As economic anxieties begin escalating into panic across many former Soviet republics, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon has delivered an annual address to parliament brimming with unvarnished optimism.
On the economic front, Rahmon argued in his January 20 speech, that it was all looking pretty good in 2015. Economic growth hit 6 percent, with inflation contained at a very manageable 5 percent. The proportion of the population living in poverty has fallen to 31 percent and gross domestic product per capita has increased by 3.8 percent. Child mortality has dropped by two-and-a-half-fold in the last five years, Rahmon said.
On and on came the figures.
Some claims are embellished, not to speak of outright wrong, while others are stripped of context. That boast of 5 percent growth looks less impressive when you realize that is the fourth consecutive annual drop in the rate of economic expansion. The figures for 2014 is 6.7 percent, and it is 7.4 percent for the year before that.
Without spelling out the details, Rahmon admits to external problems buffeting the economy. Remittances from Russia, where most Tajik migrant laborers work, fell by 65 percent in January-September 2015 ($1.54 billion), compared to the same period in 2014 ($3.16 billion). And that trend looks set to continue.
Leaders in Central Asia are fond of arguing that their plight is caused by the global economic crisis, but it is countries that are reliant on energy and Russia that are really feeling the pinch, as The Economist pointed out in a piece this past week.
“The Central Asian experience is unusual. Elsewhere, remittances grew in 2015. In South Asia they were up by 6 [percent], according to projections from the World Bank. The region’s remittances come mainly from America and the Middle East; a strong dollar and fiscal expansion in the Gulf have kept the money flowing,” The Economist wrote.
Still Rahmon brought forth good news.
He claimed 205,000 new jobs had been created in 2015. And that another 300,000 will be created in the coming two years for returning migrants.
Somewhat oxymoronically, Rahmon pledged that through effective use of existing resources, the budget for 2016 is to be increased by 20 percent, to 18.3 billion somoni ($2.4 billion at the current exchange rate). That neglects to note that the 2015 budget was worth more in dollar terms this time last year after taking devaluation into account.
In a similar vein, Rahmon gleefully promised salary rises across the board.
Police officers and military personnel are to get a 15 percent wage hike, teachers will get 20 percent, and workers in social care institutions will get 25 percent. Pensions will rise by 20 percent. Stipends to students will increase 30 percent.
The minimum wage will soar by 60 percent from 250 somoni ($33) to 400 somoni, although it isn't of course the government that will have to swallow a lot of these outlays.
Some achievements have been so successful they even exceed the norm.
The 2010-2015 state computerization program has apparently been fulfilled by 106 percent.
Not that any of this is especially subject to verification, seeing how intensely the government has begun to vet all information outlets.
A strong emphasis was placed in Rahmon’s speech on the need for vigilance from outside threats. Notably, he reprised a line frequently adopted by state media and strongly hinted that the West was purposely instigating unrest through its “double standards” in countries like Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. There is some unwitting accuracy in this accusation, since while, for instance, the United States has actively meddled in those countries in the purported interests of promoting democracy, it has turned a blind eye to Tajikistan’s inexorable decline into authoritarianism. What is less clear is why this particular double-standard should be troubling Rahmon.
Either way, the government is not taking any risks and will annually increase financing for national security and military bodies "as much as is required," as Rahmon explained.
The state of the union speech was long, but it did neatly explain the model for overcoming the incipient crisis period. Combine unreal promises with increased reliance on security.