About 1,000 members of Uzbekistan’s business community assembled late last week at a Tashkent conference hall to parley with the Interior Ministry, tax officials and the General Prosecutor’s Office about how to protect themselves from the threat of corruption.
News of the event, which took place on October 27, was broadcast on the state evening news and several internet sites and newspapers.
The spur for dialogue came in the form of a decree signed by acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev earlier in the month intended to ensure “the rapid development of business, protection of private property and the qualitative improvement of the business climate.” Improving life for private enterprise appears to be one of the many promises of reset being dangled before Uzbeks since the death of the late President Islam Karimov.
While television and state newspaper reports about the conference were skimpy on the details, online outlets delved a little further. For example, Gazeta.uz cited the chairman of the State Tax Committee, Botir Parpiyev, as admitting to the proliferation of unauthorized inspections on companies and that these were harming the prospects of business development in the country. A starling admission by anybody’s standards.
“According to [State Tax Committee] data, an average of about 4,000 unscheduled inspections were carried out in Uzbekistan [NB: no timeframe provided],” Gazeta.uz reported, citing Parpiyev. “More than 1,500 case files were sent for investigation.”
Parpiyev carried on to say that 200 companies are closing yearly as a result of these unannounced inspections, causing damages worth several million dollars in total.
“This has created major inconveniences and halted the operations of companies and the delay of salary payment to employees,” Parpiyev said.
Intriguing figures on China’s natural gas purchases reported by Russian state news agency TASS and relayed by website Eurasia Daily has shed some light on Turkmenistan’s current economic woes.
In the first nine months of 2016, China reportedly increased its overall imports of gas by 26.5 percent on the previous year, up to 71.6 billion cubic meters. The average price it paid for the fuel was $228 per 1,000 cubic meters, according to data reportedly collated by China’s General Administration of Customs. That was apparently $100 less than Beijing was paying last year.
The cheapest gas of all, however, is coming from Turkmenistan, which reportedly sells its exports to China at a giveaway rate of $185 per 1,000 cubic meters. Turkmenistan sold China 23 billion cubic meters of gas over the reported period, accounting for 13 percent of what Beijing imported.
Australia was a far second to Turkmenistan as a gas supplier — 11.6 billion cubic meters shipped to China in liquified form at $220 per 1,000 cubic meters.
The takeaway here is that Turkmenistan is being badly pinched on its only serious export commodity.
And as the Chronicles of Turkmenistan points out, Ashgabat’s sale of gas to China is serving primarily to service multibillion loans issued by Beijing.
This might explain Turkmenistan routine but lackluster attempts to restore diversity among its buyers.
In the long-term there is the trans-Afghan TAPI pipeline — the prospects of which are subject of much skeptical analysis.
The president of Turkmenistan is due visit Moscow on November 1 for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin against the backdrop of a worsening domestic economic crisis.
Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry announced the trip in an uninformative one-line statement, so there is no immediate insight into what the focus of the encounter will be. The Kremlin’s own statement on the meeting was not much more helpful.
“Key areas in bilateral cooperation will be the main subject of discussion at the talks. The two presidents are also expected to exchange views on current regional issues,” the Kremlin said.
That cryptic statement suggests there is every chance that Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov will be seeking to whet Russia’s appetite for resuming its purchases of Turkmen gas.
The countries have over the years signed more than 100 bilateral agreements covering a range of areas of cooperation. A key document was the April 23, 2002, Friendship and Cooperation Treaty.
Russian business are actively involved on the Turkmen market in sectors such as auto and industrial machinery, telecommunications, and in the oil and gas business. Around 190 companies working with Russian capital operate in Turkmenistan. In 2009, Russia’s ATERI, previously operating under the ITERA brand, signed a production sharing agreement with Turkmenistan over an offshore sector of the Caspian Sea.
But nothing ever quite superseded direct gas sales for importance.
Russia bought 45 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan in 2008, but that has through a series of commercial and diplomatic vicissitudes dwindled to nothing. Russian gas behemoth Gazprom definitively ceased its gas supply agreement earlier this year.
The American guided-missile destroyer USS Carney enters the Black Sea via Istanbul. (photo: Yörük Işık)
NATO has agreed to come up with a "coordination body" to manage activity in the Black Sea, a step toward formalizing a NATO presence in the region that Russia considers to be its sphere of influence.
Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey -- the three NATO members on the Black Sea -- have been tasked with coming up with a plan to increase the alliance's naval and sea patrols in the region, Romanian Defense Minister Mihnea Motoc said on October 27. That decision was made following a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.
“The political decision is to task the allied forces to come up by the end of January with proposals on two basic elements for the maritime component – a strengthened training framework and a coordination body for the Black Sea that reports to the specialized NATO command,” Motoc said.
A standoff between a filmmaker and a minister in Kazakhstan has culminated with the former ending up behind bars.
News website KazInfo reported on October 27 that movie director Talgat Zhanybekov had been detained by officers from the state anticorruption agency on charges of embezzling Culture Ministry funds. Zhanybekov’s lawyer told reporters that the investigation is linked to a failed film project, but that is only part of the story.
The trouble all began when filming on Zhanybekov’s government-funded sci-fi movie “Phoenix” was suspended over the summer, supposedly after funds dried up. Zhanybekov claims Culture Minister Arystanbek Mukhamediyuly pulled financing after demanding, but not receiving, a kickback.
Mukhamediyuly responded to the accusations by filing a libel suit in an Astana court. The court ruled that Zhanybekov had failed to provide evidence for his claims and fined him 1 million tenge ($3,200).
Which is when the story took a strange turn.
In the first half of October, a former student of the Kazakhstan National Academy of Arts (KazNAI), posted a YouTube video alleging that Mukhamediyuly, who was previously rector of her academy, had made sexual advances. Mukhamediyuly adamantly rejected the allegations and suggested that Zhanybekov had engineered the story as part of a smear campaign.
All this background makes the sudden discovery that Zhanybekov might have been stealing state money all along most convenient. The executive producer of Phoenix, Nataliya Yudina, has reportedly also been arrested.
The capital of Tajikistan has been plunged into darkness by an unexpected electricity blackout — an embarrassing crisis only one day before the start of major work on an important hydropower dam.
Residents in Dushanbe said the electricity gave out at after 6:30 pm on October 28 and had still not returned by nightfall. Scheduled blackouts are a common occurrence in Tajikistan, although mostly in the regions and at the height of winter, but this appears to be an unplanned event.
President Emomali Rahmon is due on October 29 to oversee a ceremony marking the start of work on stemming the flow of the Vakhsh River as part of construction work on the Rogun mega-dam. It is unclear if the outage is in any way related to preparations for that event.
Russian state-run news agency Sputnik cited unnamed sources as saying the blackout affects 90 percent of the country and that two possible causes are being considered.
“The first is that the authorities have decided to insure themselves during the stemming of the Vakhsh, while they were carrying out explosions. The issue there is to do with building work on Rogun. The second version is more plausible — that there has been an accident on the LEP-500 power line, which provides electricity to most of the country,” the agency reported.
Officials neither gave any advance warning of the blackout nor offered any explanation afterward.
The lack of information has already begun giving rise to rumors and speculation, largely along the lines proposed by Sputnik. But some commenters on social media have even alluded to reports of a blackout in the Pamirs, which is normally relatively immune to such electricity failure as it is fed by the Agha Khan Fund-run Pamir Energy power producer. Others on social media denied the reports about the Pamirs.
The trial in Kazakhstan of a man accused of embarking on a shooting spree in the business capital, Almaty, is approaching its end amid calls for him to face the death penalty.
Ruslan Kulekbayev freely admits to killing eight policemen and two civilians during his rampage on July 18 and has told the court he has no regrets. The motivation for the attack, Kulekbayev told the court, stemmed from his perception that police were mistreating devout Muslims.
“Your husbands and brothers were persecuting and tormenting my Muslim brothers. They unjustly judged them. They too took people away from their families. That is why I did this,” Kulekbayev said in a final statement to the court.
He was similarly unfazed by the prospect of death, although technically that penalty is prohibited by moratorium in Kazakhstan.
“You can sentence me to life in prison, you can sentence me to death, I am prepared to accept anything. I would just say this: even the life of a fly, if it pleases Allah, is valuable to me. Everything else, well… I do not recognize your judgment, the highest justice can only be dispensed by Allah,” Kulekbayev said.
Another five accomplices also on trial did not face charges connected to the mass shooting, but were accused of planning to rob a businessman together with Kulekbayev. The prosecution has asked those defendants to receive jail terms of between three and 12 years.
A verdict is due on November 2.
As suggested by the remarks above, Kulekbayev’s behavior was contemptuous throughout the trial. He always appeared relaxed and occasionally laughed into the cameras. The trial was open to journalists, although they were only able to following proceedings by video feed from an adjacent room.
It was with immense grief that I heard that my mentor and PhD advisor, Professor Edward Allworth, passed away last week in New York at the grand and befitting age of 95.
As one of his last Master’s and then PhD students at Columbia University in the mid-1990s, I benefitted from six years of his tutorship, wisdom, compassion, intellectual rigor, high aspirations and expectations. He groomed us as cultural historians of a region – Central Asia – which he had discovered and loved since his own youth.
Professor Allworth always defended cultural history during the Cold War when the tendency was to study strategy and weapons, as well as during the post-Soviet period, when the focus was on democracy building and economic transition models. When the Central Asian countries gained independence in the early 1990s, while some students dropped out of the PhD track to follow the appeal of rapid lucrative employment in oil companies, governments and radio stations beaming propaganda to the region, he kept a handful of us at bay and steeped us in the writings of the early 20th century reformist writer Abdalrauf Fitrat, and the study of Chagatay, the 15th century pre-Uzbek language.
Uzbekistan’s acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev has ratified the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 87, formally recognizing freedoms of association and the protection of the right to organize.
Tashkent’s prior resistance to adopting the convention has been linked to repressive practices in the country’s cotton industry, which involves the forcible annual mobilization of state workers for weeks of grueling labor in the fields during harvest season.
On the face of it, Uzbekistan adoption of this international standard fits into Tashkent’s ongoing charm offensive following the death of President Islam Karimov in September. The government has been working hard in recent years to persuade the international community that it is attempting to address some of its more unsavory practices.
Still, the significance of a largely bureaucratic move should not be overstated before results are seen and Karimov’s passing was likely only incidental to the development. Uzbekistan’s adoption of Convention No. 87 has been a few years in arriving. Tashkent signed a memorandum of understanding with the ILO in April 2014 committing it in principle to ratification this year.
In July, even prior to Karimov’s death, Mirziyoyev told a government meeting that during this year’s cotton harvest campaign, no school or university students were to be sent out into the fields. The remarks were intended in part to salve the concerns of the ILO, which is now implementing a inspection regime designed to detect abuses. But there is strong evidence to suggest that despite those exhortations, many students were press-ganged into cotton-picking all the same.
The son of Tajikistan’s leader, a 29-year old sometimes touted as a possible successor to the presidency, has announced he has completed a sociological survey on corruption.
As head of the state anticorruption agency, Rustam Emomali was ideally positioned to undertake the task, although the news is likely to have provoked raised eyebrows all the same.
As it happens, many in Tajikistan firmly believe it is the ruling family and their associates that are largely to blame for the rampant bribery, although no comprehensive and independent polling has been done to measure those moods. Tajikistan ranked joint 136th out 165 countries in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index — the same as Nigeria and 17 position below Russia.
Emomali spoke about the research while providing an update on October 27 to his father, President Emomali Rahmon, on his agency’s effort to combat graft over the past year. The aim of the study was to understand the exact causes of corruption and determine public attitudes toward the problem by putting questions to around 88,000 residents, Emomali said.
Ozodagon website cited Emomali as saying that respondents queried stated they most often confronted corruption in the healthcare and education sectors and while securing services at the birth and marriages registry office.
More than half the people that participated in the survey said some of the most corrupt state organizations in Tajikistan also include the prosecutor’s office, the customs service, national security bodies, the judiciary, and the Interior Ministry.