salvation for Kyrgyz hydropower industry, but some analysts fear country will 
lose control over its own water resources.  By Chynara Karimova and Estelle 
Erimova in Bishkek

parliament should provide job security for many who have gone for years with no 
permanent contract.  By IWPR staff in Central Asia

new rules designed to strengthen media’s voice will end up muffling criticism.  
By Daler Gufronov in Dushanbe

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Russian money could mean salvation for Kyrgyz hydropower industry, but some 
analysts fear country will lose control over its own water resources.

By Chynara Karimova and Estelle Erimova in Bishkek

Russia’s pledge to inject massive funds into the Kyrgyz power industry has 
raised hopes that the Central Asian state will one day be free of its chronic 
energy shortages. But some analysts worry that Kyrgyzstan could be giving away 
far too much management control over a crucial energy project. 

During a visit to Moscow in February, Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev signed 
a deal under which the Russian state is to invest 1.7 billion US dollars in a 
major hydroelectric scheme called Kambarata-1. 

Once completed, Kambarata-1 and the related Kambarata-2 plant, which were 
originally begun in 1986 but halted due to lack of funds, will generate 6.1 
billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. For comparison, the existing 
Toktogul scheme, which lies further downstream of Kambarata on the Naryn river, 
accounts for up to 90 per cent of total power generation in Kyrgyzstan, around 
15 billion Kw/hours annually. 

The Kambarata scheme is intended to produce enough energy to give Kyrgyzstan a 
surplus and turn it into a major exporter of electricity. 

The money for the dam project is only part of a larger package that includes a 
300-million-dollar loan to support the Kyrgyz government’s budget, additional 
financial assistance worth 150 million dollars and a write-off of 193 million 
dollars in sovereign debt, granted in exchange for a 48 per cent stake in a 
defence plant producing components for torpedoes. 

Speaking on February 5, two days after the deal was signed, Kyrgyz prime 
minister Igor Chudinov said the investment would be assigned to a 
soon-to-be-created entity owned equally by Inter Rao UES (United Energy Systems 
of Russia) and the Kyrgyz state-owned Elektricheskie Stantsii. 

Kubanychbek Isabekov, the deputy speaker of Kyrgyzstan’s parliament, welcomed 
the deal as a much-needed windfall at a time when the country is suffering 
economic problems. 

“We could never have dreamed of getting two billion [dollars; total financial 
package] during the global financial crisis. New jobs will be created and tax 
revenue earned.” 

Once completed, he added, Kambarata-1 will transform the country into a major 
regional player. “Kyrgyzstan will acquire strategic leverage on water issues,” 
he said. 

According to Kyrgyz finance minister Marat Sultanov, the Russians, too, have 
much at stake in the deal. Some of the surplus electricity generated by 
Kambarata-1 can be exported to Russia, and Inter RAO UES will earn income from 
all sales. 

Given that in the long term, Russia’s vast oil and gas reserves will begin to 
wane, Sultanov said, “By supporting Kyrgyzstan, Russia is helping itself.” 

Some analysts are concerned both by the terms of the deal and its viability. 

Ernest Karybekov, who heads the Bishkek-based Institute for Water Usage and 
Resources Study, said Moscow’s role was ambiguous since it owns, through the 
UES firm, half of the company to which it is giving money. Further, he says, 
“It needs to be clarified whether the 1.7 billion dollars is a loan or an 

As Karybekov noted, the terms under which the money is provided remain unclear. 
Most sources have described it as investment, but a Kyrgyz foreign ministry 
source told IWPR that this might not be the case. 

“No one really possesses accurate information about the agreement, and that’s 
why there are various interpretations of it. Everyone is discussing it 
sagaciously but avoiding the most important question – whether it’s a loan or 
investment. As far as I know that question remains open for the moment,” said 
the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I would say the money Russia 
has granted us is a loan because we are going to have to pay interest on it, 
which wouldn’t be the case if it were an investment.” 

Some politicians and analysts warn that the arrangements for the joint 
Kambarata company leave scope for ownership to slip away from Kyrgyzstan 

Muratbek Juraev, a member of parliament representing the opposition Social 
Democratic Party, says there is nothing to stop the authorities selling of the 
state’s 50 per cent share later on, after which the stock might find its way 
into Russian hands. 

Economist Jyldyz Sarybaeva pointed to potential pitfalls in the management 
structure of the joint company. The firm is to be governed by a board of five 
directors where Russian representatives will outnumber those from Kyrgyzstan 
three to two. The balance on the executive management team will be the other 
way round. 

The Kyrgyz prime minister has insisted there will be no conflict between these 
two bodies. The board of directors has the authority to veto decisions taken by 
the managers, but Chudinov said what was important was that the latter was 
dominated by Kyrgyzstan nationals, as its role includes holding tenders to 
contract out work. 

Sarybaeva, however, says that under Kyrgyz law it is the board of directors 
that counts, and there was a risk that “when the big decisions are taken, it 
does not take Kyrgyzstan’s interests into account”. 

Other objections to Russian involvement in the hydroelectric project concern 
the wider regional context. 

Kyrgyzstan’s large neighbour Uzbekistan lies downstream on the Syr Darya, the 
major waterway of which the Naryn is a major tributary. 

In recent years, the Uzbeks have consistently opposed Kyrgyz dam projects and 
similar ones on the Amu Darya in Tajikistan. Based on the experience of 
existing hydroelectric schemes such as the Toktogul dam that also lies on the 
Naryn, they fear that further restrictions to the natural water flow will 
dangerously reduce river levels, and deprive them of vital irrigation in summer 
as the Kyrgyz and Tajiks store up water to generate power over the winter. 

Until recently, the Russian government appeared to favour support for Tajik and 
Kyrgyz dam projects over Uzbekistan’s interests. In January, however, President 
Dmitry Medvedov said during a trip to Tashkent that Russian-led projects to 
build hydroelectric power stations in the region would take into account the 
interests of all Central Asian states, not just the beneficiary countries. 
Analysts argued that wider concerns over Tashkent’s ambitions to rebuild ties 
with the West – frozen after the Andijan violence of 2005 – had led Moscow to 
become more sensitive to Uzbek concerns about energy and water issues. (See 
Russian Leader Tries to Keep Uzbeks on Side , RCA No. 564, 30-Jan-09.) 

According to Bishkek-based political analyst Valentin Bogatyrev, Russia’s 
apparent shift in position suggests it is a bad idea for Kyrgyzstan to place 
the Kambarata project in Russian hands. 

“If the aim is to delay the process, the project might take five or six years. 
In the meantime everyone will be happy – the Kyrgyz authorities [since the 
project is formally under way], the Uzbeks and the Russians,” he said. “It 
would have been preferable not to hand over control of Kyrgyz energy resources 
to any one government, regardless of which country it is, Russia, the United 
States, Kazakstan or China.” 
Experts differ on just how important Kambarata is in the sequence of hydropower 
schemes that affect water flows along the Syr Darya and hence to Uzbekistan. 

“It is the Toktogul power station [downstream of Kambarata] that will regulate 
water distribution in the region for many years to come,” said energy expert 
Raimbek Mamyrov. “The important thing is that it remains in our hands.” 

Juraev disagreed, saying, “Kambarata-1 will be built close to the source of the 
Naryn…. It’s even possible that Toktogul [reservoir] will be left without an 
inflow of water.”. 

Karybekov said it was unlikely that the two Kambarata stations, once completed, 
would affect flows into the Toktogul reservoir, but said it was essential that 
the details of how the various schemes will operate were discussed and agreed 
by the Central Asian governments involved, and ratified by their parliaments. 

Chynara Karimova and Estelle Erimova are pseudonyms for reporters working in 


Changes about to go before parliament should provide job security for many who 
have gone for years with no permanent contract.

By IWPR staff in Central Asia

People in Turkmenistan are eagerly awaiting changes to the law limiting the 
widespread practice of hiring employees on short-term contracts that leave them 
vulnerable to summary dismissal.

A source in the Turkmen parliament has confirmed that a revised version of the 
labour code is ready for approval. 

He explained that the amendments will limit the use of short-term contracts in 
the public sector to certain categories of civil servant, while all others have 
to be offered permanent posts.

“The new labour code will protect the interests of employees,” said a human 
rights activist who wished to remain anonymous. “We are looking forward to it.”

The new legislation should put an end to the widespread practice in both the 
public and private sectors of keeping the number of full-time staff to a 
minimum. Employers have had a lot of incentives for doing so – short-term 
contracts work out cheaper, and temporary staff are more compliant out of fear 
of not having their contracts renewed. 

It has been common practice to force staff member originally employed on 
permanent basis to switch to short-term contracts. In addition, unscrupulous 
employers have been known to throw a staff member out and then offer the 
position to someone willing to pay bribe to get the job.

It is unclear whether private-sector firms like construction businesses, which 
are by nature seasonal, will be required to offer continuing contracts. But 
private employers do have one major advantage over the state in that they pay 
more, which may offset their workers’ concerns about job security.

Other new provisions in the labour law include longer annual leave for some 
employers, and the facility to transfer benefit payments to a wider circle of 
relative if a family’s provider dies.

The existing labour law, which dates from 1993, provides for permanent and 
short-term posts. The former includes benefits such as three months’ redundancy 
pay and a two-month notice period. 

Short-term contracts are supposed to apply to temporary posts lasting a maximum 
of three years, but in practice they have been used for continuing positions, 
by renewing them periodically. Since the 1993 law did not set any minimum 
period, many employers have offered contracts lasting between one and six 
months, with one year a rarity.

A lawyer working with a local non-government group said there were no clear 
guidelines governing temporary contracts and many employers interpreted them at 
their own discretion. He said his organisation received many requests for help, 
but was unable to do much because of the ambiguity of the current law.

“Lawyers from our organisation are unable to protect people from arbitrary 
rules made up by managers, and this is a situation which has existed since 
1993,” he said.

According to a commentator based in northern Turkmenistan, the legislation has 
allowed managers to exploit their staff ruthlessly, for example making them 
work ten or 12 hours without a break, work over the weekend and holidays for no 
extra pay, and sending them off to pick cotton for a couple of months in the 
year during harvest season.

Any complaints are dealt with by terminating the employee’s contract. 

“The current contactual system has become a legalised form of summary rule by 
management,” said a gas industry official.

An analyst based in the capital Ashgabat summed up the situation as “true 
slavery and dependence on one’s employer”. 

The lack of job security is demoralising for professionals and manual workers 

“The current conditions leave us all without any rights,” said a doctor in 
Ashgabat. “The imperfect nature of the contractual system means it’s easy to 
sack people for the smallest of misdemeanours.”

A welfare ministry employee added, “The anxiety created by constant uncertainty 
has made for a demoralising atmosphere in companies and organisations. How can 
you work under circumstances where you’re constantly on your guard, where you 
can lose your job just for a minor reprimand?” 

A street cleaner said she was always in fear of losing her job as she had been 
on one- or two-month contracts for the last several years.

“It’s a headache every time – are they going to extend my contract or not? I 
can hardly hold back from speaking out about this iniquity,” she said. 

An employee at Turkmenistan’s state broadcasting company said she and her 
colleagues – some of whom used to be permanent – get their contracts renewed 
every three months. 

She believes managers play the system to vacate posts and then demand bribes 
from applicants. 

“Management benefits from pushing people out of their jobs in this way,” she 
said. “If you want to become a video engineer, for example, you pay a bribe of 
750 dollars.”

In other cases, the temporary nature of employment allows people to be 
dismissed if they are deemed to be not entirely loyal to the regime. In one 
case, the editor of a state newspaper reportedly terminated several of his 
staff’s contracts because the security service had identified them as 
politically “unreliable”. 

Since coming to power two years ago, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov has 
instituted a number of social-sector reforms, of which this is the latest. 
Judging from the responses of people interviewed for this report, the move – if 
it is formally approved – will be a popular one.

(The names of interviewees have been withheld out of concerns for their 


Some fear that new rules designed to strengthen media’s voice will end up 
muffling criticism.

By Daler Gufronov in Dushanbe

Journalists in Tajikistan welcomed a presidential decree last month obliging 
officials to respond to media criticism of their actions. 

But some in the media community are voicing concern that the measure will have 
the opposite effect, making journalists fearful of saying anything that might 
embarrass officials and prompt them to retaliate.

The decree, signed by President Imomali Rahmon on February 7, requires cabinet 
ministers and the heads of government agencies, state enterprises and 
institutions, and local government bodies to take “immediate and specific 
measures” in response to complaints about them printed in the media. 

Officials who are criticised in the media must respond to any complaints about 
them, and then inform both the president’s office and the media outlet 
concerned of any remedial action they have taken, within a set period of time.

A high-ranking official from the presidential administration has been appointed 
to monitor the way the new rules are put into practice.

Rahmon’s decree reinforces existing legislation on handling complaints from the 
public, which specifies that these must be dealt with within a month if an 
investigation is required, or two weeks if none is necessary.

At a roundtable with media representatives following the announcement of the 
presidential order, the head of Rahmonov’s information department Saidali 
Siddikov said officials who failed to respond would be answerable under the 
existing law, although he did not say what penalties would be applied. 

Many hope the new requirements placed on officials will lead to greater 
accountability in government.

“It’s very good that all officials have been placed under an obligation to pay 
attention to critical articles in the Tajik media, to react to them, and to 
take action and fix things where necessary,” Umid Babakhanov, the head of the 
Asia Plus media group, told IWPR. 

“On the other hand, it naturally places a greater responsibility on us 
journalists [to get things right]. This decree doesn’t open the way to 
unbridled abuse or unfounded criticism of every single official.”

The presidential order urges journalists to ensure their reporting is accurate, 
and as Babakhonov and others note, the media themselves will be under greater 
scrutiny than ever before.

Political analyst Abdullo Rahnamo praised the initiative as an acknowledgement 
of the influence the media could exert. But he added that the fact a 
presidential decree was needed to force officials to respond to criticism was a 
sign that this influence was currently limited.

In other countries, he said, officials sometimes resign after the media uncover 
wrongdoing. This is currently inconceivable in Tajikistan, since many officials 
simply do not take the media seriously.

Some journalists and media-watchers are concerned that officials might seek to 
launch preemptive attacks on their critics by seeking prosecutions under libel 
legislation. Such prosecutions have always taken place, but the tendency could 
be exacerbated now that officials are to be put on the spot.

Tajikistan continues to list defamation as an offence under criminal law as 
well as making it actionable under the civil code, meaning that anyone found 
guilty can face up to two years in jail or a fine of up to 17,000 US dollars. 
Libel is covered by two articles in the Criminal Code relating to the 
dissemination of malicious and false information and to reputational damage. 

In addition, Tajik law contains separate provisions that deal more seriously 
with the defamation of senior officials. A conviction for libelling the 
president in the media can lead to a five-year sentence or a hefty fine, while 
anyone who insults a government official in a public manner can find themselves 
paying a fine of 34,000 dollars or spending two years in jail.

Khurshed Atovulloev, the head of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, said 
officials – especially in local government and in the security services – are 
highly sensitive to criticism and quick to push for legal action. 

“I think that in many cases local authorities, the police, the interior 
ministry and the security service will react to criticism of their work in 
bringing libel charges under the Criminal Code,” he said. “As long as these 
articles exist in the criminal code, they will be used to bring criminal cases 
against the media for critical reporting.”

The head of the National Association of Independent Media in Tajikistan, 
Nuriddin Karshiboev, agreed that current libel laws would reduce the chances of 
the new decree being a success.

“As long as libel remains a criminal offence, this decree will lead to more 
legal cases against media outlets and journalists, and will have a negative 
impact on freedom of expression,” he said. 

Karshiboev explained that it was much harder to contest libel in the criminal 
courts than in a civil case, because the defendant is up against the full 
weight of the state.

“Of course, legal cases in civilised countries are a normal occurrence, but 
under a criminal prosecution… the burden of truth becomes more difficult,” he 

The effect of the new decree might be to curb rather than encourage frank 
reporting, as journalists might think twice before writing a critical article 
that goads an official into seeking a prosecution. The result would be greater 
self-censorship and less critical reporting, said Karshiboev.

Khurshedi Atovullo, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Faraj, agrees that libel 
issues will constrain the effectiveness of the president’s directive. 

Despite his concerns, Atovullo has introduced a new column where readers’ 
complaints about the government will be posted. At the same time, he is hiring 
a staff lawyer to fight any future libel actions brought against the paper.

Daler Gufronov is a journalist with the Asia Plus newspaper.

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