When demonstrations begin taking place in the town of Naryn in Kyrgyzstan, the authorities need to start worrying.
As Kloop.kg reported, about 200 people gathered on January 27 on the main square of the high-altitude town for a rally to complain about issues including electricity tariffs and lack of transportation links in the region.
Maybe the most sensitive issue, however, was related to the salary bonuses paid to workers in mountainous locations. State employees there receive a 50 percent additional payment to compensate for the arduous living conditions, but lawmakers had been considering scrapping or minimizing that allowance to save costs. The government earlier in the week hastily ditched the proposal in recognition of its potential to provoke unrest, but that has not entirely soothed moods.
Not only do Naryn residents want the allowance to remain in place, but they also want it raised to 70 percent of their salaries. The Naryn rally was peaceful and proceeded without incident.
When former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was toppled in 2010, it was at the culmination of quality of life protests that first gained momentum in Naryn, so the government is acutely aware of the need to placate discontent.
With that in mind, remarks made in parliament on January 27 by a member of the main coalition force, the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, were particularly provocative.
Meerbek Miskenbayev criticized Prime Minister Temir Sariyev’s performance in the worst fashion possible — by likening him to the last head of government under the Bakiyev regime, Daniyar Usenov. The rebuke was a reference to the perceived practice of creating new forms of revenue-generation before providing improved government services first.
Miskenbayev addressed in particular an ongoing public debate around the introduction of mandatory auto insurance and proposals to build casinos as a revenue-boosting measure, all of which he said were matters of secondary importance.
“The people are unhappy with the policies being carried out by the government. They say, first put up our salaries and pensions,” Miskenbayev was quoted as saying by Tazabek, a business news portal. “The people demand that we stop the talk of casinos and insurance, and that we pay attention instead to pressing problems, like getting farmers’ crops to the market, and assistance for farmers with advice about what to plant to make a profit.”
Sure enough, attention is increasingly being focused on the cost of basic groceries, although perhaps with not as much urgency as some would like.
On January 26, Batyr Torobayev, the chairman of the milling committee with Kyrgyzstan’s entrepreneur union, said that measures have been put in place to regulate prices for flour, Kazinform reported.
“The economy ministry, the state antimonopoly agency and businesses operating in the milling industry of Kyrgyzstan have signed an agreement on the price of flour. The aim of the agreement is to ensure the uninterrupted supply of quality wheat flour at affordable prices to the population,” Torobayev said.
The price of flour will now be linked to the price of grain, and under the agreement, 70 percent of flour produced will have to be sold at wholesale prices directly at flour mills.
Deals on the purchase of third-grade milling grain will have to be made with local flour producers, and in the event of a sharp rises in prices in a certain location, traveling markets will be mobilized to redress the imbalance.
Kyrgyzstan currently has 34 flour mills able to produce up to 3,400 tons of flour daily.
But the situation with the meat market demonstrates how difficult it can be to account for price fluctuations.
Speaking on January 27, senior Bishkek city council member Pavel Desyatnikov noted an odd discrepancy between the cost of meat sold at cattle markets and the prices being charged in shops, Tazabek reported.
While prices at cattle markets have dropped drastically, retail prices are rising, he said.
“This can only be solved through economic regulation. Neither the antimonopoly agency, nor the government can influence the market price for meat. It is either the economy or businesses that must regulate this themselves,” Desyatnikov was quoted as saying.
Desyatnikov proposed that one solution could be to open a large market where farmers could themselves butchers their animals and sell directly to supermarkets. Supply and demand would do the rest, he said.
Whether this free market approach will be either possible or enough to temper growing frustration at the tough times to come is another matter.