but it is an opinion read by many. He has more than 34,000 followers on Twitter, and the editorial had more than 84,000 views as of the writing of this post! It is worth a read. Here are a few choice passages I have translated from the original (see the footnotes and here) to give a flavor of his argument.

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The Bombshell that Fizzled

A week has passed since the revelations about Deputy Speaker S. Bayartsogt's offshore company and Swiss bank account were first reported by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). As mentioned in previous posts on this blog here and here, Mr. Bayartsogt neglected to claim the company and account on his official disclosure forms to the Independent Authority Against Corruption (IAAC) as required of all elected representatives and high-ranking officials in Mongolia. At this point he has only admitted to having violated those local regulations and codes of conduct. The more scandalous implication of the report is that it provides strong circumstantial evidence of a political leader abusing his official position for personal gain, and his public image as a proponent of the Oyu Tolgoi (OT) project also adds another layer of intrigue for conspiracy minded critics of the mine project. Given the popular perception that corruption is endemic among politicians and the accusations of wrongdoing routinely tossed around by critics of the OT project, this story had all the makings of a first rate political scandal. Yet, it appears to have fizzled for three reasons.

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Continuing Analysis: S. Bayartsogt and the ICIJ Report

It has been more than 24 hours since the news first broke about Deputy Speaker S. Bayartsogt's undisclosed British Virgin Islands (BVI) company and Swiss bank account based on a report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) here. The ICIJ report covers much more than Mr. Bayartsogt's personal business dealings, and it exposes the names of several thousand people in various countries using elaborate schemes to hide wealth (see article here for more information). Examining the ICIJ methodology here, it seems that Mr. Bayartsogt may be just the tip of the iceberg for Mongolia, and in some sense he just got unlucky being exposed first. According to ICIJ, the information comes from a computer hard drive anonymously received in the mail and containing more than 260 gigabytes of data. ICIJ has painstakingly and only partially decrypted, sorted, and reconstructed the complex links between offshore companies, secret accounts, and individuals.

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