Some state employees are feeling squeezed as Tajikistan's government presses ahead with a plan to construct a massive hydropower dam. Teachers, for example, are quietly complaining about being compelled to contribute to the Rogun project.
Unable to find foreign investors, President Imomali Rahmon's administration in recent months has been carrying out a campaign to raise funds domestically by selling Rogun shares to the public. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Officials have framed donations to Rogun, the construction of which has the potential to turn Tajikistan into a significant electricity exporter, as a patriotic duty. "[T]he task of every official and every dignified individual is to support the call of the country's president to buy shares in the Rogun power plant and to mobilize people to this goodwill action," Rahmon said on state television in early 2010.
But in striving to create what would become a cornerstone for future economic growth, the government is running the risk of harming its already shaky social infrastructure. Given that they live in Central Asia's poorest country, many Tajiks can ill-afford to purchase the Rogun shares they say they are being forced to buy. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Teachers are among the state employees most vulnerable to government coercion. According to the Ministry of Education, teachers tend to earn from 133 to 175 somoni ($30 to $40) per month, making them among the most poorly paid public-sector workers. Yet, many teachers in Dushanbe assert they have had to make involuntary contributions to Rogun, with some saying that as much as half their monthly salary has gone to the project.
To resist invites potential retribution.
One Dushanbe district education department official, who is also a teacher, told EurasiaNet: "The Education Department has to deduct from staff salaries at least 100 somoni [$23] to buy shares" over the course of two months. His department was pressured into buying an additional 10,200 somoni [$2,330] in shares, he added, which will be further deducted from the salaries of the district's 200 teachers in the coming months.
"You do not have a choice. If you are not buying [shares], then one thing is definite: you will lose your [teaching] job," said a school principle who, like all of her counterparts, asked to remain anonymous.
Other forms of pressure are also employed to keep teachers purchasing shares. "Some local officials came to our apartment and said that if we do not buy shares this month, the electricity would be cut off," a teacher in Dushanbe told EurasiaNet.
So far, the Ministry of Finance says that about $170 million have been raised under the Rogun share offering. The government's aim is to take in about $800 million. Overall, Rogun could cost $4 billion to build. To put the scale of the project in perspective, the Tajik government's 2009 budget was $1.2 billion, according to a CIA estimate.
Not only are teachers being forced to contribute, additional funds are coming from students. "My daughter said that if she does not buy a 500-somoni share, she would not be allowed to sit for her [university] examinations. She is in the second course and she is one of the best students, but the professor told her that there is no choice but to buy shares," said another Dushanbe schoolteacher.