WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 568 Part 2, March 6, 2009
QUESTIONS OVER MOSCOWS ROLE IN KYRGYZ POWER PROJECTS 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
TURKMEN LOOK FORWARD TO BETTER LABOUR LAWS 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
TAJIKISTAN: CONDITIONAL WELCOME FOR NEW ACCOUNTABILITY POLICY Some fear that
new rules designed to strengthen medias voice will end up muffling criticism.
By Daler Gufronov in Dushanbe
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QUESTIONS OVER MOSCOWS ROLE IN KYRGYZ POWER PROJECTS
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
Russias 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 governments 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 Kyrgyzstans parliament, welcomed
the deal as a much-needed windfall at a time when the country is suffering
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
Once completed, he added, Kambarata-1 will transform the country into a major
regional player. Kyrgyzstan will acquire strategic leverage on water issues,
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
Given that in the long term, Russias 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 Moscows 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 thats
why there are various interpretations of it. Everyone is discussing it
sagaciously but avoiding the most important question whether its 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 wouldnt 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
states 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
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 Kyrgyzstans interests into account.
Other objections to Russian involvement in the hydroelectric project concern
the wider regional context.
Kyrgyzstans 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 Uzbekistans 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 Tashkents 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, Russias
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
. Its 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
TURKMEN LOOK FORWARD TO BETTER LABOUR LAWS
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 familys 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 employees 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 ones 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 its 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 youre 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.
Its 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 Turkmenistans 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
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
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
staffs contracts because the security service had identified them as
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
TAJIKISTAN: CONDITIONAL WELCOME FOR NEW ACCOUNTABILITY POLICY
Some fear that new rules designed to strengthen medias voice will end up
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 presidents 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.
Rahmons 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 Rahmonovs 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.
Its 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 doesnt 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 presidents 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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