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Anti-Monopoly Agency Losing Ground

By News Briefing Central Asia
Tajikistan’s sole telephone company appears to be winning its long drawn-out battle with the government’s anti-monopoly committee. That is bad news for the state agency, which is fast losing its claim to exert authority.

Tajiktelecom recently flatly denied a claim by the anti-monopoly committee that it was to reduce phone charges.

At the beginning of the year, the phone company – the sole provider of landline services in the country - announced a 100 per cent hike in prices. The anti-monopoly committee did not react until early August, when it ordered Tajiktelecom to lower its city rates by 40 per cent. But the phone company is refusing to comply with the ruling, insisting that the anti-monopoly agency has the right to only to make recommendations, not impose decisions.

Analysts say the telecommunications monopoly, by repeatedly ignoring demands from the anti-monopoly agency, has called the latter’s effectiveness into question. Outside observers note that the committee has been unable to stamp its authority on any of the major cases that it has launched to great fanfare.

For example, the agency has repeatedly ordered the state airline - another monopoly - to reduce its prices, but again it has been ignored.

The anti-monopoly body’s failure to react to sharp price rises for fuel and lubricants, which have jumped by 20 per cent just in the last month, also casts doubt on its ability to regulate prices effectively. Committee representatives hinted at price fixing among fuel importers, but said that they lacked the authority to investigate such matters.

Some businessmen have voiced dissatisfaction with the agency, complaining that although its formal title is the committee for anti-monopoly policy and support for entrepreneurial activity, it is doing almost nothing to fulfill the latter task – or that at least the public is not being kept informed of any measures that are taken.

The telephone company now seems likely to win the day so that it can set whatever rates it deems necessary.

According to NBCentralAsia analysts, if Tajikistan’s monopolies continue successfully defy the agency set up to regulate them, the government will have to beef up its powers significantly.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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