Uzbekistan's Half-Hearted War on Corruption

The latest in a series of corruption scandals in Uzbekistan is only a symptom of a much more widespread malaise, experts say.

The state news agency carried a report on Tashkent airport last week, saying some of the staff there had been convicted of extortion and forgery.

Reports on corruption are regularly carried in the Uzbek media, as salutary lessons and proof that the authorities are winning the war against graft declared by President Islam Karimov last December.

In recent months, a number of senior officials have fallen victim to the campaign, among them Tashkent mayor Abdukakhor Tokhtaev (see Powerful Uzbek Official Charged With Corruption) Samarkand regional governor Uktam Barnoev, Tashkent police chief Qobul Naqibov, and Marufjon Rahimov, the local government chief in Bulakbashi district in eastern Uzbekistan.

The government also shut down around 100 supermarkets and manufacturing businesses, apparently also as part of the anti-corruption drive.

Commenting on the action taken to date, a businessman in the western town of Bukhara said, "Despite these measures, we’ve seen no progress in the battle against corruption. The country and its society are corrupted through and through."

Anyone running a business, he said, found it impossible to get a business loan unless they had friends or relatives working in a bank, and they had to pay out money all to the time – to officials, government auditors and the like.

Tashkent-based analyst Abdurahmon Tashanov believes wider change is needed – a functioning civil society, free speech, respect for human rights, and a democratic system – before corruption can really be tackled effectively.

Surat Ikramov, head of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders, agrees that the authoritarian system of government was the root cause of corruption in Uzbekistan. Nor does he believe the authorities are serious about tackling the problem – he argues that arrests and dismissals .

"The war on corruption comes down to the is reduced to the demonstration of punishment of delinquent officials for bribery," human rights activist says. "Usually, bribery is incriminated to those who burned or who did not share with the superior management."

This article was produced as part of IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.