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By Shakar Saadi
TASHKENT – Uzbekistan has resolved to fight corruption in 2011.
In his Constitution Day address to the nation December 8, Uzbek President Islam Karimov called corruption the state’s number-one enemy, adding “the time has come to fully uproot these unlawful practises.”
Nine days later, Karimov dismissed Samarkand Oblast Governor Uktam Barnoyev, citing his complicity in corruption as a major reason.
Soon afterward, the Foreign Economic Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office (corruption division) was told “to start working in that direction without delay,” Khoidar Dzhamshudov of the department said.
“For 2011 there are plans for a series of operations and measures to uproot corruption,” he said. “If, until recently, corruption was fought at the lower levels of government, now we may expect really serious change.”
Commission will review performance this year
An ad hoc commission will review the performance of government bodies this year, and hotlines for reporting corruption will open, Dzhamshudov said.
Political scientist Khatam Makhkamov sees the acknowledgment of widespread corruption as the first step on the road toward eradication.
“It’s still too early to speak about uprooting corruption, which is in full bloom in Uzbekistan – rather, one may speak of the first steps to fight it,” Makhkamov said.
But the task will be difficult.
That is exactly how Uzbekistan plans to tackle the problem, Dzhamshudov said. “The latest international indices of corruption caused us to sit down and think hard.”
Transparency International rated Uzbekistan low
For 2010, Transparency International ranked Uzbekistan 172nd in its Corruption Perceptions Index. Only Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma and Somalia fared worse.
Since 2001, the government has established special anti-corruption units under the Prosecutor General’s Office, National Security Service and Ministry of the Interior, Deputy Prosecutor General Alisher Sharofutdinov said.
This year, special commissions within those units will examine government agencies and institutions for potential corruption, he said.
The phenomenon is not new to the public.
“We need to propagandize the people that this is wrong. That’s why we’ve ordered a series of public service announcements to be shown on TV, telling people they must fight corruption.”
One can hope to enrol a child in a kindergarten, college or university only by offering a bribe, Mirkomil Aripov of Tashkent said.
“The amounts keep growing with the child,” he said. “Getting my son admitted to kindergarten cost me US $100; my other son to college, US $400; and my daughter to university, US $2,000.”
“That’s why we’ll act very resolutely in 2011: anyone receiving a bribe will either be fired or go to jail,” Dzhamshudov said.
Corruption is the chief enemy of small- and medium-sized businesses. The number of documents and inspections required to register and run a private business has decreased by two-thirds since 2001, with 12 such procedures cancelled. This year, document-processing requirements will become even simpler, Dzhamshudov said.
“Ten years ago, I might have people come to my office to carry out an unannounced inspection, which ended in their demanding a sum of money from me,” Tashkent-based entrepreneur Sayidakmal Sayidazizkhonov said. “Today, the number of such inspections is restricted under the law.” Uzbekistan joined the U.N. Convention against Corruption in 2008, and in 2009 it began drafting a National Plan of Action to Combat Corruption, a work in progress.
Laws proposed to thwart corruption
In endorsing the UN Convention, the country must redouble its efforts to thwart corruption, Legislative Assembly Deputy Speaker Ulugbek Vafayev said.
To topple bureaucratic barriers and uproot corruption, the People’s Democratic Party has proposed a law “On Public Monitoring of Measures to Enforce the Law and Other Government Decisions,” and amendments to the laws “On Local Governments,” “On Non-Governmental Non-Profit Organisations,” “On Public Associations” and “On People’s Self-Government Bodies.”
The Adolat Social-Democratic Party has suggested broader use of e-government project facilities to promote the dialogue between the government and society.
“That project will enable people to directly contact government officials, who in turn will be required to quickly respond to existing problems,” Adolat parliamentary faction leader Ismail Sayifnazarov said.