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Access to Information Comes at a Price in Tajikistan

New rules requiring people to pay government institutions for advice and information have caused anger in Tajikistan, Central Asia’s poorest state.
By IWPR
As Shahodat Saibnazarova reports, President Imomali Rahmon issued the rules at the end of October, but the policy is only now being unrolled.



Officials hope the scheme will recompense cash-strapped government agencies for the work that goes into locating and issuing documents to members of the public.



Government institutions will be allowed to charge the equivalent of eight US dollars per page, or more depending on how valuable the information is deemed to be. They will also be able to demand fees for giving people verbal advice.



“I can’t conceive of the mechanism where you get some information verbally and it’s deemed to cost ten roubles or 100 dollar…. Who’s going to decide on the value or importance of the information?” said Rahmon Olmasov, the editor-in-chief of Bizness ii Politika, a privately-owned newspaper.



Given that the average wage in Tajikistan is a mere 40 dollars a month, members of the public interviewed by IWPR expressed concern about how they would ever get hold of the information they need.



Freelance journalist Jamshed Mamajonov warns that the new rules will be open to abuse.



“Giving ministries the right to set their own prices for verbal information… may lead to them lining their own pockets,” he said.



Like many journalists, Mamajonov is afraid the regulations will be used to block access to information.



He noted that government-run broadcast and print media would be exempted from payment, whereas privately-run outlets were likely to be asked for money every time they tried to find something out.



“One comes to the conclusion that non-state media will be driven into a corner,” said Mamajonov. “The information that comes – or doesn’t come – out of state institutions will be terribly old.”



He warns that the Tajik government itself could be shooting itself in the foot if officials withhold information that no one wants to pay for. By doing so, the government will deny itself opportunities to get its point of view heard in the public domain.



IWPR approached a number of officials to ask how they viewed the pay-as-you-go information policy. Some said they were unaware of it, and the rest did not want to comment.









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