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Kyrgyzstan: International Aid Concerns

President Akaev's critics question his promise to end poverty with the help of a 700 million dollar handout.
By Sultan Jumagulov

Opposition activists fear 700 million US dollars of international aid intended to eliminate poverty by 2005 may disappear into the pockets of corrupt officials.


The massive sum - nearly three times the republic's annual budget - was announced by 30 international institutions and donor nations at meetings in Bishkek and Osh earlier this month.


Kyrgyz president Askar Akaev has asked that half the money - which is expected to arrive later this year - be considered as a non-repayable grant.


Before welcoming the new aid, some leading opposition figures want to know exactly what happened to the two billion dollars in loans and grants that have been given to the nation since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.


And analysts believe the money will do the general population no good at all unless spending controls and accountability are introduced to prevent the cash being siphoned away by dishonest officials.


Topchubek Turgunaliev, chairman of the Erkindik (Freedom) party, told IWPR that non-governmental organisations and opposition activists should have been invited to the meetings.


"We would have shown the donors the luxurious mansions and top-of-the-range cars owned by our government leaders, who should not have been able to afford such things on their very modest official salaries," he said.


His view was shared by parliamentary deputy Absamat Masaliev, who leads the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan. "Western donors are simply investing in corruption," he claimed. "The international community has already paid dearly to maintain Kyrgyzstan's 12 years of independence, so why are the ordinary people so much worse off today?"


He told IWPR that he has been trying in vain to get an official explanation on how the two billion dollars was spent, "Akaev himself admitted that corruption has reached the upper echelons of power, and that he is powerless to do anything about it," he said.


Rina Prizhivoit, editor-in-chief of the independent paper Moya Stolitsa-Novosti, hit out at the donor nations for believing the president when he claimed he could end the poverty of his people before he leaves office in 2005.


"I can understand Akaev's enthusiasm for this package," she said. "The new money will tide him over until his term ends, and he couldn't care less what happens after that. It is no secret that aid of this kind primarily benefits the president's family and closest allies."


Not all share this pessimistic view. Finance minister Marat Sultanov, a former head of the National Bank, told IWPR that international aid has been of great benefit to the republic, noting that the som - Kyrgyzstan's national currency - has only remained stable due to a steady influx of dollars.


Sultanov also cited the success of the Bishkek-Osh road, which has been fully sponsored by international donors.


When asked how he thought the new aid would be used, Sultanov speculated that a certain amount would be used to pay the fees and expenses of foreign consultants, with another part going toward paying off the republic's external debt.


He said the insignificant amount that would be left over will not be enough to tackle poverty and called for a review of donor policy, "The policy of giving financial and technical assistance to developing nations has to be completely rethought by the international community."


Official statistics indicate that more than 70 per cent of Kyrgyzstan's population lives below the poverty line. And the country's debts significantly outweigh its total revenue.


Analysts believe such problems cannot be solved by simply throwing money at them. Muratbek Imanaliev, ex-foreign minister and current presidential advisor on external relations, has been urging the authorities not to accept any international aid at all - especially grants and humanitarian shipments.


"We are developing a dependency (culture)," he told IWPR. "Everyone, including the government, just begs all the time. What are we coming to as a nation?"


In the meantime, Joomart Otorbaev, a government minister in charge of international investment, is trying to convince the public that the authorities have learned their lessons and will use the money responsibly.


Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek


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