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Tuesday, November 11, 2003

If You're Surprised By This You Shouldn't Be

Really, much as I would like to see a marked and rapid improvement in the democratic climate in Iraq, forgive me if I can't help considering most of the discussion about the possibilities in the near future a bit like a contemporary revamp of 'innocents abroad'. At the end of the day all these endless 'corruption indexes' that you see published from time to time do actually mean something. Having lived in a society that was relatively less corrupt (the UK) and one that is relatively more (Spain), I do get to note some important differences. One of these relates to the social standing of politicians.

Now many may feel that in the UK, the US, France, Sweden etc, politicians don't have the highest of reputations. This is undoubtedly true: but if you come to Spain, Italy or Greece, you will find that things get markedly worse - this is the point of the Guanxi post yesterday. The more corrupt the society the less important is the official framework for information transit, and the more important are the informal ones. This I can also confirm from my work with Bulgarians. So when you get down to Iraq, you can imagine: how little credence is given to secular politicians (this may indeed provide some of the explanation for the robustness of the religious networks) and how important the alternative apparatus is. When you think about it (and I'm sure Maynard with his 'importance of the cultural' would jump on this) the German post WWII example which is so often cited in connection with reconstruction may well be badly flawed. It may have been something about the very nature of German civil society that made this transition possible. If we do a compare and contrast exercise with Japan, the point should be obvious. I don't know yet just exactly where this argument is leading me, but the short term conclusion isn't exactly an optimistic one:

US authorities in Iraq have put on hold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of mobile telephone contracts, while they investigate allegations that the bidding process was hijacked by associates of the new Iraqi governing council.

When the Iraqi Ministry of Communications last month awarded three Middle Eastern consortia two-year licences to build and operate wireless phone networks, the deals were heralded as a breakthrough for regional operators willing to invest in the new Iraq.

But the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq has been advised to postpone signing the contracts, according to a US administration official speaking on condition of anonymity. CPA lawyers in Iraq made the recommendation to delay signing the contracts for 10 days to allow time to investigate claims of cronyism by the Iraqi authorities in awarding the licences, the official said.
Source: Financial Times

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