WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 506, August 23, 2007
BOYCOTT FOR KYRGYZ DEBT FUND Attempt to encourage public-spirited citizens to
contribute funds to repay the national debt meets with a cool response. By
Jipara Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek
KYRGYZ DOCTORS SEEK BETTER LIFE ABROAD Increasing numbers of medics are
leaving for Russia and Kazakstan, reducing the quality of healthcare in their
own country. By Gulnara Mambetalieva in Bishkek
PRICE CONTROLS FOR TAJIK CAPITAL Attempts by the Dushanbe authorities to
control inflation by fixing the cost of basic goods will not work, say
analysts. By Ravshan Abdullaev and Nafisa Pisarejeva in Dushanbe
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BOYCOTT FOR KYRGYZ DEBT FUND
Attempt to encourage public-spirited citizens to contribute funds to repay the
national debt meets with a cool response.
By Jipara Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek
A Kyrgyz government initiative to pay off its massive foreign debt by asking
people to pay money into a special fund is failing largely because people
mistrust their rulers, observers say.
Analysts say that low incomes and a deep mistrust of the government are the
main reasons why most people are declining to contribute to a special
government fund, opened at the end of May to collect donations to pay off the
countrys crippling external debt.
By the start of August, only around 152,000 soms, just under 4,000 US dollars,
had been donated to the fund in total.
On July 17, at a press conference in Bishkek, the head of Kyrgyz National Bank
chairman Marat Alapaev said the special debt fund held a grand total of 5,000
soms or 132 dollars, which health ministry staff had donated out of their own
salaries. Employees of the presidents office then paid in a similar sum after
Finance Minister Akylbek Japarov urged government employees to be patriotic.
Finally, fund-raising events held by the Kyrgyz diaspora in the Russian cities
of Moscow and Samara on July 24 produced another 3,500 dollars.
Kyrgyzstans external sovereign debt stood at more than two billion dollars in
March this year. In June, the finance minister said the next three years would
be the most difficult for Kyrgyzstan in terms of servicing the debt. The
finance ministry says Kyrgyzstan has to repay the capital on its external debt
Eighty million US dollars nearly a tenth of total planned expenditures are
to be earmarked from the government budget to service the national debt,
including domestic as well as foreign obligations.
In February, public pressure forced the government to abandon plans to sign up
to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, a debt-relief programme run
by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. This could have cut
Kyrgyz debt in half in return for certain reforms.
At the time, President Kurmanbek Bakiev said that Kyrgyzstan risked losing face
by committing to this initiative, and that the country was capable of solving
its debt problem by itself.
Alikbek Jekshenkulov, a former foreign minister and current head of the
International Agency on Development and Policy, insists the voluntary scheme
for collecting donations will create a sense of national unity and purpose.
It will help raise spirits and unite the nation, he said. I am confident
that each citizen of Kyrgyzstan will do their bit and contribute what they can
to reducing the external debt burden.
But a recent opinion poll by the Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg revealed that more
than 60 per cent of respondents believed it is up to the government which
incurred the debt in the first place to repay it.
Tashimir Aytbaev, board chairman of the industrial bank Promstroybank, said the
lack of transparency and accountability in government discouraged people from
handing over their cash.
People need to know that the money is going to repay the debt, and not into
someones pocket, he said.
Ruslan Turbatov, head of the Foundation for International Community Assistance,
which runs micro-credit schemes, said people felt no personal obligation to pay
off the debt.
The lack of communication between state institutions and the public, the
absence of a transparent and trustworthy accounting system, and the high level
of corruption have led to a situation where the overwhelming majority of
citizens is in grave doubt that the funds received from external sources have
been used appropriately, he said.
Living standards are poor in Kyrgyzstan, and the average monthly wage is less
than 100 dollars.
Turbatov said that with such low salaries, it was unrealistic to expect people
to club together and pay off the national debt.
Abdygany Erkebaev, a former speaker of the Kyrgyz parliament, argued that those
officials who mishandled the countrys finances and got the country into debt
should be held accountable for the foreign debt problem.
To date the authorities have not told us who took out the loans, when and
under what terms, he said. Why are we collecting money while those who
accrued these debts again duck out of it?
Hadzhimurat Korkmazov, chairman of the parliamentary committee concerned with
anti-corruption measures, also believes that those who took, misused. spent or
embezzled the loans must be punished. They should repay misused loan funds.
There has been no shortage of suggestions for raising repayment funds or
simply not paying the loans back. One member of parliament has said a threat to
start growing opium poppies might make Kyrgyzstans international creditors
relent, while another thought the present government could legitimately renege
on its debt commitments since it was the product of a revolution the popular
revolt of March 2005 which ousted the then president Askar Akayev.
More practical suggestions for finding money to make the debt repayments range
from issuing government securities to tightening up budget management.
Finance Minister Japarov has announced a new issue of special bonds, which will
pay no interest to the holder so that the proceeds can be used to pay off the
Banker Aytbaev, on the other hand, says that the government must ensure
economic growth, especially production, and thus increase its own tax and other
revenues. Then it will be in a position to make special assignments from the
budget for sovereign debt repayment.
Turbatov calls in addition for measures to bring the presently massive grey
economy out of the shadows, so that the government can tax these businesses.
We cannot count on a significant increase in economic growth rates, and hence
external debt repayment, as long as there are high levels of corruption exists
in all branches of government, and as long as the bulk of the business sector
is part of the shadow economy and evades taxes, he said.
Economist Sapar Orozbakov believes the politicians and officials who have
acquired wealth through illegal means should be stripped of their money, and
these funds assigned to debt repayment.
At the same time, Orozbakov accepts that there is no realistic quick fix for
One way of generating funds would be for Kyrgyzstan to seek the repayment of
its loans to other countries. We must mobilise our assets abroad, namely the
debt owed by Ukraine and the Baltic states, which come to around 30 million
dollars, he said.
Like Aytbaev, Orozbakov says that in the end, Kyrgyzstans ability to pay its
debt will depend on a period of sustained economic growth.
If our country is capable of generating economic growth at rates of at least
seven per cent a year, it can service its external debt without particular
difficulty. Kyrgyzstan will gradually repay its debts without a substantial
damage to economic and social development, he said. However, if current GDP
growth trend is maintained [2.7 per cent in 2006], the country will not repay
its old debts and will have to borrow more money and thus increase the size of
its total debt.
Jipara Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.
KYRGYZ DOCTORS SEEK BETTER LIFE ABROAD
Increasing numbers of medics are leaving for Russia and Kazakstan, reducing the
quality of healthcare in their own country.
By Gulnara Mambetalieva in Bishkek
The Kyrgyz ministry of health is concerned that increasing numbers of medical
staff are leaving the country in search of more lucrative work abroad, leaving
people with inadequate access to healthcare.
Doctors and nurses say low salaries in Kyrgyzstan are forcing them to seek
employment in other countries, most in Russia and Kazakstan, but increasingly
also further afield.
The governments statistical committee reports that about 1,000 doctors and
other qualified medical personnel left the country last year, and at least 600
more in the first six months of 2007.
Kasymbek Mambetov, state secretary at the Ministry of Health, said that while
emigration used to be commonest among healthcare staff in smaller towns and
rural areas, where incomes are low and conditions arduous, the trend is
increasingly affecting hospitals in the capital Bishkek.
Kadicha Omuralieva, 40, a paediatrician at a polyclinic in Bishkek, is leaving
for Moscow to start a new job.
Ive been offered a job at a Moscow polyclinic, and Ive accepted it, she
said. Many doctors from Kyrgyzstan are now leaving for Moscow and other
Russian cities because doctors get paid so little. If I had an adequate salary,
I wouldnt leave.
In Kyrgyzstan doctors rarely get paid more than 100 US dollars a month, and
many are forced to take a second job to make ends meet. By contrast, basic
salaries for doctors working in Russia are about 6,000 to 8,000 US dollars a
year. With allowances and regional weightings, that can reach 12,000 dollars.
Almaz Ryspekov, 37, now works at a polyclinic in the Siberian city of
Krasnoyarsk, having left Kyrgyzstan three years ago. He used to have to
moonlight to supplement his salary.
When I was working in Talas regional hospital as an anaesthetist, my salary
was about 1,000 soms [26 dollars a month at current rates]. At night, I would
work as a self-employed taxi-driver so as to keep my family. I have two small
children, and we didnt have enough money, he said.
That all changed when a group of Russian doctors visited the hospital on a
recruitment drive. They said wed earn 1,000 dollars [a month] and would also
get a package of social benefits. I and three other doctors agreed straight
off. Ive been working here for three years and Im not sorry I left, said
In the three years since he has been in Krasnoyarsk, he has bought a flat and a
car and can afford to make trips home to Kyrgyzstan every year.
Not everyone makes the transition so successfully. Zamirbek Sakimbaev, a
traumatologist, left for Krasnoyarsk with Ryspekov, but subsequently returned
Above all, we came back because of the climate - its very cold there.
Besides, I couldnt get along with my colleagues
. So I had to come back to
Kyrgyzstan, he said.
Recent graduates account for a high proportion of people leaving Kyrgyzstan to
work abroad, and that applies to healthcare professionals as well. The three
Kyrgyz universities that offer medical degrees produce about 1,000 graduates a
year, who must complete two years of hospital internship after their five years
Nurlan Rakhmanov, a recently-qualified dentist at a clinic in Bishkek, is
already dreaming of leaving.
Ive been working for more than a year, but now I want to leave for Russia or
Kazakstan and work there, he said. I wouldnt have left the country at any
price, but its humiliating to have such a low salary. I need to get married,
and I need to support my parents. Our government doesnt seem to care about
He added, I know that many medics have left for Russia and they are well
Juma Abdullaev, the head of the Association of Kyrgyz Diasporas in Kazakstan
and Russia, told IWPR that getting a job in Russia is fairly easy, with plenty
of job advertisements and recruitment agencies.
There are huge lists of vacancies in almost every Russian newspaper and
magazine and on the internet. Qualified doctors know where they are going and
what theyll be doing there. They will be OK, he said.
Abdullaev is concerned at the effect that the exodus of doctors will have on
Kyrgyzstan, he understands their decision to go.
I feel very sorry about it. Whos going to treat us if the doctors leave the
country? he asked. On the other hand, I do feel sorry for them too. What are
they to do if they dont have enough money to buy the bare essentials?
Health ministry official Mambetov is especially concerned at the rising trend
for doctors to leave the relative comfort of big cities like Bishkek. It is
largely because of low pay and inadequate welfare provision, he said.
One Bishkek resident told IWPR that working conditions for healthcare
professions were poor even in the capital. "My sister worked for the emergency
ambulance service. But because of a shortage of petrol, they could not answer
emergency calls - and this was happening in Bishkek, not a remote village, he
said. I know that because of the meagre salaries, many doctors left their
jobs. Two of them [from the ambulance crew] left for Russia.
Outside the main urban centres, things are many times worse. Many local
hospitals lack doctors with key specialisms. Even just outside Bishkek, the
village of Oktyabrsk has just one doctor for its 8,000 residents.
According to Mambetov, The most distant regions are the most vulnerable.
Chatkal, Toguz-Torous, Aktala and Chon-Alay family [should] have medical
centres and doctors practices but there arent actually any family doctors
there at all. Can you imagine that?
A government programme to encourage young doctors to spend at least a few years
working in rural areas has made little difference. Under the Young Doctors
Deposit scheme launched in 2006, anyone who signs up for three years gets 80
dollars a month paid into a special account, which they can only touch when
they have completed the agreed term.
The programme has proved less than popular and fewer than half the 100 places
available in 2007 were taken up.
Mambetov said that to fill the gaps, hospital managers have to ask the doctors
they have to work in specialist areas other than their own, paying them extra
wages to provide cover.
Thats how we cope with the situation, he said.
Gulnara Mambetalieva is an IWPR contributor in Kyrgyzstan
PRICE CONTROLS FOR TAJIK CAPITAL
Attempts by the Dushanbe authorities to control inflation by fixing the cost of
basic goods will not work, say analysts.
By Ravshan Abdullaev and Nafisa Pisarejeva in Dushanbe
A decision by the authorities in the Tajik capital Dushanbe to slash the cost
of basic footstuffs in an attempt to control soaring prices will not provide an
effective or lasting solution to the problem, say analysts.
In recent months, the cost of food products has risen dramatically in
Tajikistan, causing alarm to the authorities in a country where much of the
food consumed is imported and the average monthly salary is just 148 somoni, or
45 US dollars.
Tajik president Imomali Rahmon highlighted the problem at a recent government
session. In response to the rising prices, Dushanbes mayor Mahmadsaid
Ubaydullaev ordered price cuts on basic goods and a special commission is
inspecting local markets to ensure that vendors comply.
But analysts say this response has not resolved the underlying inflation
problem, and has simply forced traders to find ways of short-changing their
customers to cut their own losses.
Spiralling prices in Tajikistan mean that people spend much of their wages on
Even fruit and vegetables, which are grown locally and are traditionally cheap
and plentiful in Tajikistan, have now become expensive. Last year, a large
melon would have cost around four somoni about a dollar but now costs two
and a half times that amount.
Town dwellers are worse affected than people in rural areas, who can grow much
of their own food.
In Dushanbe, the price of beef shot up from 12 to 15 somoni (3.5 to 4.4
dollars) a kilogram over the course of July, while flour went from 55 somoni to
75 somoni a sack (from 16 to 22 dollars).
However, following the price cuts at the start of August, beef is officially
back at 12 somoni a kilo and flour has gone down slightly to 70 somoni a sack.
While other regions of Tajikistan which have also seen price rises have not yet
followed the Dushanbes lead by fixing prices, they are likely to do so if
restrictions continue in the capital for any length of time.
Bahriddin Valiev, head of the department of trade in the mayors
administration, told IWPR that price-capping had increased peoples purchasing
However, as often happens with price cuts, the effect has been to reduce
availability. In the few first days following the enforced reductions, there
was no fresh beef to be found at markets in Dushanbe. When stocks were
replenished, the meat was of poorer quality.
A market trader who gave his first name as Karim told IWPR that since prices
were lowered, he had had to skimp on quality, and now has fewer customers as a
To make a profit, I have to chop the meat so that there are more bones in it.
Otherwise, one cant survive, he said. Prices fell only for retailers -
wholesalers are still selling at high prices.
Fazliddin Umarov, an engineer living in the capital, said he initially welcomed
the news that the cost of meat was to go down, but was disappointed at the
It became cheaper but the quality is very poor. Its fit only for dogs, he
said. Previously, meat was expensive but the quality was high and one could
choose what one wanted. Id like it to cost more but be better quality.
Zinaida Gavrilova, a Dushanbe pensioner, can seldom afford to buy meat on a
pension of just 35 somoni, ten dollars, a month, and said that since prices
were slashed, she could no longer find it on sale.
Customers can quietly pay a premium if they want good-quality foodstuffs. In
the case of beef, the informal price is 15 somoni a kilo three somoni higher
than the price fixed by the authorities. Dushanbe residents say the same
applies to other food items.
The poor quality of beef has prompted Umar to buy chicken instead.
I think it will only get worse. Prices have been curbed, but things will get
worse as the Ramadan period approaches, youll see, he said.
Food prices traditionally increase in Tajikistan ahead of the Muslim fasting
month of Ramadan, which this year begins on September 13. Prices remain high
through the month as people observing the fast by day buy in food for evening
feasts and especially the celebrations that mark the end of the period.
Shokirjon Hakimov, deputy head of the Social Democratic Party, said the
decision to fix prices reflects a genuine desire on the part of the authorities
to improve peoples standard of living. But he warned that decisions imposed by
government run contrary to the rules of market economics, where prices are set
by demand and supply.
Economist Rustam Babajanov took a similar view, saying that governments in more
advanced economies use more sophisticated mechanisms to influence prices such
as tax rates. He said this did not happen in Tajikistan because neither
officials nor businesspeople had the right level of market awareness.
Another economist, Hojimuhammad Umarov, attributes recent inflationary trends
to external factors such as rising international prices of wheat and petroleum
products, which are imported mainly from Russia and Kazakhstan.
He warns that if inflation goes unchecked, people may take to the streets to
vent their frustration.
At the same time, he does not see the price-capping policy as viable beyond a
few months, and as long as it is in effect, availability and quality will
Look at the quality - even now, theyre slaughtering only the old cattle or
oxen used for ploughing. The meat tastes bad, he said. What next? They might
start selling donkey meat under the guise of beef.
Ravshan Abdullaev and Nafisa Pisarejeva are IWPR contributors in Tajikistan.
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