Dwindling remittances from Russia to Tajikistan are being squeezed yet again by government measures preventing migrant laborers from wiring Russian rubles.
New rules that came into effect on February 2 obliged people in Tajikistan receiving transfers made in rubles to collect the funds exclusively in the domestic currency, the somoni.
That appears on first analysis to have been motivated by a desperate urgency at the national bank to build up its foreign cash reserves and keep the somoni on an even keel.
At least two major wire companies popular with migrant laborers in Russia have in turn reacted by stopping the transfer of rubles to Tajikistan, and accepting only other currencies, such as dollar or euros. An employee at one of the wire companies, Zolotaya Korona, said the ruble ban had come into effect on February 4.
In effect, this arrangement will require Tajik workers in Russia to first convert their increasingly devalued ruble salaries into a foreign currency, thereby incurring a commission, and then sending that cash home, also against payment. Although people collecting the cash in Tajikistan can still draw the funds in whatever currency they were wired (as long as it is not rubles), there are concerns the government could soon extend the restrictions to dollars and euros.
The fall in the value of the ruble against the dollar has been slower than that of the somoni since the start of the year, so the value of the remittances is being pinched. The ruble has lost 5 percent against the dollar over that period, while the somoni has fallen by around 13 percent.
The picture is grim as it is.
Remittances for the January-September period in 2015 dropped about 65 percent to $1.054 billion, compared to $3.016 billion over the same period the previous year.
A purported U.S. schoolboy has got himself into the Kyrgyz media by appealing to Prime Minister Temir Sariyev’s greatest weakness: a spot of free PR.
According to a letter reportedly posted on Facebook by Bakyt Asanov, the press officer for the government, 14-year-old Tim Li of Minneola High School in New York State wrote to Sariyev calling him “one of my inspirations.”
Li added that “during my free time I read about you and learn how to be successful.”
Li dutifully recited Sariyev’s biography, offered New Year pleasantries and asked for a signed photo of the Prime Minister, according to a piece published on news website zanoza.kg February 4.
It apparently didn’t occur to Sariyev or his press team to question why a schoolboy living thousands of miles away would find an obscure Central Asian politician inspirational.
That might be because Sariyev, strongly rumored to be preparing for a presidential run in 2017, doesn’t consider himself obscure, and according to his harshest critics, would lick himself if he was made of chocolate. (Or even chuchuk)
But Sariyev will feel slightly less special now it is common knowledge that President Jammeh of the Gambia, a country as far off the radar of the average American schoolboy as Kyrgyzstan, also received a letter from Li.
The letter, reported by pro-government media read:
With the crisis biting hard in Kazakhstan, the nation’s most famous cyclist, Alexandre Vinokourov, has bucked the austerity trend by unveiling his latest two-wheeler — a glitzy gold-painted racing bike.
Vinokourov’s bling bike, unveiled ahead of this week’s 2016 Dubai Tour, features a gilded frame and is equipped with top-of-the range fittings. It’s emblazoned with his Vino logo and the Olympic emblem, in honor of his gold-medal winning performance in the London Games in 2012, Cycling News reported
Vinokourov, who retired from competitive racing in 2012 after winning his Olympic gold, now manages Pro Team Astana, which competes on the world tour. The team is part of Kazakhstan's flagship sports project, Astana Presidential Sports Club, which oversees various sports and is bankrolled by Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund.
The appearance of the bling bike comes at a time when Kazakhstan is facing swingeing, across-the-board cuts as the tenge topples alongside the oil price.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has urged the nation to tighten its collective belt and eschew foie gras and luxury cars while the crisis rages on. He recently visited a bazaar in the capital, Astana, where he was shocked to see lemons selling for 150 tenge ($0.40). “We can survive without lemons,” he reassured the public.
Kyrgyzstan’s government is coming to the assistance of debtors battered by the U.S. greenback’s rise against the local currency, but it is unclear how useful, widespread or sustainable a new som-for-dollar debt scheme will be.
Nearly 3,000 people that took out large loans in dollars for housing in the first half of 2015 were left unable to make payments as the som plummeted by over one-fifth against the dollar in the last six months of the year, largely on the back of economic peril in Russia.
A government initiative presented on February 1 allows those people to exchange their outstanding dollar debt for Kyrgyz soms at a favorable rate of 62.144 soms — a rate from July 1, 2015, before the dollar began its climb towards the roughly 76 soms it costs now.
The government has put aside over $7.5 million to plug the gap between the exchange rate of yore and the current one and is only intervening in loans worth $40,000 or less.
The questions surrounding the scheme relate to whether this will be too little, too late, and whether the government will expand the plan to other struggling debtors that borrowed large dollar sums in the second half of the year — on July 2, for instance.
Also, the interest on the loans will remain at the high market rate of nearly 16.76 percent, even if the original loans were secured at a lower rate. Whether the most troubled debtors will be able to make these payments remains an unknown.
A political activist recently jailed on charges of inciting ethnic strife has been released pending appeal after issuing a grovelling public recantation for his purported offense.
Serikzhan Mambetalin was freed on January 31 after serving just over a week of his two-year sentence.
“I am at home… How happy I am!” he wrote on his Facebook page on February 1.
Mambetalin’s Facebook page was regularly updated, presumably by his supporters, throughout his trial and incarceration, which began in October.
A court ordered Mambetalin’s release until the appeal is heard, but the activist has been made to sign a written undertaking not to leave his hometown, Almaty.
Mambetalin’s release came after he posted a contrite statement of repentance on his Facebook page on January 29 — a week after he was jailed along with another political activist, Yermek Narymbayev, who remains behind bars.
“The investigation gathered exhaustive evidence of my guilt,” the statement said. “Therefore I fully admit my guilt over the proof presented to me and actively repent.”
Mambetalin has changed his tune since his trial, when he strenuously denied any guilt and denounced the trial — which was condemned by international human rights watchdogs — as a “political order” motivated by his activism and his opposition to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party is set to be challenged by at least one opposition force at the snap March 20 parliamentary elections, but prospects the competition will be fair should be discounted at the outset.
The All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP) decided at a congress on January 30 that it will field 27 candidates on the party list. Names include long-familiar habitués of Kazakhstan’s beleaguered opposition movement, such as OSDP leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, economist Petr Svoik, activist and former senator Zauresh Battalova and veteran opposition politician Ualikhan Kaisarov.
Fresh faces were few and far between, suggesting that the only-semi-cooperative opposition has struggled to capture the imagination of a new generation.
Tuyukbai was sober about his party’s electoral prospects and suggested that the results have already been determined.
“To talk about real percentages is a thankless task, because nobody knows what the real percentages are, and how many votes each participating party will receive. Nobody counts these votes. Today, the questions of distribution are in the main decided with pencil in hand by high-ranking officials,” Tuyukbai said in remarks quoted by Informburo.kz.
Instead, OSDP’s election campaign should be devoted to raising the alarm about the economic, political and social crisis gripping the country, Tuyukbai said, in the evident belief that the authorities are oblivious to all these factors.
The OSDP is right to be pessimistic about any chances it will be allowed a look-in.
A court in Tajikistan has ruled to extend the detention of jailed lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov by two months, according to a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi.
Ozodi cites the press service of the Ismoil Somoni district court in Dushanbe as saying that the extension is required for further investigation into the case.
Yorov was arrested in September on charges of fraud and forging documents only days after he agreed to represent 13 members of the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), whose entire leadership stands accused of attempting to topple the government. The case against Yorov relates to an alleged incident in 2010, when he is said to have received $4,000 dollars from an individual in the city of Istaravshan.
Yorov’s relatives said that court decision on the extension of his detention was adopted in their presence on January 28, Ozodi reported. “We saw him close up, and he felt fine,” one relative told the broadcaster.
Unrelenting pressure against the opposition is par for the course for a government increasingly reliant on unfettered authoritarian measures, but the mistreatment of lawyers is a particularly grim harbinger.
Another lawyer acting for the IRPT, Nuriddin Mahkamov, was arrested on October 22.
Compounding their international reputation for legal nihilism, the authorities earlier this month detained three foreign lawyers — two from Turkey, another from Russia — who had traveled to Tajikistan in the hope of meeting the jailed IRPT members and lawyers.
Kazakhstan’s president could hardly be expected to run for parliament, so the ruling Nur Otan party has gone for the next best thing: The actor who played him as a young man in the biopic.
Nurlan Alimzhanov is just one of several celebrities that Nur Otan included in its populist list of candidates for the March 20 parliamentary election, which authorities are hoping will serve as a tonic for their flagging legitimacy.
Other recognizable faces selected by a unanimous vote at a party congress in Astana on January 29 included Gennady Golovkin, a world champion boxer renowned as the best pound-for pound fighter in the world, Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter Ilya Ilyin and Kairat Nurtas, a wildly popular 26-year-old pop singer.
One actual Nazarbayev is also standing — Dariga Nazarbayeva, the president’s daughter and current first deputy prime minister.
Alimzhanov may be the actor, but it was President Nursultan Nazarbayev that gave the real performance in Astana as a man pretending his party is readying for a proper election. Speaking to the congress, he urged a “competitive fight” in the upcoming vote.
Since there is no real opposition (not behind bars) anywhere to be seen, however, it can be taken for granted that the new legislature will be similarly compliant as the outgoing lot.
Kyrgyzstan’s thin-skinned President Almazbek Atambayev’s long-running and unseemly spat with an outspoken local journalist has taken a fresh and typically farcical turn.
After Atambayev successfully sued the editor of Kyrgyz language outlet Maalymat.kg, Dayirbek Orunbekov, for defamation last year for a whopping $26,000, the journalist has managed to persuade a local court to take up a case against the president on similar grounds.
If Orunbekov wins — which few expect — he will claim from the head of state a single unit of the battered national currency, the som.
Judicial proceedings to determine whether or not Atambayev defamed Orunbekov in his end of year speech, by effectively accusing him of being a slanderer-for-hire, began earlier this week.
Testifying in Atambayev’s favor, presidential representative Chynara Musabekova told the court on January 28 that suggestions Orunbekov was “working on somebody’s money” when writing articles critical of the head of state were only a “hypothesis” rather than an insult to Orunbekov’s “honor and dignity.”
According to local news site Kloop.kg, Orunbekov was prevented from making his own argument in court due to his inadequate Russian, with testimony in the state language Kyrgyz oddly inadmissible.
Bad driving, severe code violations and pervasive corruption among traffic cops are rampant on Kyrgyzstan’s roads.
The Interior Ministry has reported that more than 6,600 car accidents occurred in 2015, leaving 976 people dead and another 9,847 injured.
“Traffic accident fatalities have a great impact on the economic and social development of our country as the main victims in accidents are young people of working age. Various experts estimate that the Kyrgyz economy loses $250 million (about 4 percent of the gross domestic product) every year as a result of these crashes”, the ministry has stated.
To tackle the problem, before the parliamentary elections in 2015, deputies proposed a bill on mandatory car insurance, which would allow the injured and the families of car crash victims to secure compensation for damage to their health and property. It was the first time any compulsory insurance was to be introduced in the country. The law will oblige car owners to insure their civil liability within five days of buying their vehicle and to extend the policy annually.
The cost of the insurance is to be around $40. In the event of a death, insurance companies would be liable to pay $2,600 and a sum up to that amount in case of injuries.
Since the law takes effect in early February, many car owners are now fretting about possible fines for people found not in possession of an insurance policy. The head of the Financial Market Control Service, Sanzhar Makanbetov, tried to reassure drivers by telling them they will have two months to get insurance before they could start facing fines.