Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, Analyst, May 2008, By Sergey Medrea (05/14/2008 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Link: http://www.cacianalyst.org/?q=node/4861


On April 28, Mahmadsaid Ubaidullaev, mayor of Dushabe, made a public appeal to the nation, particularly to heads and employees of all types of economic organizations, to transfer 50 percent of their monthly salary in May and June to the construction of the large-scale Rogun hydroelectric station. Ubaidullaev's initiative is a response to earlier calls, by the president, for wide community participation in completion of Rogun. By rough estimates, economically active strata of the population could contribute more than $10 million to the construction of the hydroelectric station, which would  be a significant step toward the energy independence of Tajikistan. Authorities claim the accumulation of public funds and its further spending will be realized in accordance with special decisions of city authorities and under the close scrutiny of public committees and civil society.

“This [to make a donation] is a duty of every citizen of the country. Whether it is fulfilled or not will depend on the sense of patriotism of every citizen,” commented Shavkat Saidov, spokesman for the mayor. Although making monetary contributions has a voluntary nature, knowing the system of interrelations between state officials and higher authorities, it is very likely that people will be pressured by local officials, managers and superiors to make a contribution. That would provide them with a good image and possibly promotion, or in some cases of poor performance, dismissal from the office. “In our country, voluntary is often regarded as compulsory,” said Bahrom Azizov, a local economist. Many university and school students work on cotton fields in voluntary programs that amount to threats of expulsion from the institutions they attend in case of disobedience. Given such analogies, there is a growing fear among the working population that authorities interpret the appeal literally and that people will have to give away their salaries.

While experts express their deep pessimism as to the success of the public contribution initiative, others hold that it ought to be organized differently. Local experts suggest the collection would be more productive if people would be contributing not on a voluntary basis, but as joint owners of the hydroelectric station, and investing in exchange for government bonds. Moreover, it is necessary to make an estimate of the expenditure for the Rogun project and make that official, so that people contributing will know exactly what they are contributing to and how much they will gain from the investment. However, such information is not available yet, and things are far from transparent. In addition, the public has very little trust in the government, especially concerning financial issues. Hence, it seems that very few will be willing to voluntarily contribute to the construction of the hydroelectric station.

In a similar experience, the government collected funds from the population for the construction of the Sangtuda hydroelectric station. People were asked to contribute in exchange of special promissory notes and state bonds. At the time, people worked one and sometimes several months for free; instead of a salary they received bond stocks, which were supposed to bring dividends once the station started working. In the upshot, the Sangtuda construction stopped and only several years later was it re-started, though not by the government, but by Russian and Iranian investors. The Government never explained how the public money was spent and the state bonds were either sold for a worthless price to separate individuals or just thrown away. Either way, it left people feeling both deceived and disappointed.

Many people in Tajikistan are still recovering from the severe winter energy crises; some, especially in the provinces and especially throughout the Soghd region, are still experiencing regular electricity and water cuts; all of them are thus unable to restart their businesses and earn the necessary reserves for the coming winter. According to the prognoses of UN food programs, Tajikistan may soon face a food shortage. The abnormally cold winter contributed to the worsening of the situation with food stocks, when many livestock died and hundreds of hectares of winter crops got frozen. Spring did not come as a relief; instead, an invasion of locusts in the south of the country destroyed a lot of sown areas and aggravated yet more the distress of the people. Usually, in May, the prices of agricultural goods go down, but, this year, things just keep getting more expensive. Finally, more than anything else, the worldwide growth of costs of food (60% of which Tajikistan imports from neighboring countries) makes the situation critical.

President Emomali Rahmon, in his last speech, in mid-April, urged people “to roll up their sleeves and tighten belts even harder,” on mobilization of the yet unused resources of the country. Throughout the address, the issues of economy and energy received special attention, with no word being said on new projects for relieving the situation. As it seems, at the moment when the whole nation is struggling to make ends meet, asking for voluntary financial contributions may be more than improper and politically incorrect.