Bishkek business owners who saw their stores looted the night of March 24, 2005 are a sensitive area for Kyrgyzstan's post-revolution government. Estimates of property damage and losses range as high as $100 million, a significant sum in a country with a GDP in the preceding year of $8.5 billion.
These small and mid-sized entrepreneurs, the country's nascent middle class, were promised compensation for their losses and tax and financial assistance. To date, the assistance has not been forthcoming. Business owners have relied on themselves, or, in some cases, have left the country for a fresh start. A final list of all business owners who suffered during the March 24 looting does not yet exist, though Bishkek city government statistics put the number at 1,333.
Targeting companies believed to have been owned by ousted President Askar Akayev was among the new government's first acts of business after the March 2005 uprising. The Office of the General Prosecutor began an inquiry into allegations of extensive commercial holdings obtained by the former president during his time in office, but the investigation has had no results to date.
Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan's economic woes show little sign of disappearing. In 2005, the political instability and uncertainty that prevailed after the revolution helped slash economic growth to just 0.6 percent, far short of a projected 5 percent increase. By January 2006, 40 percent of all businesses stood idle, according to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism.
Energy and gold mining, two key industries for the Kyrgyz economy, were hit particularly hard. A Kyrgyz court ruled that the country's largest gold mining company, Kumtor Operating Company, pay roughly $1.2 million in compensation to victims of a 1998 cyanide spill; additional taxes were also levied on the firm. In a controversial move that alarmed foreign investors, the Kyrgyz government also revoked its deal with British-owned Oxus Gold Plc for development of the Jeruy gold mining field,
Despite the difficulties, the government has pledged faster growth. President Bakiyev has forecast that the country will post 8 percent GDP growth in 2006, with particular emphasis put on mining, construction and industry.
Although foreign investors turned skittish after the March 2005 uprising, Russian, Turkish and Asian companies still show interest in the Kyrgyz market. Russian energy giant GazProm has acquired ownership of a local company that controls a third of the country's gas stations, while in southern Kyrgyzstan attention has focused on a Chinese-financed cement plant. Plans are also underway for a new highway and flights from Kazakhstan's commercial capital, Almaty to Kyrgyzstan's major tourism destination, Lake Issyk-Kul.