The interlocutor of the editorial staff dwelt on increasing external debt and euphoria of the authorities of the Republic.
After President Shavkat Mirziyoyev had come to power in Uzbekistan, experts, political scientists and the public began to feel the ‘spirit of liberalism’ permeating the national economy. Indeed, the new leader began to promote actively trade relations with neighbouring countries and EU states.
The measures were taken to increase the investment attractiveness of Uzbekistan, create an enabling business environment and establish joint ventures. In one of the recent interviews, a financial analyst has said the economic potential of Uzbekistan is higher than that of Kazakhstan. In fact, we were about to witness the ‘take-off’ of the country under the leadership of Mirziyoyev, but the coronavirus pandemic interfered.
The CentralAsia.news editorial staff discussed the past and the realities of Uzbek economy with an independent expert Bakhrom Khamroev.
Traditions of the USSR and the path of Russia
The interlocutor said the history of ‘liberalism’ in Uzbek economy in some way resembled the events in Russia in the 1990s.
“We recall that shortly after the collapse of the USSR, the market economy accompanied by corruption and the plundering of the national economy stormed into vast expanse of Russia,” the expert said.
The Republic during Karimov’s reign largely inherited the orders of the late USSR, such as centralisation and control, low levels of corruption and political and religious freedom. In some ways, it resembled Belarus under Lukashenko.
Khamroev noted that the phrases about economic liberalisation in Uzbekistan and the growing indicators of economic development were covering up what had happened in Russia earlier. The political scientist sees a continuation of the trend towards the plundering of resources left over from the times of the Soviet Union in the Republic.
Experts and reality
Bakhrom Khamroev is very sceptical about the statements made by experts on the miracles of liberalisation and unprecedented economic achievements of Uzbekistan. The interlocutor is convinced that financial flows are being actively distributed, and lucrative jobs are given to the people from the President’s inner circle.
Khamroev dwelt separately on the statements about a breakthrough in Uzbek economy during the pandemic. He is a bit thrown by the simple age-old question: what is the cost of these achievements? The expert knows the source of capital inflows, but this fact makes him worry.
“Uzbekistan is uncontrollably taking loans. Its external debt under Islam Karimov was about US$ 5 billion. To date, it has exceeded US$ 30 billion. Certainly, this debt will backfire with a heavy burden on the national economy, but now the authorities of Uzbekistan, like a novice drug user, are imitating relative well-being and feeling euphoria,” Khamroev concluded.
The expert emphasised that it would not go unnoticed in the stream of news about the achievements that the standard of living in the country remained low. Nothing changes – the country continues supplying migrants for Turkey, Russia and South Korea. Moreover, the largest number of green card applicants comes annually from Uzbekistan.
Khamroev stated that luxury palaces were built for the influential persons in the Republic with the low-income population. For example, protected forests were cut down in the Shovozsoy gorge to build a residence worth over $ 1 billion, where a no-fly zone was declared and about a hundred square kilometres of the adjacent territory were closed to the public.
The expert spoke with irony about the President’s statement about the need to keep chickens at home.
“Mirziyoyev’s proposal put forward from the high rostrum clearly demonstrates how serious the authorities are about economic growth: every Uzbek family should keep chickens, not only in rural areas, but also in urban apartments. The leader of Uzbekistan expressed belief that in this way the people would provide themselves with high-quality meat and eggs. At the same time, it remains unclear whether the President keeps chickens in his palaces,” Khamroev commented.
“Tourism is no exception, raising doubts about the authorities’ ‘achievements’, like other sectors of the economy. Despite all the reports and statements, Uzbekistan has not become a tourist attraction. Tourist infrastructure has not been created, corruption is eroding the industry, tourists suffer from all forms of far-fetched extortions,” the expert noted with regret.
“The historical, primarily architectural, heritage of Uzbekistan, preserved somehow under Karimov, has begun to deteriorate rapidly, being supplanted by glass-concrete remakes. Certainly, all this does not create an enabling environment for tourism,” the experts said.
As for the competition with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan bypasses it with confidence only in cheap labour exports, the political scientist believes.
A requirement for the success
Bakhrom Khamroev noted that free economic zones were in no way developing at an accelerated pace. He believes that only fundamental structural reforms are able to improve the capacity of FEZs as well as the national economy.
According to the expert, the absence of drastic measures will not allow moving forward from ‘twaddle’ and the plundering of the national wealth. The interlocutor of the editorial staff noted with regret that so far there were no real signs of imminent improvements.
Khamroev added that it was the ‘machine of propaganda’ that was working smoothly and effectively, and the authorities of Uzbekistan didn’t care about the consequences and the future generation.