Kazak Workers 'Pay' for Festivities

A series of lavish events seem to have left the authorities unable to pay doctors and teachers their full salaries.

Kazak Workers 'Pay' for Festivities

A series of lavish events seem to have left the authorities unable to pay doctors and teachers their full salaries.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

Teachers and doctors in southern Kazakstan claim they haven't been paid properly for months because the authorities have spent too much money on special events and festivities.

More than 4,000 state employees in the Shymkent region have been affected by the pay cuts, which many suspect have been introduced to help fund the International Kurultai (Congress) of Kazaks, which drew more than 500 representatives from the diaspora in 40 countries on October 23-25.

A giant sculpture called The Golden Cradle, a building for wedding celebrations, 100 houses for oralmans (returnees) and 5 km of a new road were constructed in preparation for the gathering. The congress was by far the biggest in the region, but there have been many other smaller-scale events.

"We have so many events and festivities that there's not enough money for anything else. City Day, Republic Day and the Kurultai are all held at the end of October," complained Maria, a doctor who works at a Shymkent health centre.

One secondary school teacher in the city of Turkestan, who wished to remain anonymous, told IWPR, "The headmaster has told us that there's no money available for October - so we won't be fully paid."

While funding for events like the Kurultai are supposed to be provided jointly by central and regional government, only local funds have been used, fuelling speculation that state workers' salaries are making up any shortfall.

Currently, doctors and nurses have only received 70 per cent of the money they were hoping to get in October, and no one has explained why.

According to secondary school teacher Nurgul, the authorities "target" teachers when a shortfall is discovered in the budget. "We are the most vulnerable workers," she said.

In private discussions, doctors and teachers mention many cases when their rights were violated, but categorically refuse to elaborate.

It's not just salaries that are at risk when the authorities fall short of cash. "We are forced to subscribe to the state newspaper and to buy lottery tickets. Doctors and teachers will put up with anything to hang onto their jobs," said Maria.

Several years ago, Shymkent officials discussed plans to pay teachers and medical staff only 70 per cent of their wages, with the remainder going to local government coffers. People were supposed to pay for communal services with this "currency", and use the rest of the sum in special shops. Fortunately, the proposal was ditched.

Referring to the lavish expenditure on the Kurultai, Maria said, "The authorities would be better off worrying about how people live now, before they start building things that people will admire in the future."

Daur Dosybiev is an independent journalist in Kazakstan

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