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By Shukur Azimov and Muhiddin Kazymov
TASHKENT – Uzbekistan is making visible moves to step up democratisation as it wages an internal war on corruption.
“Things have improved lately,” Tashkent resident Tamir Ismanov said.
People can see it in government. In February the government dismissed Bulakbashi District (Andijan Oblast) Governor Marufjon Rahimov and Tashkent Mayor Abdukakhkhor Tukhtayev on charges of corruption.
“I like that the authorities ... are talking about them publicly,” Ismanov said of the high-profile nature of the dismissals. “If they punish the bribe-taker, then it means other officials will be afraid to take bribes.”
People can see it in the media. Several state-run newspapers have published articles on the country’s need for democratic development, the very topic the Uzbek parliament debated February 15.
“Second of all, I myself have noticed this when I visit various institutions.” Ismanov said. “Corruption is shrinking.”
Schools offer evidence of that, where traditions are being looked at in a more critical light.
“March 8 (Women’s Day) is coming, and the students always give teachers gifts on Teacher’s Day and on March 8. (The principal) brought us together and said we were not to take ... any gifts from the children. She said ... anyone who takes one will be fired.” Kamalya V., a history teacher from Fergana, said.
In February, Uzbek media covered Rahimov’s firing. Authorities caught him taking a $2,000 bribe.
“Before that, everyone was talking about the Samarkand Oblast governor (khokim)’s dismissal for the same reason,” said independent political analyst Samir Insonov. “... It seems that our country actually became concerned about corruption.”
In recent years Uzbekistan has strengthened oversight of budget spending and measures to fight corruption, foreign-based Uzbek political analyst Tashpulat Yuldashev said.
“Quite a few influential offenders – including mayors, prosecutors and police officers – started being arraigned,” he said.
Khoidar Dzhamshudov of the Office for the Fight against Corruption under the Prosecutor General’s Foreign Trade Department sees nothing surprising in the recent events.
“Countering corruption is one of the main obligations of any normal government,” Dzhamshudov said. “On top of that, President (Islam) Karimov declared the fight against corruption a priority.”
The state has heightened its monitoring of schools, hospitals and other institutions where bribe-taking is common, Dzhamshudov said.
These measures are tied to foreign policy, since Karimov wants to foster an attractive foreign investment climate, economist Alisher Taksanov said.
Alongside its anti-corruption campaign, Uzbekistan began talking about the importance of democratisation in February, Insonov said. “You’ll agree this is quite amazing for Uzbekistan. A number of state-run media outlets, including the website for the Uzbekistan National News Agency, published articles on democratisation and the media. Moreover, on February 15, parliament discussed priority measures for democratic reform.”
Karimov himself made those measures a priority, an anonymous source in the presidential administration said. However, the source declined to comment on the reason behind the initiative. “I could only take a guess ... but I don’t want to speculate without basis.”
Foreign events played a role, Insonov said, pointing to the upheavals in the Arab world.