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Finances of Tajik Officials Under Scrutiny

New move to curb corruption among civil servants – but questions raised over its effectiveness.
By Shirin Azizmamadova
As the deadline for Tajik civil servants to submit income declarations to the tax authorities approaches, many here are expressing doubts about whether the new measure will achieve its expressed goal of curbing widespread corruption.

Dushanbe is under pressure from the international community to tackle graft among officials, as it is threatening to discredit many branches of the bureaucracy and could in the long term result in the political and economic isolation of the country, say analysts.

Civil servants have until April 1 to hand in their income declaration forms – which must record their salary, money or gifts received from any other sources and the tax paid so far on the aforementioned – but the fact that the information must remain confidential, unless the official agrees to it being made public, has aroused suspicions.

If tax inspectors believe that an official is not being transparent, they have the right to investigate further. Many here question whether civil servants will be honest about their earnings and assets and believe it’s unlikely that dubious declarations will be seriously challenged.

Reflecting the public mood, Mirzob Bodurov, a university student, said, “Look at the houses that officials live in. But just try to prove anything. People are scared. Will a tax inspector risk the life of his family to expose an official? Never. He will take a bribe of 200 US dollars and calm down.”

Political analysts also say they have little faith in the integrity of the tax inspectors. “The corrupt fight the corrupt themselves. Influential and rich officials will continue to make use of their official position, and those who are supposed to fight violations will be scared to do anything. If one takes into account that a tax inspector does not receive [a salary] of more than 40 dollars a month, the corruption situation in Tajikistan is unlikely to change in the next few years.”

Analysts say corruption amongst bureaucrats will continue flourish for as long as they receive low salaries and high tax demands.

A high-ranking civil servant admitted as much in an interview with IWPR. “If I honestly indicate everything earned by myself and my family, then about half will go to taxes,” he said. “I would like to pay taxes properly [but] the taxation system must be reviewed. Otherwise everything will be hidden.”

Corruption is not confined to the civil service - all echelons of society are afflicted. Indeed, Transparency International has ranked the country amongst the ten most corrupt in the world.

The authorities are particularly concerned by civil service graft, which, they acknowledge, poses a serious threat to the state. “It is correct to say that further growth in corruption in the country may lead to its economic and political isolation, which in turn will significantly complicate the domestic political situation,” said Abdulvohid Shamolov, a senior member of the presidential Centre for Strategic Studies.

But those tasked with stamping out graft say they are under-resourced.

The head of the prosecutor general’s office, Abdurasul Kholmurodov, says that significant strides have been made in prosecuting venal citizens, but he has not been given enough funds to launch a real offensive against corruption.

“Our department is new, and we do not have enough resources. Nevertheless, we have had some major successes. According to statistics, last year 125 corruption-related crimes were detected: 28 cases of bribery, 22 of abuse of power, 43 of property theft and 20 of smuggling,” he said.

The highest number of crimes were reported in the education and health sectors. Some of the most shocking cases involved headmasters who extorted money from their pupils and used it to provide bonuses for teachers, keeping the rest for themselves.

While under-funding frustrates the efforts of prosecutors, current laws on corruption are ambiguously worded making it easy to evade them.

So while the authorities trumpet their determination to battle corruption, many ordinary Tajiks believe this is so much hot air, aimed largely at assuaging the concerns of the international community.

“Tajikistan depends on them, so it is trying to prove that it is doing something,” said Dushnabe resident Khol Mirzoev.

Shirin Azizmamadova is the pseudonym of a journalist in Dushanbe.

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