Kyrgyz Police Demoralised

Underpaid and poorly resourced, Kyrgyz police are leaving the force in droves.

Kyrgyz Police Demoralised

Underpaid and poorly resourced, Kyrgyz police are leaving the force in droves.

A policeman's lot is not a happy one, so the old tune goes. That's true enough in present-day Kyrgyzstan where a police salary of 900 soms (18 US dollars) a month often barely covers travel costs with precious little left over for food and family expenses. Even this is hardly ever paid on time.

Police equipment is poor. Their uniforms are shoddy and their worn-out cars cannot hope to catch flashy foreign limousines whose drivers might happily hand over a useful bribe to avoid a speeding ticket.

Bribes? Yes, in a series of confidential interviews with IWPR, police officers have admitted this is sometimes the only way they can survive. This at a time when new dangers are arising from drug-traffickers and terrorists.

Colonel Kapar Esenkojoev, head of the public safety department at the interior ministry, explained that after gaining independence from the Soviet Union 10 years ago the Kyrgyz government appeared to lose interest in law enforcement.

Ministers saw little reason to spend large sums from the meagre national budget on strengthening the police force.

This view prevailed even though onerous new police duties have developed in the southern part of the country where drug-traffickers and terrorists infiltrate from Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Colonel Esenkojoev told IWPR that 20 special posts where police work alongside interior ministry troops have been established in the region. But funding for the work is still sparse. And militiamen say their work is suffering as a result.

Moidun Joldoshev retired two years ago from his post as deputy-colonel in the police force. Now he is an attorney and keeps in close contact with his former colleagues. He told IWPR that many of the problems he faced two years ago have become even worse.

One major complaint is the lack of vital communications equipment. "For example, in order to secure public safety during recent celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the national hero Kurmanbek-baatir, the city of Jalal-Abad had to borrow mobile phones and related equipment from all over the country," Colonel Esenkojoev said.

But police salaries are by far the most painful topic. A junior policeman is lucky to reach 900 soms, about 18 dollars. Overall, police officers come second only to teachers as the poorest paid workers in the country.

"How could one live the entire month on this money?" police officer Talant K said. "During the month, I spend about 600 soms (12.5 dollars) on transportation to work alone. About the same amount is needed for food. Thus, I need 1,200 soms (25 dollars) just for very basic needs. I also have a family to support."

On top of all this police salaries are not even paid on time. "There is a presidential decree requiring prompt payment of salaries," Joldoshev said."But police pay is often three or four months late."

Policemen are not even provided with adequate uniforms. Talant K and his partner, Asil B, told IWPR they've been working in the police force for five years and have never been provided with boots or shoes. They had to buy footwear out of their own money at the market. "Even the service cap that I'm wearing right now cost me 400 soms," Talant said.

There was one bright spot. Policemen were issued with new uniforms for the upcoming celebrations honouring the thousand year anniversary of an epic poem about the life of the father of the Kyrgyz nation, Manas, and the 3000-year jubilee of the city of Osh.

Asked why they stay in the police, officers said, "It is simply impossible to find any other work - unemployment is everywhere. Besides, it would be a waste of time looking for work. Who would want to take on former militiamen? Managers would suspect them of betraying company secrets to their former colleagues."

Talant and Asil said someone has to do the job. "We consider ourselves to be patriots and the widespread opinion that all militiamen are bribe-takers is wrong," they said. "At least in our work there's not much that we can take."

Policemen look enviously at the more efficient police structures in neighbouring Uzbekistan. However, experts emphasise that the strong police there was established not so much for securing public safety but more for suppressing political or religious dissent.

In recent years, police have been resigning in large numbers. Colonel Esenkojoev said the low pay induces them to seek work in other government departments or in commerce. Most of them were highly qualified professionals whom the authorities could ill afford to lose.

Ulugbek Babakulov is a human rights activist in Jalal-Abad

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