Kyrgyzstan: Revolution Revisited
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Corruption: In recent international surveys, Kyrgyzstan has consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt former Soviet republics. Outrage at widespread corruption helped spark the March 24, 2005 uprising against then President Askar Akayev, and the new government has vowed a merciless struggle for change. But some local observers argue that the ill remains part and parcel of accepted practices.

PROMISES:

"Corruption is our greatest evil," Kurmanbek Bakiyev declared on March 30, 2005, shortly after being named acting prime minister. "It has reached the top floor of the White House," state television KTR broadcast him as saying. " It has penetrated the fields of education and healthcare, law enforcement and local governance structures. It is absolutely necessary to stop this."

Bakiyev assured businessmen that "there will be no return to a corrupt regime" and, speaking after his landslide victory in the July 10, 2005 presidential election, vowed to "fight corruption as long as I occupy this post." To accomplish this task, Bakiyev pledged to appoint individuals "with a stainless reputation" to key posts and ensure that the government's work is transparent.

Following the March 2005 uprising, the new government leaders promised that redistribution of property would not take place. The goal was to prevent a new wave of corrupt deals with officials scrambling to cash in on proximity to the new powers-that-be. Expropriating property privatized under ex-President Askar Akayev would be, according to then Acting Security Coordinator Feliks Kulov, "a tragedy."

The war against corruption was also Prime Minister Feliks Kulov's first charge to the new government. "Our main task is to regain people's confidence in the fact that we can ensure order, stability and the rule of law in the country," Kulov stated at the cabinet's first working session on October 5, 2005, media reported. "Fighting corruption must be a priority for the new government."

RESULTS:

Kyrgyzstan has yet to see a war on corruption similar to the aggressive campaign launched in Georgia after the South Caucasus state's 2003 Rose Revolution. The topic was a prominent theme at a March 2006 demonstration in Bishkek that ranked as the largest since the 2005 uprising. Business owners complain about the increased cost of bribes, though concede that the demands are less frequent now. The government maintains that it is making progress, but few opposition or civil society members seem to agree. Some ministerial posts have been reassigned, and strong threats made to eradicate corruption and ties with organized crime from law enforcement bodies, but a comprehensive anti-corruption initiative does not yet exist.

Nonetheless, the government claims success in fighting corruption. In a televised speech on April 18, 2006, President Bakiyev argued that the government's anti-corruption measures had already resulted in fresh state revenues from the redistribution of "corruption money." In 2006, an additional 230 million som (roughly $5.8 million) was allocated for education, 62 million som (roughly $1.58 million) for healthcare and a special anti-poverty fund was created. State salaries, pensions and social welfare payments have been increased by 15 to 50 percent.

"It's possible that somewhere at lower levels there are cases of extortion or bribe-taking, but at the high level this hasn't existed and doesn't exist," Gazeta.kg reported the Kyrgyz leader as saying at the National Council to Fight Corruption on April 14. "I consider this the main achievement."

Some ex-government officials disagree, however. Azimbek Beknazarov, a former Bakiyev allz who was dismissed as prosecutor general in September 2005 for allegedly mishandling an investigation, has charged that corruption in Kyrgyzstan "has only increased and top officials are involved in it." Beknazarov had aggressively pursued former officials from the Akayev years and members of the former president's family suspected of corruption. Beknazarov's supporters maintain that he was removed from office because his investigations ran too close to the current government's interests.

A scandal in late spring 2006 around two cement plants that are being built six kilometers from each other in the south of Kyrgyzstan highlighted these concerns. One plant is allegedly linked to State Chancellor Daniyar Usenov, a former deputy prime minister. Officials have proposed moving one of the plants to another province, citing "ecology considerations." The plan has been described by former parliamentary speaker and opposition leader MP Omurbek Tekebayev as an attempt to "get rid of the competition." The government has denied any wrongdoing.

The issue of property rights, however, remains murky. A proposal by Prime Minister Feliks Kulov for foreign judges to oversee commercial law courts is designed to stimulate investor confidence in the judicial system, but violence or the threat of violence increasingly plays a role in influencing or deciding disputes. One populist band's armed seizure of coal mines in the Kara Keche region went without retaliation for months, until the arrest of the group's leader on tax evasion charges. A long-term squabble over ownership of a bazaar in the southern town of Kara-Suu led to the death of parliamentarian Bayaman Erkinbazev and a local businessperson. A representative of the British company Oxus Gold was attacked in Bishkek by unknown assailants after the government canceled its agreement with Oxus for development of the Jerooy gold mines in northern Kyrgyzstan. The government cited Oxus' failure to fulfill its contractual obligations as the cause; following the government's physical seizure of the mine in early September 2006, Oxus moved to take its case to international arbitration.

Meanwhile, the president is taking steps to stamp out comparisons with Akayev-era corruption. Reports that Bakiyev's younger son, Maksim, is using his status to take control over certain private businesses have become commonplace, along with opposition calls for an end to the "Maksimization" of Kyrgyzstan's economy. At a September 14 parliamentary session, President Bakiyev stated that, upon his election, he had asked his son to end all of his business interests in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz leader has also asked his relatives to leave all government jobs.


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March 24, 2006 press conference by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev
Credit: NTS Television

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