Lessons from Georgia

​KleptoCast 11: Ben Judah talks to Temuri Yakobashvili about Georgia’s successful anti-graft drive, current threats to its achievements, and Georgia’s role in Trump’s world.


By Nate Sibley

Before the Rose Revolution of 2003, Georgia was known as a land of “bribes and tribes.”

In Transparency International’s 2002 Corruption Perceptions Index, it ranked 85th out of 102 countries, between Ukraine and Venezuela. But by 2016, it had risen to 44th, just below Spain and well ahead of several European countries.

How did Georgian leaders and society achieve this remarkable turnaround, and what lessons does the Georgian experience hold for other countries struggling with kleptocracy?

KI recently met with Temuri Yakobashvili, who previously served as Georgia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Integration, and Ambassador to the United States. He recounted some important lessons from Georgia’s battle against corruption:

  1. “Kleptocracy isn’t something you can attribute to nation, culture, religion, or genes – it’s all about governance.”
  2. “You cannot repair one room in a failing house… You have to renovate the entire building.” Designating one department as responsible for all anti-corruption efforts will be at best ineffective—at worst, the department will be politicized and become just another tool of entrenched corruption. For anti-corruption reforms to succeed, they must reach into every aspect of government, and every branch of government must be accountable.
  3. Be prepared for “painful decisions.” The Georgian government, for example, fired the entire road police and shut down the national narcotics bureau almost overnight. “If you do it, you have to be serious that you will do it across the entire government and not just selected areas.”
  4. “It can’t be the initiative of one political party, or the NGOs, the media, or institutions of this or that sort…” Put simply, an anti-corruption campaign is doomed to fail unless it is led by those with the power to make and enforce the laws that will make it succeed. Remember how, in Ukraine, widespread demand for greater transparency has consistently been blocked by corrupt politicians and the oligarchs. “It should be the will and desire of the ruling elite, with a very clear vision of what to do.”
  5. In smaller countries like Georgia, the familial, friendship, business, and other ties that glue together traditional patronage networks and fuel corruption can be harder to overcome, if only because high-level officials are more accessible to the general population. “It can be very painful when someone comes to you and says, ‘You remember me from school—I have a problem, please can you help me?’ You have to say no, because the law is the law.”
  6. It’s important to “eliminate the sources of corruption–places where you don’t necessarily need humans to make arbitrary decisions, but rather rely on modern technology to eliminate intermediaries.”
  7. The good news: Prioritizing anti-corruption efforts and making significant progress “can drastically improve your economy, your investment climate, and your budget.” Georgia’s GDP rose from $3.4 billion in 2003 to $16.5 billion in 2014: Not solely attributable to the anti-corruption campaign—but surely impossible without it.

You can listen to Ben Judah’s interview with Temuri Yakobashvili at the top of this page.