WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 500, 10 July, 2007
MIXED REACTION TO TURKMEN BIRTHDAY BASH Is the president acquiescent in a
growing personality cult? By IWPR staff in Central Asia
THE COST OF PRIVATISING POWER IN KYRGYZSTAN The legal obstacles to inviting
foreign investors to complete an ambitious hydroelectric scheme have been
overcome, but plenty of questions remain about the politics and economics of
privatisation. By Jipara Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek
HIV INFECTION TRIAL OFFERS LITTLE CLOSURE Relatives of infected children
furious at suspended sentences handed down to top health managers. By Daur
Dosybiev in Almaty
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MIXED REACTION TO TURKMEN BIRTHDAY BASH
Is the president acquiescent in a growing personality cult?
By IWPR staff in Central Asia
Five months after Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov was elected president of
Turkmenistan, observers are still divided about whether he is serious about
pursuing major reforms or is about to revert to the dictatorial style of his
predecessor Saparmurat Niazov.
Lavish celebrations held around Berdymuhammedovs 50th birthday on June 28 have
left analysts concerned that a new personality cult is taking hold.
However, some local people interviewed by IWPR said the birthday celebrations
were more muted than those held in Niazovs time, so it is too early to see
Berdymuhammedov as simply a repeat version of Turkmenbashi the Leader of the
Turkmen as Niazov styled himself.
There were certainly many echoes of the old regime in evidence. Government
ministries, agencies and firms sent long telegrams in praise of the president
and held outdoor feasts in towns and villages. The newspapers were full of
letters from ordinary workers, pensioners and schoolchildren praising the
achievements of our dear president since he arrived in office.
To mark the presidents birthday, the government published a biography and the
state news agency produced a book called Elected and Empowered by the People.
The celebrations culminated with a meeting of parliament, the Mejlis, which
bestowed the Order of the Homeland on Berdymuhammedov. This decoration, which
comes in the shape of a diamond-encrusted and gold medal and gold chain, can
only be granted to presidents, and only once.
Parliament said that the award was in recognition of Berdymuhammedovs
contribution to political, economic and cultural prosperity and the
development of democracy in Turkmenistan, but perhaps significantly, also for
maintaining law and order and social stability and cohesion.
The countrys central bank also issued commemorative gold and silver coins
bearing Berdymuhammedovs image, which were produced specially by Britains
Although the celebrations must have been planned well in advance, the president
tried to distance himself from responsibility through ambivalent remarks.
As an individual and as a citizen, I feel grateful, but as head of state I
have no right to give orders on matters that concern me personally, he said.
Again, this is an uncomfortable reminder of the past. Niazov periodically
called on his people to stop praising him although this appeared to be the
one order his officials consistently disobeyed.
In another visible replication of Niazovs once-ubiquitous presence, portraits
of Berdymuhammedov have sprung up all over the place, in offices and as street
While some argue that the president could easily stop the growth of a new
personality cult, others say his entourage are mostly to blame.
Of course the court sycophants are trying to get everything back to normal, so
that everything reverts to the way it was under Turkmenbashi, said a lecturer
at Turkmenistans State University. They write books about him and hang a gold
chain around his neck.
The officials want everything to go back to the old ways - they want to bow
down and kiss the presidents hand and keep on stealing. I think the
personality cult this new one as well as the old one one is cultivated by
officials at the highest level trying to use flattery and servility to stay in
their cushy positions for as long as possible.
Some people praised the celebrations for being less over-the-top than those
that took place during Niazovs 16-year rule.
A schoolteacher in the eastern city of Turkmenabad recalled how under Niazov,
teaching staff and children were forced to turn out for national holidays at
any time of year.
In the height of summer the children would faint while in winter they froze as
they stood for hours by the side of the road holding flags and posters and
waiting for the president to drive by, he said.
On this occasion, Berdymuhammedovs birthday fell during the summer break, but
neither teachers nor children were called back to participate in official
celebrations. All that happened was that the head teacher sent a congratulatory
I think this approach to celebrating the presidents birthday is much more
sensible and human, said the teacher.
The university lecturer agreed that the general mood was beginning to be more
normal, with less of the adulation that used to accompany media coverage of
Instead of showing endless songs and dances in praise of Turkmenbashi, the
television channels have at last begun showing news thats interesting to
watch. [Russian and Kazak presidents] Putin and Nazarbaev visit our country, or
our president goes somewhere, he said.
On one occasion I couldnt believe my eyes - the deputy chairman of Siemens
was speaking on Turkmen television. I havent seen a foreigner talking on our
TV channels for at least ten years.
(Names of interviewees have been withheld out of concern for their security.)
THE COST OF PRIVATISING POWER IN KYRGYZSTAN
The legal obstacles to inviting foreign investors to complete an ambitious
hydroelectric scheme have been overcome, but plenty of questions remain about
the politics and economics of privatisation.
By Jipara Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek
With the way now open for a sell-off of major power stations in Kyrgyzstan,
some politicians are alarmed at the prospect of ceding much of the countrys
energy industry to foreign owners.
To complicate matters, the hydroelectric scheme which forms the centrepiece of
the denationalisation process two linked power stations called Kambarata-1
and -2 is only half-built, and analysts say the immense investment needed to
complete the work means it will be a long time before anyone earns a penny from
The breakthrough came on June 19, when the Kyrgyz parliament passed a bill
sanctioning allowing foreign investors to come in, take control and finish work
on the Kambarata plants. Privatisation of the countrys largest conventional
power station was also part of the package.
The scale and significance of the Kambarata project can be judged from its
anticipated generating capacity, which at six billion kilowatt hours a year
equals about half the countrys current total production of 13 billion kW/hours
But Kyrgyzstan has no pressing need to generate such massive amounts of
electricity for its own needs; its high mountains provide enough water to run
hydropower plants that produce 80 per cent of the power generated in the
country. The Kambarata scheme is instead designed to produce energy for export
to neighbouring states, and once completed is expected to more than double the
amount of power Kyrgyzstan currently sells abroad.
However attractive the project may look on paper, members of the Kyrgyz
parliament have been very reluctant to give the final go-ahead. They have
argued that the action taken on privatisation to date has been flawed, and
voiced concerns that Kyrgyzstan might lose control over its major cost-free
On May 28, faced with having to make a decision, parliament decided to hold off
for a month and continue discussing the issue. After a no vote on June 15,
President Kurmanbek Bakiev stepped in, appearing in parliament in person to
urge members to change their mind.
Addressing members on June 19, he suggested that there was no option but to
invest in the future, rather than depending on existing power stations.
The hydroelectricity sector is our principal national resource, our main
hope, he said. Nothing has been done to develop the sector. The [existing]
Toktogul plants are our only energy asset, and we have exploited them without
upgrading them or even repairing them.
Bakiev pledged that the privatisation process would be transparent from now on,
and said members of parliament would be invited to sit on the boards reviewing
To convince legislators that his government was serious, Bakiev said it would
be working with United Energy Systems, UES, of Russia and Kazakstans KazKuat
to prepare a feasibility study on Kambarata.
With some opposition members absent, parliament passed the legislation the same
HALTING PROGRESS ON PRIVATISATION
The vote may proved to have been the watershed moment in a long-drawn-out and
controversial privatisation. The government launched a denationalisation
programme for what was then a single, state-owned electricity network called
Kyrgyzenergo as long ago as 1998, after the bulk of other state-owned
industries had already passed into private hands.
As a first step, the firm was transformed into a joint-stock company, with the
state retaining a 94 per cent stake. Kyrgyzenergo was subsequently broken up
into several components, some earmarked for privatisation while others like the
national grid company were destined to remain in government hands.
Outstanding questions for the final phase of privatisation involve how exactly
the state will divest itself of the Kambarata and Bishkek plants through an
outright sale of stock in the companies (although the government will retain a
share), or some kind of concession or lease arrangement.
MANY DEPUTIES REMAIN UNHAPPY
Opponents of privatisation fear a loss of control over water resources and
electricity production. They see further scope for corruption in the
privatisation process, and warn that domestic energy prices could skyrocket if
the market is commercialised.
In an article published by the Jamestown Foundation, a United States-based
think tank, Central Asia analyst Erica Marat said the hydroelectric industry
was plagued by large-scale corruption, an issue which had become a matter for
public debate after the March 2005 revolution.
Due to elaborate pyramid schemes benefiting only a select few in the sector,
Kyrgyzstan collects only 30 per cent of payments due for its hydropower
generation, while rough estimates indicate that more than 40 million US dollars
in profit is embezzled every year, said Marat.
Legislators like Omurbek Tekebaev, a former speaker of parliament now in the
opposition, say clear rules must be laid down now to avoid storing up problems
for the future.
Five years after this law is passed, Kyrgyzstan will probably reap some
benefits, including new workplaces and industrial growth. However, in 10 or 15
years, the country could completely lose control over its water resources, he
said. Without clearly stipulated mechanisms, we cannot allow foreign or even
domestic investors to participate in the construction of such an important
During the debate, other deputies pointed to earlier energy privatisations of
the early Nineties which led to prices rising and electricity being cut off to
people who were unable to pay.
A group of deputies from the Union of Democratic Forces is to challenge the law
in Kyrgyzstans Constitutional Court, on the grounds that they dispute that a
quorum of 50 members was present in parliament the day the vote took place.
Even if privatisation goes smoothly, there are questions about the economic
assumptions underlying the Kambarata project.
First, the projected investment sums are staggering at around 2.5 billion US
dollars, the cost is more than three times the countrys annual gross domestic
Despite this, some politicians such as Almanbet Matubraimov say Kyrgyzstan
could raise the money itself. He proposes a share flotation scheme where the
Kyrgyz public would become shareholders.
Given that the money required is more than Kyrgyzstans entire current external
debt, the government clearly believes strategic investors, probably foreign,
are the only likely funders.
A second issue is that assuming someone is willing to come up with the money
and the two Kambarata plants are built, it will be a long time before investors
get their money back 30 years, according to some estimates.
Sapar Orozbakov, director of the Bishkek Center for Economic Analysis, says the
estimated cost of generating electricity at the Kambarata scheme will be far
higher than the regional market can sustain.
The World Bank has cited a figure of 8.5 or nine US cents per kilowatt-hour, a
cost that compares very unfavourably with the 1.1 cent per kW/hour that
Kyrgyzstan now charges its neighbours, he said.
The big hydroelectric schemes that neighbouring Tajikistan is planning on the
river Vakhsh look a much safer bet, since the electricity they generate is
expected to cost no more than two cents per kilowatt/hour.
The Kambarata power stations work out as uncompetitive when compared with the
Rogun plant in Tajikistan and others, said Orozbakov.
The high cost of Kambarata electricity comes down to the major investment
needed to get the plants working. The construction costs are immense and it
will take eight to ten years to complete the work a very long time, he said.
Work on the Kambarata plants began in the Soviet period when such giant
projects made sense because they benefited whole economic regions rather than
individual republics. Like the existing Toktogul power plant and associated
large reservoir, and also a number of smaller hydropower schemes, Kambarata is
located on the river Naryn, a major tributary of the Syr Darya.
The Syr Darya is one of Central Asias two great rivers, running through
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to Kazakstan, and it is a major source of irrigation
water for these three countries.
The way the Kyrgyz manage the Toktogul dam has been a major bone of contention
with the Uzbeks and Kazaks, who need large amounts of water to flow downstream
in spring and summer. By contrast, the Kyrgyz need to generate extra
electricity over the cold winter months, requiring water to be dammed up over
the summer and then released from the reservoir late in the year. This can
cause winter flooding and summer water shortages for their neighbours .
This imbalance is in theory addressed by annual agreements under which the
Uzbeks and Kazaks supply coal, oil and gas to fuel Kyrgyzstans conventional
power stations in return for water being retained in the Toktogul reservoir.
But these arrangements are often troubled for example, the deal for the
forthcoming year was due to be signed on June 15, but it did not happen. Four
days later, the monopoly power station company in Kyrgyzstan, Elektricheskie
Stantsii, issued a warning that because of the need to build up reservoir
levels to generate electricity, it might not be able to supply all the water
that its neighbours will need next year.
There have been repeated calls for a long-term regional water and energy
strategy to address the differences between electricity producers Kyrgyzstan
and Tajikistan and water consumers Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, but
this has yet to materialise.
Although the Kambarata power stations will add extra obstacles on the Naryns
course, this will not necessarily change the current pattern of water flows to
Uzbekistan and Kazakstan. The new plants will be located further up the river
from Toktogul, so the water they release will first flow down into the
reservoir, where it can be accumulated and regulated as is now the case.
REGIONAL STATES KEEN ON KYRGYZ ELECTRICITY AND WATER
The costs may be off-putting to most commercial investors, but some regional
governments may still be prepared to back the scheme for broader economic and
The cascade [of power plants] at Kambarata makes it possible to manage the
flow of water in the region, said Tajik political analyst Parviz Mullojanov.
Whoever owns them will control the whole Central Asian region.
Kyrgyzstan already exports electricity to Russia and China as well as
Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
China has a seemingly insatiable appetite for energy sources, as seen in its
interest in Central Asias oil and gas.
Russia is also interested in cheap electricity, while the Kremlin has its own
political reasons for seeking greater influence over strategic economic assets
in Kyrgyzstan. The electricity giant UES is already involved in the feasibility
study for Kambarata, while another Russian firm, Rinko Holding, submitted a
proposal to the Kyrgyz government last month for a 3.2 billion dollar package
that would include an aluminium plant and a power station to run it.
Finally, Kazakstan is not only keen on Kyrgyz electricity, but also on having
some say over seasonal water levels in the Syr Darya.
According to Orozbakov, Kazakhstans interest is quite obvious it would like
to have access to water flows control. Other countries, apparently, have purely
Political analyst Turat Akimov says that once investors start lining up to bid
for the project, there will inevitably be questions about whether existing
electricity grids are reliable and powerful enough to allow increased exports
not to mention who would pay if new transmission lines had to be laid, for
example to China or south to the Indian subcontinent.
Investors will never come in where there might be risks, added economic
commentator Bazarbay Mambetov. The risk here relates to where the electricity
generated by Kambarata-1 and -2 will go.
Although the deadlock over the privatisation law has now been broken, President
Bakiev will struggle to balance broader geopolitical interests against
continuing objections from his political opponents, especially in light of the
uncertain projections for Kambarata as a revenue-earner,
For politician Matubraimov, who would prefer to see Kambarata backed by
domestic funds, the key thing is to ensure Kyrgyzstan does not sell its vital
interests along with its assets.
Both the president and the government are in a difficult position, of course,
since they are under pressure from neighbouring states which are economically
more advanced. But we should pursue our own national interest on this matter.
Jipara Abdrakhmanova is an independent journalist in Bishkek.
HIV INFECTION TRIAL OFFERS LITTLE CLOSURE
Relatives of infected children furious at suspended sentences handed down to
top health managers.
By Daur Dosybiev in Almaty
A major trial of health professionals accused of allowing HIV-contaminated
blood to be given in transfusions to young children in Kazakstan has left the
parents of infected children angry because neither of the top officials charged
in the case will serve prison terms.
Doctors lower down the ladder feel they are being blamed for the poor
management endemic to the health sector, and say they are now afraid to carry
out medical interventions for fear of being hauled up for malpractice.
The trial, which began in early January this year, saw 21 doctors and health
service managers from the South Kazakstan region accused of professional
negligence, as well as taking bribes and misappropriating funds. Among them
were regional health chief Nursulu Tasmagambetova and Rysulbek Baykharashev,
who headed the regions committee that monitors the quality of medical
Tasmagambetova is Baykharashevs wife and the sister of Imangali Tasmagambetov,
a former prime minister who is now mayor of Almaty, Kazakstans commercial
The case unfolded last year as large numbers of children in the region suddenly
began to be diagnosed with HIV. That figure now stands at 133 people including
119 children, ten of whom have died.
The issue became a national scandal and the Kazak government sent in
investigators to establish the origin of the infection, which proved to be a
number of hospitals and health centres in and around the provincial centre,
Shymkent. The investigation led to the resignations of Health Minister Yerbolat
Dosaev and South Kazakstan regional governor Bolat Jylkishiev.
In its June 29 verdict, the court in Shymkent found that all 21 were guilty of
professional negligence and three of them also of taking bribes. Judges handed
down prison sentences of between two and eight years to 16 doctors.
However, all the officials who were charged Tasmagambetova and Baykharashev
plus three of their deputies walked free after being given suspended
sentences. Tasmagambetova has said she does not regard herself as guilty.
This decision infuriated parents and relatives of the children infected with
the HIV virus while being treated in Shymkent.
We are dissatisfied that the former health department head Tasmagambetova was
given a suspended sentence, said Sagdat Masaurov, whose grandchild was
infected and who now heads a charity called Protecting Children From AIDS.
When the verdict was delivered, some of the parents became hysterical; some
even fainted. We are angry that [they] have avoided going to prison
. We will
appeal, although we no longer hope for a fair verdict.
Doctors in Shymkent dispute the official story that the virus was spread by
reusable instruments contaminated by a small original amount of blood from an
HIV-infected child who was treated at a city hospital in 2005. Many believe all
the infections occurred from a contaminated consignment of donor blood.
The most frightening thing is that the source and channels of the HIV virus
infection have not been established, said Shokan Baimukhamedov, a doctor at
South Kazakstans regional hospital. According to the official version, there
were one or two HIV-infected doses of blood, and then doctors infected children
in several hospitals simultaneously with reusable catheters and needles. But
HIV is a very short-lived virus, and I dont believe it is possible to infect
[so many] people in this way.
Journalist Yelena Yeliseyeva, who has written extensively about the case, sees
a number of inconsistencies in the official account set out during the trial,
which holds that infection via contamination of medical instruments took place
at just three institutions at South Kazakstan regional hospital in late 2995,
and at two childrens hospitals in Shymkent in 2006.
Yeliseyeva believes that this story begins to look questionable when one
considers that several of the infected children were treated at hospitals other
than these three. She notes that during the trial, defendants complained about
the official account on the grounds that it contained inaccurate information
about where and when individual children were treated.
This account is not proof, it is conjecture - and rather arbitrary conjecture
at that to the effect that the children infected each other via medical
instruments, said Yeliseyeva.
Meanwhile, doctors in South Kazakstan feel that their colleagues have been
punished more severely than their superiors, and that the profession is being
blamed for what, in their eyes, are failings of management.
About 300 of them signed an open letter to the government and international
medical associations saying that the convicted doctors had been made the
scapegoats for everything that it is wrong with Kazakstans healthcare system.
Dr Baimukhamedov says his colleagues are now reluctant to give blood
transfusions, and many are moving away from Shymkent.
There are virtually no emergency paediatric doctors left, he said. Three are
in jail, and two more resigned when they saw how their colleagues were dealt
with. Who will treat these children now?
The head of the intensive care unit at one of the childrens hospitals named in
the official account added, I doubt Ill work in intensive care or in medicine
in general any more, although we have a serious shortage of specialists at the
At the end of last week, 80 doctors in South Kazakstan publicly handed in their
resignations as a collective protest over the way the trial was handled.
Daur Dosybiev is an independent journalist in Almaty.
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