WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 598 Part 2, December 19, 2009
TAJIK POWER PLANT THREATENS WINTER SHUTDOWN Questions raised as to why Tajik power company is not paying for electricity taken from Russian-owned dam scheme. By Olga Kochneva in Dushanbe TAJIK-UZBEK SPY CASE HIGHLIGHTS POLITICAL DIVISIONS Allegations that Uzbeks spied on Tajik uranium facility fit wider pattern of suspicion and mistrust. By Parvina Khamidova in Dushanbe SPEAK KYRGYZ, NOT RUSSIAN, DIPLOMATS TOLD New rules seem unworkable since most diplomats currently work in Russian and will find it hard to switch language. By Yevgenia Kim in Bishkek TURKMEN NGOS FACE TIGHTER FINANCIAL REGULATION New rules designed to prevent money-laundering could be used to monitor and obstruct civil society groups. 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For more information about how you can support IWPR go to: http://iwpr.net/donate **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** TAJIK POWER PLANT THREATENS WINTER SHUTDOWN Questions raised as to why Tajik power company is not paying for electricity taken from Russian-owned dam scheme. By Olga Kochneva in Dushanbe Tajiks are used to power shortages but along with the first cold spell of winter, they are facing a fresh crisis as a major power station cuts supplies. Managers at the giant Sangtuda-1 hydroelectric scheme switched off two of the four turbine units on December 2, saying the company was owed millions of US dollars by the national distribution company Barqi Tojik. In a letter to Tajik prime minister Akil Akilov on November 13, they warned of the partial shutdown and said the plant might stop generating altogether by the end of the year unless the debt was cleared. The effect of the reduced output was felt most in Khatlon, the province that covers southern Tajikistan, where Sangtuda is located. Bahrigul Abdullaeva, a resident of Bokhtar district, thinks herself lucky if the electricity is on from 6.00 till 8.30 in the morning, and for another two and a half hours in the evening. Its a good thing, because in previous years we did not have electricity for several months each winter, she said. Of course, we have got used to living without electricity in winter, and we prepare stoves, firewood and coal. In winter we live like as in the middle ages we cant watch TV or even charge our mobile phones. I hope this winter is a mild one, so that the fuel will last us till spring. Hailed as a showcase investment project, the Sangtuda-1 plant began operating last January, after the Russian firm United Energy Systems, UES, invested in work to complete the plant which had been under construction for many years. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev travelled to Tajikistan for the formal opening ceremony in May. The Russian government owns 66 per cent of the shares in the company running the plant, UES and an affiliate company own about 17 per cent while the Tajik government holds the remaining 17 per cent. Tajikistan suffers frequent power shortages and blackouts over the winter, and building new power stations with the help of foreign investors is seen as essential to making the country self-sufficient in electricity, and even allowing it to export to neighbouring states. Sangtuda-1 alone should substantially reduce the winter shortfall, while another plant, Sangtuda-2, is currently under construction with Iranian funding. Upstream on the same river, the Vakhsh, lies the still incomplete Roghun plant, which will have one of the worlds highest dams. The Sangtuda-1 dispute centres on Barqi Tojiks non-payment of 41 million somoni, about 9.5 million US dollars, for electricity supplied to it over the course of the year. In early December, the power stations director Vladimir Belov said Barqi Tojik had started paying the debt, but the ten million somoni transferred so far around a quarter of the total sum was not enough to cover the hydroelectric plants routine maintenance, ongoing construction work, wages and payments to suppliers and the taxman . People have started leaving. Now were 30 per cent down on the number of construction workers we need. We dont have enough money, said Belov. We owe millions [of somonis] to the tax inspectorate, as well as to our suppliers and builders. Barqi Tojik spokesman Nozirjon Yodgori confirmed to IWPR that the company was trying to clear its debts to Sangtuda plan according to a phased schedule. It was going to pay three million dollars a month, meaning that past and current payments would be up to date by the end of March. Yodgori said Barqi Tojik had been unable to pay its supplier because in turn, it was having difficulty collecting payment from its consumers, above all government agencies and large industrial enterprises. The giant aluminium plant at Tursunzade, which consumes huge amounts of electricity, owed Barqi Tojik one-third of the total debt. They owe us millions, said Yodgori. One of the major defaulters is the aluminium plant. It owes us 129 million somoni [30 million dollars]. The water management ministry owes us 151 million somoni, the water utility company 13 million, the agriculture ministry 27 million, and domestic consumers 65 million somoni. These are debts accumulated over the first 11 months of 2009. Despite this explanation, analysts interviewed by IWPR questioned why Barqi Tojik was withholding funds to the Russian-led generating company, especially given the importance of relations with Moscow. Georgy Petrov, a leading expert who heads the hydroelectricity unit at the national Institute for Water Problems, Hydroenergy and Ecology at the Tajik Academy, said it was implausible for Barqi Tojik to plead poverty. Petrov calculates that Barqi Tojik should be earning 240 dollars a year, based on the amount generated and its cost. Barqi Tojik owes Sangtuda about nine million dollars, and is to pay three million a month. Is that a large amount of money? he asked. How can we risk an international confrontation if the company cannot pay three million out of its 240 million? Parviz Mullojonov, a prominent political analyst, agreed that failure to treat Sangtudas investors well would reflect badly on Tajikistan as a whole. This is the first large construction project weve had where the assets belong mainly to a foreign investor, he explained. This project needs to be kept apart from the economic payments system that typically operates in this country people here think its normal for one enterprise to owe money to another. Tajik enterprises might put up with being owed money by their business partners, but a foreign investor will not stand for it. We need to remember that. The dispute comes at a time when Tajikistan is even more vulnerable to power shortages than usual. Last month, Uzbekistan announced it was withdrawing from the common electricity grid shared by the Central Asian republics. The decision will make it harder for the Tajiks to import electricity from Uzbekistan itself or in transit from other supplies like Turkmenistan; and to export its own electricity when it has a surplus over the warmer seasons. In response, Tajikistan has said it will have to increase its hydroelectric generating capacity at the Kayrakkum reservoir on the river Syr Darya and Nurek on the Vakhsh, a tributary of the Amu Darya. However, the more water that goes through the turbines over the winter, the less will be available for release during the spring and summer, when Uzbekistan and Kazakstan need it for irrigation. Neither of those two countries will be happy about that. When Uzbekistan left the common energy grid, it broke off water and energy relations, the deputy head of Barqi Tojiks distribution department, Sergei Tkachenko, told IWPR. Consequently, for the benefit of Tajikistans people and economy, our energy system will have to use its power stations to produce the maximum possible amount of electricity to provide for our. That will be our primary concern but we are not [doing this] to take revenge against Uzbekistan. Even with power stations operating at full capacity, Tajikistan is likely to run short over the winter, especially if Sangtuda-1s managers cut production further. In a situation where Tajikistan is not receiving a single kilowatt from its neighbours, the stoppage of Sangtuda-1 can only aggravate the situation, Barqi Tojik head Sanat Rahimov said at a press conference. Yodgori said tight rationing of electricity would be needed. We must save every kilowatt. If Sangtuda stops, we will have to find these kilowatts ourselves. We will have to make up the shortfall by rationing electricity and completely cutting off non-payers, he said. Meanwhile, the best the average consumer can do is hope this winter will prove milder than it was two years ago, when Tajiks endured exceptionally cold temperatures and power blackouts. God forbid it should be so cold again, said Mavjuda, a resident of Darvoz district in the south. At that time, we burned all the coal and firewood we had stored for the whole winter within the space of one month. We are hoping God will grant us a mild winter. Olga Kochneva is the pseudonym of a journalist in Tajikistan. TAJIK-UZBEK SPY CASE HIGHLIGHTS POLITICAL DIVISIONS Allegations that Uzbeks spied on Tajik uranium facility fit wider pattern of suspicion and mistrust. By Parvina Khamidova in Dushanbe A string of spy accusations involving neighbours Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is merely a reflection of the deeply trouble relationship between these Central Asian states, analysts say. In a trial in October, a court in the Soghd region of northern Tajikistan handed down sentences of up to 22 years to five officials at a uranium plant who were found to have passed secrets to Uzbekistan. The spy ring allegedly involved top officials at the uranium plant in the town of Chkalovsk, including its director and the heads of its engineering, building and security departments. In a separate incident in late October, an Uzbekistan national was arrested in Chkalovsk and accused of passing sensitive information to Uzbek police. The Tajik security service, quoted by the Fergana.ru news agency, did not specify the nature of the information but said the man had passed himself off as a top intelligence officer. The Chkalovsk plant was set up to supply locally-mined uranium to the Soviet power and defence industries, but work slowed almost to a halt after Tajikistan became independent in 1991. Efforts have been made to revive processing, but using highly radioactive waste material left over from the past and stored in dumps rather than freshly-mined uranium. Uzbekistan has a successful uranium industry of its own and is likely to be interested in its neighbours intentions. As one Tajik analyst who asked to remain anonymous said, accusations of espionage may well be true but should hardly come as a surprise. All countries conduct intelligence work in territories of interest to them, he said. For instance, Russia, the United States and maybe some others conduct intelligence operations in Tajikistan in order to gather information. What sets these allegations apart is the implication that Uzbekistan is engaged in subversive activities in its smaller neighbour. The accusations also cut both ways five people were convicted in a similar espionage trial in Uzbekistan in 2006, for example. Despite their geographical proximity, cultural similarity and the presence of a Tajik minority in Uzbekistan and vice versa, the two states have had arguably the most troubled relationship in post-Soviet Central Asia. On the political front, Tashkent has in the past accused its neighbour of failing to curb Islamic rebels who used Tajikistan as a launch-pad for raids in 1999 and 2000. The Tajiks alleged Uzbek support for a 1998 coup attempt by rebel army commander Mahmud Khudoiberdiev. According to a leading Tajik political scientist, Parviz Mullojonov, The fundamental reason for discord between the Central Asian states is that after they gained independence, each of them has been seeking its own place in the region. Uzbekistan aspires to the role of regional leader, as does Kazakstan. In turn, that is not welcomed by their neighbours. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan dont want to play the role of vassals. Even more fundamental is the dispute over water, and specifically Tajikistans plan to build more hydroelectric dams which the Uzbeks living downstream on the Amu Darya waterway say will starve them of water during the crucial growing season. A related set of disputes concern energy the Tajiks are unhappy that the gas-rich Uzbeks pay nothing for water while charging them near the full commercial rate for fuel supplies. Last month, the Uzbeks announced their withdrawal from the integrated Central Asian electricity grid. Speaking at a press conference in Dushanbe on November 23, Uzbek ambassador Shokasim Shoislamov made it fairly clear where the blame lay, hinting that the Tajiks were disrupting the shared grid by siphoning off electricity on the quiet. Tashkents withdrawal from the common energy system will make it harder for the Tajiks to import electricity from Uzbekistan or in transit from Turkmenistan; and to export its own electricity when it has a surplus over the warmer seasons. In response to the Uzbek move, Tajikistan has threatened to limit the amount of water reaching Uzbekistan along the Syr Darya river, saying it needs to fill up its reservoir at Kayrakkum in order to increase power production. The water and energy issue plays a very major role in the power-struggle, said Mullojonov. Uzbekistan has always feared being dependent on the upstream states [Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan], and it will continue to do so. It will do anything to stop this happening. The animosity with which such disputes, ranging from water to espionage, are handled reflects the long-standing mistrust between the two states. Rajabi Mirzo, an independent journalist in Tajikistan, says the animosity is not felt between the average citizens of either country, but that its there in the top echelons of power. And according to media reports, [Tajik president Imomali] Rahmon himself spoke about it during a meeting with journalists. Mirzo was referring to remarks attributed to President Rahmon during a meeting with local journalists on December 8, at which he is reported to have spoken in frank detail about the troubled Tajik-Uzbek relationship and his own dealings with President Islam Karimov. Rustam Haidarov, a research academic based in Dushanbe, says it is not uncommon for close neighbours to be fearful of one another. An external enemy generally becomes necessary when a country has social and economic problems, he said. The image of an enemy distracts people from domestic problems, and can be held responsible for most of these problems. Sayfullo Safarov, deputy director of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Tajikistan, insists the recent espionage trial must be viewed dispassionately and must not be allowed cloud diplomatic relations. Spy mania is a very bad ailment affecting the newly independent states. There are crimes and there are relations between states, he said, suggesting that the two things should be kept separate. Parvina Khamidova is Tajikistan editor for IWPR's EC-funded Human Rights Reporting Project. SPEAK KYRGYZ, NOT RUSSIAN, DIPLOMATS TOLD New rules seem unworkable since most diplomats currently work in Russian and will find it hard to switch language. By Yevgenia Kim in Bishkek A ruling that Kyrgyzstans diplomats must use the official language, Kyrgyz, wherever possible has met with dismay from critics who say decreeing linguistic change is not enough to ensure that it actually happens. The decision was announced at a December 11 meeting of the Kyrgyz parliament, when amendments to the law on use of the state language were passed. Until now, foreign embassies like other public institutions have conducted most of their business in Russian. But the government is now engaged on a drive to force officials to use Kyrgyz instead. It is only the latest in a series of campaigns since the Central Asian state gained independence in 1991 to promote the status and use of Kyrgyz in public life, which to date have had only partial success. Diplomats, in particular, use Russian as a common language in dealings with other former Soviet states; and English or the language of their host country in the wider international community. Internal business and documentation is in Russian. Until now, the legal position has been that people can choose whether to conduct official communications in Kyrgyz the state language, or Russian, which retained special status as an official language. Now that is to change. The amended language law comes ahead of next years deadline for making Kyrgyz mandatory for use in official documents. Lack of preparation has meant the deadline has shifted more than once initially it was set for 2000, later postponed to 2005 and now 2010. At the December 11 session, Almazbek Karimov of the governing Ak Jol party, who drafted the changes to the law, complained to his fellow parliamentarians that all civil servants except the diplomatic corps had made the switch to Kyrgyz. They must not only conduct negotiations in Kyrgyz, but also receptions, meetings and other events in the Kyrgyz language, he said. Speaking in an earlier parliamentary debate on November 18, Asylbek Jeenbekov, representing the majority Ak Jol faction, said, Experience has shown that officials will not learn the language unless there is legislation. He stressed that the proposed legal changes were meant to encourage people to use Kyrgyz, not punish those who did not. The aim, he said, was that the law would prompt people to start studying the language today, so that in five or ten years it is spoken perfectly. Diplomats will still be allowed to speak Russian on formal occasions, but only within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the broadest grouping of former Soviet states. What is less clear is whether the same applies to bilateral relations, for example whether a Kyrgyz diplomat will now be required to use an interpreter to talk to a Ukrainian counterpart, when both would be able to converse freely in Russian. Kyrgyz diplomats, past and present, are wary of the implications of the language switch, saying there are all sorts of obstacles that have not been taken into account Roza Otunbaeva, a former foreign minister and ambassador and now a leading light in the opposition Social Democrats, said enacting the bill before the diplomatic service had the capacity to obey it was putting the cart before the horse. Currently, 90 per cent of diplomatic staff are simply incapable of conducting negotiations and correspondence in Kyrgyz, she said during the November 18 debate. How are they going to implement the law? In the diplomatic service, you cannot make mistakes; you have to weigh every word. Anyway, you cannot force someone to learn the state language by coercion. Like other commentators, Otunbaeva said Kyrgyzstan did not have enough translators and interpreters. At an earlier discussion in parliament on November 10, the current foreign minister Kadyrbek Sarbaev said that in places like China and Japan, there was simply no capacity to translate between Kyrgyz and local languages. Kyrgyzstans ambassador to the United States, Zamira Sydykova, agrees that money needs to be put into language training. We have very few qualified Kyrgyz translators. Funding will need to be allocated for their training, she said. Kyrgyz has undergone something of a grassroots revival since independence, for demographic reasons. Ethnic Russians left in large numbers, while internal migration saw ethnic Kyrgyz moving from the countryside to the towns, and especially from southern areas to the north, where the Russian language traditionally had a stronger hold. As a result, the latest surveys show that in urban areas of Kyrgyzstan, the percentage of people who speak only Russian has slipped from 70 to 30 per cent since 2005. One of the changes to the law requires a knowledge of Kyrgyz as a condition of employment in the diplomatic service, and is being seen as potentially discriminatory against ethnic minorities. In reality, it is likely to have the greatest impact on the ethnic Kyrgyz who predominate in the diplomatic service. They are commonly come drawn from the educated elite and spend their working lives operating in Russian, whatever they speak at home. The amendments contradict the constitution, article 15 of which stipulates that the state guarantees equality of rights irrespective of ethnicity and language, said Pavel Dyatlenko, an analyst with the Polis Asia think-tank. This law makes a knowledge of Kyrgyz compulsory. Yevgenia Kim is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan. TURKMEN NGOS FACE TIGHTER FINANCIAL REGULATION New rules designed to prevent money-laundering could be used to monitor and obstruct civil society groups. By Dovlet Ovezov in Ashgabat There are fears that new banking rules in Turkmenistan will make life even harder for the small number of non-government groups still operating in Turkmenistan. The Central Asian states parliament passed a law at the end of August setting out measures to prevent money-laundering and the funding of terrorism, and is expected to amend other pieces of legislation accordingly by the end of this year. A special agency is being set up to monitor transactions and report anything suspicious to the security services. It has sweeping powers to require banks to provide it with details of their clients accounts and transactions, and also to request information from other government institutions like the justice ministry and the customs and immigration agencies. Any non-government organisation receiving foreign funding over a certain level as yet unspecified will be subject to investigation. The same applies if the NGO is deemed to be engaging in activities not explicitly envisaged in its founding documents. The lack of clarity around these issues has alarmed local NGOs, which believe the regulations will be misused by the authorities in order to squeeze them out of existence, especially if they are working on topics regarded as politically suspect, like human rights. Tajigul Begmedova, who heads the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation, a human rights group based in Bulgaria, told IWPR that while every country needed laws to prevent illegal money flows, the danger in Turkmenistan was that they would become an instrument for monitoring and pressuring NGOs. In an authoritarian state, an official only needs to find a pretext for the pressure to begin, she said. Especially given the fact that the authorities are not keen on the activities of NGOs. Officially-registered NGOs in Turkmenistan tend to be government-sponsored institutions working on behalf of women, children or war veterans, or else semi-commercial ventures. Truly independent groups working on human rights, media or environmental issues are not encouraged. No independent NGO has been granted registration in the last five years, so such groups operate informally and keep a low profile. Members of such groups are under constant surveillance. Their phones are tapped, their emails screened, they are often summoned for questioning by the security services if they travel abroad, and may be placed under house arrest if a foreign delegation visits the country. In this atmosphere of intimidation, signs that the authorities are about to trawl through bank accounts may be enough to scare some NGOs off applying for foreign grants. An Ashgabat resident who has been working on a library project for which he has received a small grant said he did not want to face undergoing checks under counter-terrorism laws. If that happens, I will abandon the project, he said. Others drew parallels with the kind of intrusive checks already carried out by the tax service, which they said placed any organisation under considerable strain. Our taxmen are a special breed, said one activist in Ashgabat. They do what they want. They may launch an inspection dating back ten years, when its impossible to prove anything; or they may lose documents and not return them for a year. And over the ten years Ive worked with an NGO, I have seen all the techniques they use for extorting money. An analyst in the Turkmen capital said much of the uncertainty about the latest legal changes stemmed from lack of clarity about how much income an NGO had to receive before its accounts became subject to scrutiny and investigation. However, a lawyer from the International Centre for Non-Commercial Law in Turkmenistan, did not share this concern, saying it was just a matter of time before the authorities announced the minimum funding level for checks. Theres no reason to worry, he said, adding that with the legal framework in place, the new financial agency would specify the precise limit, below which NGOs would be exempt from scrutiny. Dovlet Ovezov is a pseudonym for a journalist in Turkmenistan. **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly basis. The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better local and international understanding of the region. IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. The service is published online in English and Russian. The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR. REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal Chazan; Senior Editor and Acting Central Asia Director: John MacLeod; Central Asia Editor: Saule Mukhametrakhimova. 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