Arena Interview with Sanjar Umarov

by Nathan Hamm on 8/24/2005

[Note: Sunshine Uzbekistan sent out an edited and expanded version of Umarov’s Arena interview. I’ve replaced the original with the new version below.]

Arena has a new interview with Sanjar Umarov that I’ve reprinted below. It’s definitely worth reading as it contains quite a bit of discussion about what reforms the Sunshine Coalition seeks to enact.

Sanjar Umarov: “We are the real power, that can lead the country out of a crisis”
22 August 2005
Interview with the Sunshine Uzbekistan Coalition chairman Sanjar Umarov with Inera Safargalieva (translated from Russian)

– Who are you, the members of Sunshine Coalition? Who are in your coalition – movements, parties, organizations? Or, are there only three members – Sanjar Umarov, Nigora and Nadira Khidoyatova?

– I suppose you’ll agree that the social base of dissatisfied with the current conditions and the current government is very wide. Wide layers of intelligentsia, farmers, businesspeople and even government officials and members of law enforcement bodies are tired of the current Cabinet. Yes, we have started with Nigora and Nodira Khidoyatova, supported the Ozod Dekhqonlar Party. Then we realized that not all people want to join the party, although many wanted to do something to improve life. Different people came. We met with them in various parts of the country – in Ferghana Valley, Samarqand, Kashqadarya, Djizakh. We have contacts and cooperation agreements with a number of registered structures, there are talented and well-known people among us. Still, as our registration is pending, and we are in the process of legitimization, we won’t disclose any names. The problem is that the coalition and the people, who are known to cooperate with us, are facing illegal pressure and some of them are forced to seek asylum abroad. Coalition, Sunshine Uzbekistan has started from the idea of uniting various forces and this idea is being implemented successfully. The attractive part of the coalition is that we don’t try to command, we strive to explain that our power is in unity. We believe at present we are the only real power that can lead the country out of a political and socio-economic crisis; it has been acknowledged on an international level as well.

– You’ve published several theses of your economic program, but what else lays in your activity? As an opposition, what have you really achieved?

– It’s hard to evaluate own work. That way, one can easily self-lie to himself. We work on widening of our base of supporters as well as consolidating the existing members; not just within the country. We try to attract intelligent and honest people that are concerned about the situation in the country and who have desire make the country healthy, and who believe that “cosmetic” changes won’t save the situation. Citizens, who understand that the country is at the edge of financial-economic collapse and that cardinal changes and reforms are needed. We try to work out a complex of changes. It’s complicated to talk about the programs, as almost nobody in this country knows real economic indices, and other empirical data – it is considered top secret information. Therefore, at the moment we can only use expert opinions. Anyhow, we have initiated the formation of an International Economic Advisory Council; there we plan to gather best economic minds of Uzbekistan, United States, Europe, Russia, and Kazakhstan, and those who know the business “from the inside.” This Council will work on the reform programs, that we named “The road map to prosperity.” This program will be intended for the new Cabinet of national unity, which we hope will come to power sooner or later.

– How can the industry of Uzbekistan be rehabilitated? In what time frame? What prevents it now?

– What doesn’t prevent it from being implemented? First of all, it’s the Cabinet that lost the trust both domestically and on an international arena. It has a “bad track record.” Decisions were made, moreover are still being made, based not on the economic interests and demands of the market, but political, personal and group ambitions and interests. The decisions are made, focused on the short-term benefit, often not taking into consideration the long-term perspectives. Moreover, the real interests of the State, the industry and businesses haven’t been and are not in the top priorities.

Unpredictability of the adoption of the tax and customs legislation, rough interference into business affairs, unclear monetary and fiscal policy have discredited the trust of not only the local business people, but also our foreign partners including Russia and Kazakhstan.

Certainly, the rehabilitation of industry can’t be done in one day; but in 1.5-2 years we can see good recovery.

Also I would like to point out one very important impeding problem: the issue of energy deficit. According to our forecast, in nearest future Uzbekistan will lack about one million tons of oil products: mainly gas and diesel. Definitely, it will lead to big problems, as the diesel is one of the main inputs used in agriculture. Over a year ago we offered to build a modern plant to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels from natural gas, which we have plenty of. The plant could have been built using direct American investments. However, all our efforts didn’t find governmental support, which thinks of its selfish interests only. If Oliy Majlis wants to show its principal position, then why don’t they appoint a hearing for the management of Uzbekneftegaz during its work session and ask them how they plan to tackle the issue?

– What main measures are you proposing in regards of alleviating the problem of welfare in agricultural sector of Uzbekistan?

– First of all, it’s important that farmers get paid fairly for their hard earned crop! It will immediately improve the condition of the majority of the population, as Uzbekistan is an agrarian country where 80 percent of the population depends on agriculture.

Secondly, gradual abolishment of the government regulation of contractual agreements (state orders). For example currently, the producer of agricultural (cotton) goods can’t sell own product to another legal entity, if the latter one is not a storage (zagotovitel) organization. And there are many similar artificial obstacles. The abolishment of such norms will let the farmers and producers of agricultural goods sell their products for market price, not for a price set by the state.

Third, introduction of market mechanisms in using land resources with the aim to set up private ownership of land, we plan to do that by strengthening the rights of owners of land leases, including a right to resell the land lease, and using land lease title as collateral when getting a loan.

Fourth, the de-monopolization and liberalization of production, processing and marketing of agricultural goods, including cotton.

Fifth, a ban on administrative interference in the affairs of agricultural producers and the farmers.

– How do you plan to fight the corruption?

– The path to getting rid of corruption in state bodies is denationalization, radical decrease of the level of state regulation of the economy, full abolishment of command-economy methods, plus the decrease of taxes and tariffs.

– How do you propose to decrease the state apparatus, including enforcement bodies?

– We’ll create a Stabilization Fund from the means of international finance institutions from which will offer to pay the one-time payments for the personnel, who decide to leave the job voluntarily. The amount will be in range of 3,000 to 5,000 US dollars. That amount should be enough for a person to live on until he or she will find a new job, or maybe start-up own business. This of course has to be in parallel to reforms aimed to introduce free market economy.

– What about retirees, people with disabilities, doctors, teachers, and workers?

– Definitely we’re thinking about this category of people. They have deserved that the state should take care of them. The Stabilization Fund which I mentioned earlier will definitely provide social programs for these layers of the population.

– How do you see in perspective, the relationship of Uzbekistan with SCO and West, in regards to human rights?

– We want our great neighbors – ones that are close and ones that are farther away, to understand that their key interests in the region overlap. We would want to see a relationship that is based on mutual understanding and fair compromise.

As for the human rights issue, the SCO and the West see the issue somewhat differently, we believe that taking into consideration the peculiarities of a political regime in Uzbekistan, SCO should pay more attention and be more careful in regards to civil rights and political freedom that is guaranteed to us by the Constitution, which unfortunately is often infringed.

– How do you plan to consolidate the offers, what will be the mechanism?

– The Parliament, the representative power, and political parties exist for this purpose. Only not the Parliament, not this puppet representative power and “pocketed” parities that we have today. The representative power should take its important place as a result of a fair and transparent elections. There are mechanisms to provide such elections.

Political parties should represent the interests of its electorate, and definitely not be under the command of the executive branch. I think if the National Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (NDPU) wants to return the trust of the people, then it needs to criticize the current regime more bravely, not just play the role of “appointed” opposition.

Also we in Uzbekistan completely forgot the power of labor unions, independent from the state they were almost entirely erased from political arena of our country. Potentially they can be a source of great leverage.

– Your repeated calls for dialogue didn’t get any response from the government…

– I think, if the current power keeps ignoring us, then we’ll have to critically reconsider our tactics and strategy. Particularly, we can unite with all healthy opposition forces, including the constructive elements in parties of Birlik and Erk. In this regard, an issue rises: to initiate mutual relations with moderate Islamic opposition. Perhaps, with their participation, it will be easier to put dangerous situation in Ferghana Valley to a peaceful route.

– There was an information in the press about the pressures toward your close ones and relatives. What’s the current situation?

– Presently, three people are in jail. One is seeking political asylum in the United States. Twelve more people plan to apply in the near time. All companies are paralyzed, affecting over 500 people. The tragedy of the current power is that it doesn’t want to have a dialogue with secular opposition. History shows that this type of treatment leads to radicalization of the public mood, that we saw in Andijan, especially when you add-in all the administrative “racketeering” by the National Security Service

– There was a column in Literaturnaya Gazeta in the 1980s, “If I were a director”, in which sometimes very interesting materials were run. If you were the president of Uzbekistan, what would you do in the first place?

– That’s a tough question. I’ll start by learning the real condition and tell people the truth. I would consult with people who know what it’s to be a farmer, a businessperson, a teacher, a doctor, a mardikor [cheap worker]. Then, bravely start cardinal reforms in the industry, agriculture, macro economy, that would give people hope, and raising the welfare levels in reality, not just in state statistical reports.

Finally we need to move from words to action, supporting private entrepreneurs and small businesses, to take away the social tension that’s growing each day.

For that purpose, we need to pass simple and weighted resolutions.

First. Decrease the taxes and other obligatory payments and identify clear, simple rules of payment, same for the customs procedures.

Second. Abolish the customs procedures between regions of Uzbekistan.

Third. Make the lowest amount to which a minimal tax should start to apply equivalent to 100 US dollars.

Fourth. While identifying the taxable income, all the expenses, including social development, payment of the personnel’s education and children’s education should be deducted from the taxable income.

Fifth. Declare a moratorium on any inspection of financial activity of private entrepreneurs and small businesses.

The government, in the face of the highest bodies of power, should guarantee that all of the abovementioned points are implemented for a period of five years, without the possibility to reconsider.

– What place the international finance organizations take in the activity of your coalition?

– We count on the participation of international financial institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Islamic Bank of Development, Japanese and South Korean financial institutions. At this moment however, only EBRD and IBD declared about their wish to work with non-governmental structures [Sunshine Uzbekistan]. IMF and World Bank, in accordance with their rules, work only with the current governments. Of course, that hurts the institution’s flexibility. They should know better about where the current government has led our country to.
While analyzing the level of utilization of credit resources that the World Bank provided to Uzbekistan, we found out that many credit lines were underutilized, and in some cases the utilization was only 10 percent! It’s a failure! And here we need new approaches. Mr. Paul Wolfowitz became a president of the World Bank, as its known, before working for the World Bank, Mr. Wolfowitz worked for US Department of Defense as an Undersecretary. At the moment a great opportunity exists for the West, especially for the United States, in Uzbekistan they can show that they’re not only fighting with Islamic world, like we see in Afghanistan, Iraq, and until recently with Palestine, but also have fruitful cooperation!

– Now many people – not only in Uzbekistan, but in the whole Central Asia region – believe that it’s better to have parliamentary republic, not presidential. What do you think about it?

– There is a positive side to this idea. Practically all the presidents in the region swayed toward authoritarianism, and not many used the opportunity to implement the right reforms. Maybe only president Nazarbaev turned out to be relatively successful.

– Uzbekistan has key relations with the United States and Russian Federation. Now many think that we need to be orientated to only one of them.

– I believe that we need to respect and build friendly relations with all the powers, both small and great. You need not to make them oppose each other, one needs to find the benefits of cooperating with each of them. I studied in Russia and have many good friends there. I worked in Algeria, then in the United States and have great friends there too. And you know, there are no contradictions in their interests, in our common interests. Russia and the US are two great countries and it would be a mistake to build relations with only one of them, to oppose the other.

– There was information that you were going to grant Russian language an official status in Uzbekistan. What is the difference between the official language and state language? Is it possible to say that it’s just a legalization of Russian language, which is actively used, but doesn’t have a status?

– Russian language is the language of international communication, not only within the former USSR, but also in the United Nations. Through this language our youth gets access to vast amounts of knowledge. Russia is our great neighbor, where millions of our fellow citizens hard-earn money to feed families back home. Ignoring Russian language, like was done until recently would be a great mistake. You have probably noted that Russian language is very popular in Uzbekistan and is spoken in all parts of the country. The decision regarding the language status should be made with the consideration of the opinion of the people, taking into account our children’s opportunities. At the same time, we should pay more attention to the Uzbek language, especially its dissemination within the urban youth.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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