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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 January, 2004, 17:17 GMT
Georgia seeks anti-corruption fund

By Tim Weber
BBC News Online business editor in Davos

A Swiss policeman walks past the WEF's congress hall
The gloomy weather matches the mood of the meeting
Georgia hopes to purge corrupt officials from its civil service with the help of an $8m reform fund, the country's president-elect, Mikhail Saakashvili has said.

His government had already shown its "resolve and strength to fight corruption" by arresting a string of top officials, Mr Saakashvili told journalists at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"Now we need to build a small but well-paid civil service, that can't be corrupted," he added.

The fund is being launched with seed money from the famous investor and philanthropist George Soros and the United Nations Development Programme, who are contributing $1m each.

'A bribe every two kilometres'

President elect Saakashvili said Georgia was already at work purging the ranks of its artificially inflated and corrupt civil service.

"We will use the money to start at a basic level, make sure that the traffic police and custom officials and such-like are not corrupt."

Trucks moving goods from Central Asia through Georgia towards Turkey "used to be stopped every two kilometres by traffic policemen trying to extort money," Mr Saakashvili said.

Money from the new fund would be used to pay officials a "decent" salary and remove the need for them to earn extra cash by hustling for bribes.

Some of the money will also go to expatriate experts returning to Georgia, to make it more attractive for them to leave their well-paid jobs abroad.

'The situation is so bad...'

Georgia's new leader, who came to power following a popular uprising against the leadership of former president Eduard Shevardnadze last November, now hopes that international donors will come up with the remaining $6m needed.

This money, he believes, should last Georgia about three years, at which point he hopes Georgia can run its slimmer but better paid civil services from its own funds.

Georgia as a 'test case'

George Soros for his part said the situation in Georgia was "so bad, it's not difficult to improve".

And he added that this sort of support was needed not only in Georgia, but in countries like Kenya, Ghana and Senegal as well.

"I hope Georgia is a test case," Mr Soros said.

Mr Shevardnadze had failed because most of the corruption had emanated from the old interior ministry, according to Mr Soros.

"It was the interior ministry on which quite literally he depended to stay alive - so he could not deliver on his anti-corruption promises," Mr Soros said.

The UNDP and Mr Soros' Open Society Institute have already supported similar schemes in Serbia and Montenegro.

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