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Caught in the Act

Mongolia’s parliament is expected to appoint a prime minister sometime this month
By The News · 03 of October 2017 09:49:36
Mongolian flag, No available, photo: Wikipedia

Last month, Mongolian lawmakers voted to oust their country’s prime minister, Jargaltulgyn Erdenebat, along with his 14-member cabinet, over allegations of corruption and graft.

The move to depose Erdenebat was led by the landlocked Central Asian country’s ruling Mongolian People’s Party and backed by most of the opposition after it was disclosed that government contracts worth more than $328 million had been handed out by his cabinet in exchange for kickbacks.

Mongolia’s parliament is expected to appoint a prime minister sometime this month.

In the meantime, the 42-year-old Erdenebat, who took office in July 2016, is probably checking out options for countries that might offer him asylum for a generous slice of his multimillion-dollar stash.

A former finance minister who gained popularity for his strict fiscal discipline and straight-talk negotiations with international financial institutions, most Mongolians were banking on Erdenebat to sort out the country’s ailing commodity-dependent economy.

Earlier this year, Erdenebat and his team of economists and technocrats managed to wrangle a $5.5 billion loan for the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

And with higher international copper and coal prices, at the start of 2017, the country looked like it was on track to begin to show growth, despite its heavy dependence on Chinese trade and global relief.

But corruption has always been the main obstacle to Mongolia’s economy development.

Foreign investors, who have been cheated out of profits in the past, are shy to throw good money after bad in Ulaanbaatar.

The appointment of austerity-conscious Erdenebat as prime minister was seen as a bitter pill that would ultimately encourage investor confidence.

And in the early months of his administration, Mongolia’s economy performed well, registering a dramatic improvement in the first half of 2017, with an additional boost from growing demand for coal from China.

But despite the improvement in economic indicators, political instability in Mongolia has remained the country’s Achilles’ heel.

Since Mongolia passed its first constitution in 1992 after decades of communist rule, it has survived 15 different cabinets, each lasting an average of 1.5 years.

Erdenebat was supposed to be the turning point in Mongolia’s insidious tradition of instability and malfeasance, but as it turned out, he is no different from his predecessors.

Thérèse Margolis can be reached at therese.margolis@gmail.com.