When the president of Tajikistan earlier this year appointed his son to become mayor of the capital, Dushanbe, he urged him to be a listening and compassionate leader.
Going by Rustam Emomali’s first actions in office, the advice does not appear to have made an impact.
Emomali has set his sights on overhauling the city’s transportation system, but the efforts are generating much misery.
On April 12, Dushanbe received a consignment of 40 large-capacity buses manufactured by Turkey’s Andalou Isuzu. Another 25 units are to be delivered in the summer. The cost of buying all those buses has set the government back around 3.4 million euros — 85,000 euros a pop.
The first buses will begin their routes in Dushanbe of April 15.
In conjunction with bringing these buses into commission, Dushanbe authorities have also been stepping up efforts to stamp out the so-called “three somoni” taxis that many people use to get around. For the last five years or so, these informally run shared taxis have operated a little like buses, running along established routes around the center of the city and charging people three somoni ($0.35) per ride.
Since the “three somoni” taxis are not properly licensed, the drivers routinely engage in cat-and-mouse games with the police. The chase is getting a little more serious now and the stakes have been increased, with fines for illegally driving the taxis being hiked to 1,000 somoni.
The “three somonis” are not the only vehicles in the crosshairs.
US Ambassador to Tajikistan Elisabeth Millard meeting with new Dushanbe Mayor Rustam Emomali on March 8. (Photo: US Embassy website)
The net is tightening around the former mayor of Tajikistan’s capital as investigators reportedly question him over suspicious movements in the city budget.
Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev had proven the ultimate loyalist, serving as mayor of Dushanbe for almost two decades before resigning, likely under pressure, on January 12. But with the president’s son on the ascendancy, room at the top is getting tight for anybody who is not family.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, cited unnamed sources on March 8 as saying that anticorruption officials are questioning Ubaidulloev over the disappearance of state funds during construction of the Dushanbe-Plaza multistory complex and other government projects.
None of this has come as much of a surprise. At the end of January, the deputy head of the state anticorruption agency, Abdukarim Zarifzoda, announced that his office was auditing the City Hall.
The shot across Ubaidulloev’s bow came from the new Dushanbe mayor, Rustam Emomali, who is the son of President Emomali Rahmon.
“Even though the mayor’s office is inspected every two years, and the next inspection was due in 2018, the mayor of Dushanbe submitted a request to the anticorruption agency to check on the mayor’s activities,” Zarifzoda said in January.
In what is presumably only a coincidence, Emomali ran the anticorruption agency from March 2015 until his appointment as Dushanbe mayor in January.
Ubaidulloev is among other things being probed in connection to expenditures made during construction of the Istiqlol Medical Center.
“This clinic was built with funds from Dushanbe City Hall. He was in part questioned in connection to explanations provided by the head of the capital construction department at the mayor’s office in relation to money spent on this building,” Ozodi’s source stated.