• 2001-04-19
Economies in transition are easy targets for corruption. Cases of bribery, false contracts and fake tenders have become a more or less accepted part of the landscape in the Baltic states in the 10 years since they re-acquired independence. Just how severe the problem is varies across the three countries.

According to a recent World Bank corruption report, Estonia with a corruption indicator of 10 at the top level of its state administration and Lithuania, ranked 12 in the same category, compare well with their neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe. While Estonia comes out best among the Baltic states, Latvia, with its ranking of 30 is in the same league as such notorious centers of corruption as Azerbaijan (41), Moldova (37) Russia and Ukraine (32).

Corruption is often seen as an inevitable byproduct of transition to a market economy, one which gradually diminishes with the passage of time. The problem recedes as legislatures drive through reforms and law enforcement institutions act on the new measures, encouraged by the all-important opinion of the public.

The corruption charges recently leveled against Tallinn's deputy mayor Priit Vilba, are a rare blemish on his country's clean record. Vilba, who is charged with violating the anti-corruption law by awarding a fat municipal contract to his son's company, is unlikely to resign of his own accord. Meanwhile the wheeling and dealing of Estonian politicians, as they vie for the most powerful positions in the country, are further damaging Estonia's reputation.

Unfortunately, Orwell's phrase "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others," has applied to the Baltic states for as long as it has been true of other countries in the former Soviet Union.

Lower levels of the state hierarchy, municipalities in particular, are especially vulnerable to corruption. The problem is likely to be greatest when large state enterprises are being privatized and large sums of money are flowing through municipal accounts, relatively unmonitored.

But the Baltic states' inhabitants are waking up. In Latvia's recent municipal elections people protested against activities taking place in municipalities which had previously gone unnoticed. They expressed their disapproval by crossing the names of candidates they perceived as corrupt and unprofessional from the lists of the party they favored. It would be sad, however, if Tallin's residents had to wait until the next municipal elections in a year-and-a-half, before following their Latvian neighbors example and getting rid of such notorious figures as Vilba.