Weeks after the government in Tajikistan announced an ambitious bond issue to help finance a bailout for several struggling banks, prosecutors have decided to start investigating the lenders.
The four banks being audited by the General Prosecutor’s Office are Tojiksodirotbank, Agroinvestbank, Tojprombank and state-owned Amonatbank.
Another troubled lender, Fononbank, is being spared the treatment because it was already audited last year over suspicions that it was somehow collaborating with the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).
RFE/RL’s Tajikistan service, Radio Ozodi, reported that checks on the four banks are set to last six months. A representative for the General Prosecutor’s Office, Hotam Nazarzoda, said that the operation was being carried out at the request of the government to establish that the lenders were not being “mismanaged.”
If this explanation sounds unilluminating, it may be by design. Prosecutors have refrained from explaining quite what they mean by “mismanagement” or why this should be a matter for them to investigate.
But one unidentified source told Radio Ozodi this was primarily a reference to the way in which the banks issue loans. The source explained that some banks have been known to accept doors, windows, cows and other livestock as collateral for credit, immaterial of whether the customer was ever likely to be able to repay their debt. This sort of liberal credit-giving has, in the opinion of the authorities, led to lenders being driven to the verge of collapse.
“Animals have the habit of dying, and sometimes they do it early. And there have been cases when an apartment worth $50,000 could be displayed as being worth $100,000. These is called unguaranteed collateral,” the source told Radio Ozodi.
Photo: Mariusz Kluzniak via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/dbutrT
The protests that spread across Kazakhstan last spring forced authorities to backtrack on a land privatization agenda that had been quietly approved without consulting the public.
Concerns are now mounting among opponents of the idea of allowing the sale of land to foreign nationals that the government is seeking to achieve that aim by stealth through changes to the constitution.
Those suspicions center around the language in Article 26 of Kazakhstan’s founding law, which currently states that “Citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan may privately own any legally acquired property.” Under the revised version of the constitution, this passage could be ambiguously amended to read “Anybody may privately own any legally acquired property.”
Zhanbolat Mamay, editor of Tribuna newspaper, conveyed the anxieties being expressed by many people online.
“This proposed change to Article 28 of Kazakhstan’s constitution has created strong discontent. Thousands of people are on social media expressing their deep unhappiness at these changes,” he wrote on his Facebook account. “What is most worrying is that any foreign citizen could buy our land. There is no guarantee that on this land they might build a village or even a city.”
This latter point sounds like a mischievous attempt to tap into popular fears about the specter of eventual mass Chinese resettlement in Kazakhstan. In fact, although it is true that the land privatization law passed in 2015 was adopted with little public consultation, it is not correct to say that the law would have legalized the sale of land to foreigners, as claimed by many objectors.
As the winter editions of the World Student Games come to a close in Kazakhstan this week, questions are still being asked about what went wrong with the ticket sales.
The games, which started on January 29 and will conclude on February 8, have been eagerly anticipated since the city of Almaty won hosting rights in 2011. So much so, that in the days before the competition began, many lamented that they were finding it impossible to find any tickets. News website Nur.kz reported that ticket websites were informing customers they were sold out for multiple events, while ticket offices outside venues also pleaded lack of availability.
The games — which are commonly known in Kazakhstan by the preferred international name of Universiade — have been touted as a major prestige event on a par with the EXPO 2017 international fair taking place in the capital, Astana.
Preparations have been intense, at times absurdly so. Authorities stopped older cars from entering the city (to keep the air clean), shut some of the main bazaars for the duration of the games, ordered schools to close and advised citizens living near venues to refrain from hanging their laundry to dry outside.
Officials say the actions of unscrupulous ticket scalps have contrived to undo some of that hard work.
On January 31, police detained five touts carrying a total of around 120 overpriced tickets. A Nur.kz correspondent bought a 500 tenge ($1.5) ticket for for 6,000 tenge ($18.5) from one dealer.
Still, the numbers of tickets being sold by the touts is relatively small in the broader scheme of things.
An official investigation into how the 23-year old son of Tajikistan’s deputy prime minister plowed his Toyota Camry at speed into a public works vehicle, killing two people, has placed the blame on a technical fault in the car.
Ozodagon news website last week reported that representatives of the General Prosecutor’s Office have accordingly determined that there is no need to pursue a criminal case against Faromuz Saidov, the son of first deputy premier Davlati Saidov. Prosecutors said the accident was caused by a “technical problem during the manufacture of the car” and that there was no human factor at play.
General Prosecutor’s Office representative Sharif Habibulloyev gave no details about what particular defect might have caused a loss of control over the car. The accident claimed the lives of a 25-year old woman, Hilola Rahimova, who traveling in the car with Saidov, and a municipal employee who was at the time clearing away decorations erected to celebrate the Independence Day holiday.
Investigations into the accident, which took place on September 10, have taken five months to complete. On January 20, Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda noted at a press conference that the findings of investigations have yielded some contradictory data, but he declined to elaborate further, saying the matter was being handled by the General Prosecutor’s Office.
Some details do not entirely appear to stack up. Authorities in Tajikistan enforce annual car inspections that would presumably reveal any serious technical shortcoming.
A former prime minister in Kyrgyzstan has declared he plans to run for president in this year’s election, kicking off what could shape up to be an unpredictable race in Central Asia's most vibrant political arena.
Temir Sariyev said on January 4 that he will run on a platform of promoting economic development and upholding rule of law.
The 53-year old was nominated to run by his Ak-Shumkar party. He was part of the interim government that was installed after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was toppled in a popular revolt in April 2010. In 2011, he was appointed Economy Minister and then became prime minister in 2015.
Sariyev was forced to resign as prime minister in April 2016 amid allegations of corruption to do with a multimillion dollar road construction contract. He admitted no culpability at the time but said government infighting and unfounded accusations of malfeasance had made his position untenable.
President Almazbek Atambayev is required by constitution to step aside when he completes his first term in October. That has created an unusual air of uncertainty for a region where presidents typically decline to relinquish power.
Sariyev is the first figure of any import to signal his intent to fill the position and has been touted by pundits as a likely prospect. He stressed at this candidacy announcement, however, that he wished not to be seen as an automatic successor.
“There will be no successor. The people will elect the president of Kyrgyzstan. That is not why we fought and risked our lives in 2010,” Sariyev said.
The have been some rumblings of irritation in Kazakhstan over reports that an ultra-nationalist member of parliament in Russia called for parts of northern Kazakhstan to be “taken back.”
According to some flimsily sourced reports, a deputy with the ultra-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Pavel Shperov, is said to have made his remarks, describing parts of Kazakhstan as “temporarily seized” lands, at a January 26 roundtable on the plight of ethnic Russian living overseas. Shperov is then reported to have predicted that the return of those lands was imminent.
There are lingering suspicions the remarks might have been a fabrication, or at best a gross distortion of what was said at some point — Shperov’s colleagues have blamed media in Ukraine.
“I can assure you that nobody had any idea of revising the borders of Russia and Kazakhstan. The quote has clearly been taken out of context and has been accompanied by the subjective and obviously contrived assumptions of the journalist,” the head of the State Duma committee for international affairs, Leonid Slutsky, also an LDPR deputy, told reporters on February 1.
Be that as it may, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry reached out to its Russian counterparts to seek reassurances. On February 1, Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi initiated a phone call with his Russian counterpart, Grigory Karasin, to reconfirm that relations between the countries remained founded on mutual acknowledgement of one another’s borders, among other things.
“Russia asserted that entreaties from the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan have been considered in all serious,” ministry spokesman Anuar Zhainakov told Tengri News.
Self-immolation has in recent times become a recurrent gesture of ultimate despair in Kazakhstan.
In the latest such case, a ex-employee of the Atyrau regional prosecutor’s office, 37-year old Leila Smadyarova, set herself alight in front of her former place of work, local newspaper Ak-Zhaiyk reported.
Smadyarova’s responsibilities at the prosecutor’s office consisted of ensuring state detention facilities were properly ensuring the rights of prisoners. In August, a court in the Atyrau, which is situated in western Kazakhstan, issued an order for Smadyarova to be placed under house arrest pending investigations into allegations that she had taken 3 million tenge ($9,200) in bribes. She denied the accusation.
Trial proceedings have since got underway. Prosecutors have argued that Smadyarova, who was an assistant to the regional prosecutor, took the bribe in two parts.
Ak-Zhaiyk cited unnamed sources as saying Smadyarova was driven to the act of self-immolation to draw attention to her plight. She maintains that she never took any bribes and that she is the victim of a smear campaign undertaken by people that she had previously brought to justice. Other than witness statements from those individuals, prosecutors have no evidence, Smadyarova has reportedly said.
Smadyarova was taken to a local hospital with burns to her face and lower leg. Doctors have said she is no immediate danger to her life and that she is fully conscious.
The case has shocked the public not just because the gesture is an extreme one, but because it has occurred so many times.
Activist Baurzhan Aldybergenov said the incident should serve as a clarion call for greater solidarity.
Tajikistan’s Somoni Air has scheduled a flight to Uzbekistan for February 10 — the first such commercial flight between the two nations since 1992.
Regular flights are expected every Monday from February 20 onward.
Somoni Air has said in an official statement that it will fly once weekly in the winter season, but that frequency could increase to twice a week in the summer.
“This new route and its frequency will gives the citizens of Tajikistan and Uzbekisan the opportunity to simplify their travels between the two nations,” the airline said.
Not so fast though. On the evening of the announcement on January 31, one-way tickets from Dushanbe to Tashkent were selling online at around $190 — a small fortune in local terms for a 45-minute flight. A ticket the other way cost $220.
By February 1, prices had dropped somewhat, to around $300 for a round trip. By way of comparison, a return flight between Tashkent and Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, which is twice as far away as Dushanbe, costs around $320.
The cheaper way to get between the two cities in by car. A taxi from the Tajik capital to the Uzbek border typically costs around $15. The cost of taking a car to Tashkent is about another $20. The cost obviously goes down for travelers willing to share their ride, so the whole trip can be for as little as $20.
Still, there is a premium on comfort and avoiding the nine hours of driving and the time it takes to negotiate the border crossing.
The high cost of tickets is down to airport taxes. Tashkent international airport levies $76 off each flier — flying out of Dushanbe incurs a $48 charge.
The price of an air ticket sparked a lively discussion on social media. People who had dreamed of making the trip since the imminent resumption of the route was announced last year have had to downgrade their expectation.
Actor and producer Anuar Nurpeisov addressing his critics in a Facebook video.
A famous actor and entertainment producer in Kazakhstan has waded into a recurrent controversy about language after appearing to endorse the view that it is not always necessary to know Kazakh.
The outcry began when Anuar Nurpeisov posted a video on his Facebook account in which he discussed his recent visit to Singapore and how he was struck there by how many people he heard speaking English. Why, he wondered, could people not be as relaxed in Kazakhstan toward those, including ethnic Kazakhs, that prefer to speak in some other language?
The remarks drew heated criticism online, where champions of the Kazakh language condemned Nurpeisov for frequently speaking in Russian — instead of his native Kazakh — in his television appearances and elsewhere.
Society in Kazakhstan was split over decades of imperial Russian and then Soviet rule into two linguistic camps.
Typically, urban Kazakhs were forced to rely on Russian as their main language of communication and many continue to do so to this day. By the estimates of a researcher with the Institute of Ethnography at the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union, Olga Naumova, around 40 percent of Kazakhs no longer spoke their own language by the late 1980s. Naumova found that nearly three-quarters of Kazakhs living in cities did not use their native languages.
Kazakh critics of such people refer to them disparagingly as “Shala Kazakh,” which means “half Kazakh.” At the more militant end of this contingent are those commonly termed “national-patriots,” sometimes mockingly abbreviated to “Natspaty.” Ardently patriotic outlets regularly argue for the need to preserve native Kazakh culture and uphold the supremacy inside Kazakhstan of the “titular language.”
The editor Qazaq Uni newspaper, Kazybek Isa, said Nurpeisov had missed the point in his Facebook complaints.
Authorities in Kazakhstan have unveiled some heartening news on the economic front with the announcement that 20,000 jobs are be created at the Tengizchevroil energy venture.
But that burst of optimism comes just as dozens of workers have reportedly gone on strike for higher pay at the very same project.
Deputy Labour and Social Protection Minister Birzhan Nurymbetov said on January 30 that the oil field joint venture, which is 50 percent controlled by US energy corporation Chevron, is an example of the government’s long-term investment agenda.
Foreign investments generated by this project have a multiplier effect and enable the development of business and the improvement of social wellbeing, Nurymbetov’s ministry stated in a press release.
“According to Tengizchevroil, [future expansion at the project has created] provides employment for 10,500 people — of those, 9,400 people are local staff, which accounts for 90 percent of all workers on the project in Kazakhstan,” Nurymbetov said.
Narymbetov said the government expect 20,000 more jobs to be created by expansion of the Tengizchevroil project, and that 18,000 of those jobs would go to Kazakhstani citizens.
“Tengizchevroil will assume the responsibility of teaching and training Kazakhstani personnel,” he said.
Workers would come from all over Kazakhstan, Narymbetov said.
But even as government officials are boasting of future job-creation, those already employed by Tengizchevroil are complaining that they are not paid enough.