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Fighting Corruption: Lessons from the Georgia Republic

Fighting Corruption: Lessons from the Georgia Republic

Despite the more than 8,000 kilometres separating Nigeria and the Georgia Republic, the two countries share some socioeconomic and political antecedents. Located at the intersection of Eastern Europe and West Asia, but generally regarded as part of Europe, Georgia was annexed by Russia in the 19th century. It suffered colonialism under both the old Imperial Russia and later under the Soviet Union. In a typical colonial economy, most of the productive endeavours of the country during and immediately after independence were directed at satisfying the demands of the Russian overlord. Apart from machinery and chemicals produced solely for the Soviet market, 90 percent of tea, 98 percent of citrus, and 60 percent of the wine consumed in the Soviet Union were produced in Georgia. With the central planning characteristic of a socialist state, a large-scale underground economy prevailed, leading to underperformance and stagnation.

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The travail of the country continued even after independence in 1991 as the economy of the former Soviet Union territory crashed under hyperinflation, mass unemployment, and a Russian embargo, causing many individuals and firms to go bankrupt. The first election in 1990 was controversial, leading to a military coup and, just like in Nigeria, civil wars in 1992–1993. The political crisis continued despite several general elections and civil revolts.

The turning point for the country was the Rose Revolution of 2003, which ousted the corrupt and authoritarian regime of Eduard Shevardnadze. The civil revolt was called the Rose Revolution because the mass protesters were armed only with roses, not cudgels and guns. With the newly elected regime under the leadership of Mikheil Saakashvili and his successor, Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia implemented a series of radical reforms to fight corruption, liberalise the economy, improve public services, and attract foreign investment. As a result, Georgia improved its ranking in various international indicators of governance, business climate, and human development and achieved high rates of economic growth and poverty reduction.

One of the key factors behind Georgia’s success was its ruthless fight against corruption, which was endemic and pervasive in all spheres of public life before 2003. Georgia adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption and prosecuted many high-ranking officials and influential individuals who were involved in graft, nepotism, and extortion. Georgia also streamlined its bureaucracy and reduced the opportunities for corruption by simplifying regulations, cutting red tape, digitising public services, and increasing transparency and accountability.

While Nigeria concentrated her anti-corruption efforts mainly on pursuing politically exposed individuals, the Georgia Republic complemented this with reforms of the public sector, the tax system, the judiciary, the police, and the economy through rapid economic liberalisation and integration with the global market.

Georgia abolished many unnecessary licences and permits, lowered taxes and tariffs, privatised state-owned enterprises, reformed the energy sector, and improved the protection of property rights and contract enforcement. Georgia also signed free trade agreements with several countries, including the European Union, Turkey, China, and the United Kingdom, and became a member of the World Trade Organization. These measures boosted Georgia’s competitiveness and productivity and attracted foreign direct investment in various sectors, such as tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, and services.

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Public sector reform

To complement the anti-corruption drive, wasteful agencies, programmes, and functions were eliminated, and several corrupt senior government employees were identified and punished. Flexible remuneration packages were introduced for civil servants, with salaries increased between 10 and 20 folds according to individual level of responsibility and job description. To improve service delivery, many government functions were privatised and downsized. To strengthen the professionalism and integrity of the public sector, Georgia also implemented merit-based recruitment and promotion systems. Not only is the Nigerian polity overly centralised, but the public service has also drifted from the core duties of policy formulation and implementation to active participation in almost all spheres through several parastatals, agencies, and commissions. A streamlined, professional, fit-for-purpose, and well-remunerated public service is necessary to provide the institutional bulwark and framework for the fight against corruption because it engenders the essential checks and balances envisioned between politicians and civil servants.

Police reforms:

Before the reform efforts, the police had zero support from the citizenry. This was reversed as the country embarked on a drastic restructuring of the police force. Up to 40,000 policemen were fired, and 15,000 new, young, and well-trained personnel were hired in their place. The Road Police, the most corrupt branch of the force, was scrapped, and a Patrolling Division was introduced instead. These enhanced public trust and engendered total support from the populace. Nigeria needs to undertake significant reforms to modernise its law enforcement agencies and foster a more accountable, transparent, and community-oriented approach to policing. The daily experience of the average Nigerian at police stations and roadblocks makes a mockery of the anti-corruption posture.

Judicial reforms:

Recognising the importance of an independent and fair judiciary, Georgia has undertaken comprehensive judicial reforms as part of its broader public sector transformation. Measures such as the establishment of the High Council of Justice, increased transparency in judicial appointments, and the introduction of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms have contributed to a more accountable and effective legal system.

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E-government and digitalisation

The Republic of Georgia has been a pioneer in leveraging technology to enhance public service delivery and administrative efficiency. The introduction of comprehensive e-government platforms has streamlined processes, reduced bureaucracy, and increased transparency. Citizens can now access a wide range of services online, from obtaining official documents to participating in consultations, making the government more accessible and responsive to the needs of the public.

The Republic of Georgia’s transformational reforms stand as a testament to the government’s commitment to building a modern, efficient, and accountable governance structure. The lessons learned from the reforms offer valuable insights to countries, like Nigeria, seeking to fight corruption, transform their economies, improve the effectiveness of the public sector, and enhance policy credibility.

 

Sodade is a retired Permanent Secretary and former Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Economic Planning and Budget