Tajikistan starts $1.4 bln hydro plant share sale




January 6, 2010, Olzhas Auyezov



DUSHANBE, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Tajikistan, the poorest nation in Central Asia, began selling shares in a giant hydroelectric power plant on Wednesday in an effort to raise $1.4 billion from its people amid one of the worst economic slumps in decades.

Some Tajiks complained that they were being forced to buy the shares in the plant and that state employers were docking their meagre wages at source.

A mostly Muslim nation north of
Afghanistan, Tajikistan hopes the new Rogun plant will solve the country's chronic lack of energy by nearly doubling domestic electricity output.

The cash-strapped government is unable to finance the plant, which will include the world's highest dam, so it has decided to raise funds by selling shares directly to the Tajik public, who earn an average of $70 a month.

"When I got my December pay it was 200 somoni ($46) less," said Farishta, a worker at one state-run industrial enterprise. "My monthly pay is just 500 somoni and I have lost almost half of it."

State television showed musicians in national costumes greeting potential shareholders who were queueing up at offices of the state savings bank to buy shares.

Nurullo, another Tajik who asked to be identified only by his first name, said his small private company had to subscribe to some shares as well. "The tax authorities and others told us: if you don't invest in Rogun you will have serious problems," he said.

Tajikistan, previously part of the Soviet Union, has tried in the past to secure foreign financing for Rogun but all attempts failed. The country, whose economy was devastated by civil war in the 1990s, relies mostly on migrant workers' remittances and aluminium exports for its foreign currency revenues.

Gross domestic product (GDP) growth slowed to 2.7 percent year-on-year in the January-September period, compared to 7.2 percent in the same period of 2008. This year, the government expects the economy to grow by 5 percent.