Friday, December 5, 2008


I met up today with one of our former students from the Baku journalism program. She’s living now in Baku, working as a poorly paid journalist. We chatted about friends and what they’re doing - and then about what she’s doing. She wanted to get some of her articles translated into English - not an easy task, really. My friend really has some interesting work, and it reminded me of the tangled knot of problems this country faces.

One example. Last year, the government agency in charge of education decreed that all primary school students needed uniforms. But - the tender for providing these uniforms was not awarded competitively, so not surprisingly the uniforms were expensive and shoddy. Because they are so expensive, many families face additional hardships, outfitting their children for school.

So - again we have a decision made to benefit inside cronies that directly harms the welfare of ordinary Azerbaijanis. This is true in so many sectors of the economy. The monopoly on cement - held by a government insider - forces higher building costs - which again affects the whole economy. There is even a government monopoly on the import of shoes. I personally know two people who were forced out of business because of this monopoly. Who benefits from these monopolies and uncompetitive tenders? Government insiders. But because the government is not run democratically, there is no systematic way to cleanse the “rent takers,” as they are called in political science. Sure - one government official might fall from favor and lose his comfy post, but he will be replaced by an official that will almost certainly be or become equally corrupt.

My friend’s article was published in one of the few independent newspapers. But changing the pattern of corruption will take more than a few newspaper articles.

(Above is a picture of the Kepez Hotel, mentioned in the previous post. Not scenic in any sense -but a remarkably good example of Soviet architecture.)


Ani said...

The New York Review of Books has a very interesting article on how corruption in Italy has brought the country nearly to a standstill. Unfortunately, only the preview is available for free on the Internet, but it's worth a read sometime since it really seems to me like Azerbaijan and Armenia have fallen into patterns very much like those in Italy.

Eric said...

And - it's a very difficult problem to address. I'm especially interested in the conflict between democracy and corruption - and yet people often regard authoritarian governments as better able to stamp out corruption. (Thinking about Bangladesh, for example.)

Ani said...

Corruption? What corruption?

Here's a video of the estate of the head of the Prosperous Armenia party (known as Dodi Gago, formerly a professional arm wrestler)--his businesses don't make a lot of money so he doesn't have to pay much in taxes...

Eric said...

Quite the digs! I should take up arm wrestling.

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