Confronting Corruption

Part 1, 2, 3, 4

The women have been gone for a couple of hours now and we're getting quite tense. We're crammed into this little old battered car. We've got no idea what's going on.

I ask the deputy governor: "This will be one of the biggest stings you've mounted. You worried?"

"Not myself," says Makherashvilli. "But I'm pretty nervous for them in case they get found out."

A woman's voice comes over the loudspeaker. The women are back. We're back in their flat and we've got the camera straight out to have a look at what's on the film. There's a grainy picture of a man sitting in an office. She's coming to the point now.

The woman exclaims. We've got to that point and everybody is leaping up and down for joy. They're leaping up and down. They're punching the air!

"OK," says Makherashvilli, "he's said the chief policeman has admitted, has said on camera, that he helped the drug-addicted brother."

"Helped him how?" I ask.

"He let him go and he should not let him go."

"And probably that he took some money?"

"And most probably he took some money."

"Is this the first time that a local police chief in Georgia has been caught in this way on camera?"

"Yeah, this is the first time."

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili

Misha Karelli, the 28-year-old governor in Gori, is entertaining me at a sumptuous feast. I must say it's hard not to be charmed by Georgia's new rulers. You don't often find such honesty and idealism among leaders in this part of the world. The Georgian government is so overwhelmingly popular. You can see it might be tempted to misuse its authority. But I'm more worried that its goal of ending corruption is simply too ambitious. That's what I'm going to ask President Saakashvili himself. He's supposed to meeting me at what's now considered a quite normal time of 11:00 at night.

"What does corruption meant to the average Georgian?" I ask Saakashvili.

"It was a pandemic system that basically amounted to the denial of opportunities to the whole nation. It's still not unrooted. All these bribes went to all the way through up to the leadership, to the ministers, to the president and to his family and that's gone. Basically the corruption has been beheaded. The head's gone. But it still the convulsions are there. I don't want to look. It's very gruesome."

"So you're fairly confident in the long run that if the head is lopped off the body will die?"

"I hope that we will unroot it," says Saakashvili. "But you really need to go against it every day. I was telling the business community that we were going to change the rules of the game. The main issue is that you all should be equal. So we keep telling them that we will lower the taxes, reduce the number of government officials. We don't need say 80,000 policemen in this country. What we need to do now is to undergo this painful process of reducing the number of government officials, but at the same time giving them much higher salaries. My dream is that you have a police officer opening a grocery store over the corner of his street. And going there and leaving his job."

"It's a fabulous dream that you're outlining," I say. "But it demands an awful lot of people. You're talking about a lot of people losing their jobs in a situation where there's already high unemployment in the country."

"Of course it is a painful process, but we need to go for it. The good thing about the situation is that we still have high credit and high support from the population. Why revolution made them happy? Because it, kind of, empowered them. They have power to do things. They did it. Immediately after the revolution, I started to tell them, 'You will all do it together. I cannot do it for you. I'm just one of you.'"

"You're hurrying and you have to hurry," I say. "Some people are already saying that you're hurrying so much that you're cutting corners, legal corners. It's been said, for example by the human rights ombudsman that in some cases, there are now more violations of rights of suspects than there were before."

"That's one of the things that's worrying," says Saakashvili. "I never forget about that because you cannot unroot injustice by injustice. But you should also understand that this is an old police force. These are old prosecutors. And of course, until we inform them profoundly, these things will persist. My impression of other countries is that if reformers make compromises, if they wait for too long, the window of opportunity will be shut down quite soon. And this window of opportunity is not only for Georgia. We are kind of our own model for all these former Soviet states. If we are successful, they will follow the lead. It's a risky business. But if we don't try, then we are 100 percent losers anyway."

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