Finding Freedom Podcast: Are we really equal?
Europe has seen many improvements in GENDER EQUALITY in recent years. Topic is not a taboo even in some less developed democracies. However, lack of equality between women and men in politic...
There are no free and fair elections in Tajikistan. The authoritarian rule of President Rahmon leaves no space for opposition. Although parliamentary and presidential elections took place in 2013, voters were not presented with any real choice. The OSCE, which monitored voting, reported “significant shortcomings” in the election. The president used a wide variety of means (such as censorship of media, vote buying, arresting dissidents and excluding opposition candidates from competing) in order to safeguard a fourth term in office. The government won a token 84 per cent of the vote. Tajikistan has a bicameral system. The 63 members of the lower chamber are elected by popular vote for a five-year-term, while 25 of the upper chamber’s 33 members are selected through local assemblies.
The president appoints the other eight candidates. Both chambers play a largely symbolic role.
In a society which is overwhelming dominated by state institutions, unconstitutional veto players are part of everyday life. The political caste – the president, his family and trusted persons - lead secluded lives. The GKNB, a US-trained secret police force, is unaccountable and exerts control over citizens’ lives. The military, with the exception of the Russian-controlled 201st motor rifle division, is also under control of the president. Corruption is widespread: the country ranks an abysmal 152nd out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, further highlighting the vast influence of non-constitutional veto players in the Tajik political system, economy and judiciary.
There is very little press freedom. The media is owned and controlled by the state and journalists are forced to exercise self-censorship. Although freedom of speech is guaranteed by the constitution and a new law was adopted in 2013 protecting the rights of media employees, these are not upheld. A media licensing committee entirely composed of government representatives has the final word in granting new organisations access to the media landscape. Further censorship was implemented through an “ethics code for e-citizens”, which was adopted in autumn 2013. Freedom House ranks Tajikistan as “not free” and the country scores 115th out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.
Relative independence of judiciary stands high among other, rather poorly rated aspects of the rule of law in Tajikistan. Besides drops of economic freedom, its judiciary seems to be another glimpse of hope for the future of overall freedom in the country. Still, in the law enforcement system there are indeed worrisome practices, such as systematic torture, mysterious deaths or disappearances, or other lack of due process. In 2013, such cases were randomly investigated, while access to prison was still denied to independent watchdog or humanitarian organizations (with one exception - of the UN special rapporteur on torture). Corruption in prisons is widespread. Torture cases included beating, punching, electric shocks, water boarding, burning with hot water, cigarettes or chemicals and
rape. The political system (“consolidated authoritarian regime” by Freedom House classification), with the same leader and political party being dominant for more than two decades, is considerably adding to the climate of impunity and complete lack of accountability. But, the government and courts have meanwhile tried to eliminate at least the worst kinds of visible abuse. Since 2004, there has been a moratorium on death penalty. In 2012, a package of laws was carried, criminalizing torture, combating domestic violence and giving more protection to witnesses or other participants in judicial process. That helped to arrive to a landmark court decision in the capital Dushanbe in 2013, whereby a widow of a man who died under police torture in 2011 was granted financial compensation from the Ministry of Interior.
The situation is extremely bad. With the index of 22, Tajikistan was ranked 154 in the world by the Transparency International`s Corruption Perception Index in 2013. The country is highly corrupt. Nepotism, cronyism and clanship spring from the top to the bottom. Businesses as well as public officials close to President Rahmon or other members of the political elite have far better chances of getting favourable procurement contracts, immunity for tax avoidance and corruption, or otherwise lucrative benefits, contracts or public sector jobs. Government employees openly extort bribes from citizens, businessmen or foreigners, while the exact amount is often openly bargained. The last two editions of Global Corruption Barometer did not include Tajikistan at all. Freedom House reports show
that corruption prevails, besides public procurement, investment and taxation (whereby much of the regulation is designed so as to allow for arbitrariness) in most other areas of public life, from administration and health care (including the fight against AIDS or tuberculosis), via agricultural policy and land management, to the military and its conscription system (with the draft dodging being a “business” worth millions of dollars annually). Citizens lack awareness of the perils of corruption, lonely critical voices or dissident writers (even one novelist) are prosecuted, while the main issue of debate is just the amounts for bribes. On the surface, the government is moving against all those. Under international pressure, anti-corruption legislation was carried and the State Agency for Fighting Corruption and Economic Crimes was established. Until 2014, just individual low or mid-level public officers were convicted and jailed, while the rare cases against those well-connected to the ruling clan were politically motivated and likewise settled. Or the suspects escaped abroad.
According to Freedom House, the anyway bad situation further deteriorated in 2013. Disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture in prison and custody or draconian sentences to critics of government are common. Arbitrary pressure on dissenting or disobeying businessmen or NGO activists is widespread. As for NGOs, the government provided space for the activities of those that did not deal with human rights, corruption or other politically sensitive issues (humanitarian, local community building, etc). Others often faced arbitrary investigations and prosecution. Foreign supported projects, besides being rare and small, often miss proper targets. Under a pretext of fighting extremism, serious limits are put to religious freedom. Access of under-16s to religious services is limited. Religious
education in schools is eliminated without offering proper secular alternatives. Five of the country`s six Islamic schools (madrasas) were closed in 2013. Several faith-based groups were banned. Proselytism by both Islamic and Christian groups, as well as unauthorized religious services, especially by new or small religious communities, is under persistent attack by the government. Gender based discrimination, or domestic violence against women and children are not yet addressed by the legislation. They are widespread. Except decriminalization (in 1998), no other steps were taken to tackle the discrimination against LGBTs.
Private property is not adequately secured in Tajikistan. Courts are not impartial and can be influenced by pressure from outside the courtroom, most notably form higher ranking officials. Furthermore, military interference in the political life is still very present and can have consequences for private economic agents. Court procedures are often lengthy and bear significant costs, and out of court settlements are not developed. The protection of property rights has improved since the implementation of new regulations on private property expropriation which regulated this area in a manner which restricted government’s ability to use its right extensively. However, some cases of abuse of this regulation in which political affiliation was proven to play an important role were recorded.
The insecurity of property rights in the agricultural sector is invigorated by the fact that all land is state property, leased to private farmers. The situation is worsened through the low performance of cadastre.
The size of government in Tajikistan is considerably smaller when government consumption is compared with the one of developed European countries which leads to lower level and quality of public services provided to the general public. This low expenditure provides room for relatively low tax rates contributing to robust economic growth, which is still partially attributed to the low growth base due to low level of development and disruption of the economy during the civil war in the 90ies. The budget deficits during the wake of the financial crisis accumulated moderate public debt of 28% of GDP which has been declining since the expenditures were subsided. However, the role of the state in the economy is still considerable: the state is the main proprietor of land in the country, which
is then leased to private farmers, and the main industrial facilities such as national electric grid operator, natural gas operator and the largest company in the country, the aluminum company Talco. Smaller private enterprises cannot compete with state owned enterprises, although there are few official restrictions, yet the ruling elite is connected to them. Many of these SOE have reported high losses in previous years (most notably Talco and Barqi Tojik) which pose a heavy burden on public finances.
The Labour Code in Tajikistan is neither completely flexible nor rigid. Hiring and firing regulations are not expensive, but working hour regulations are stringent and inflexible which incurs cost to employers in some sectors. Centralized collective bargaining is not widespread so it does not create additional costs to private companies. Minimum to average wage ratio is low, so it does not boost the unemployment. Severance pay is limited to 8.7 weeks for redundant workers. Business regulation is complicated, with lengthy procedures and costly. In getting electricity and obtaining construction permits, Tajikistan is at the bottom of world economies – it takes more than 7 months to get a permit. This regulatory framework with many procedures and long timetables is an environment prone to
corruption, which has become endemic in the country while bribes are considered a necessary economic cost.
Tajikistan has become a full member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2013, which considerably expanded freedom of trade, by lifting tariffs and other artificial trade barriers. However, it is very costly to export and import goods due to bad transportation infrastructure and geographical position, so it requires disproportionately high time and investions. Although a former USSR and current CIS member, Tajikistan’s economy is more connected to other more distant markets, both for its imports and exports. Furthermore, its trade relies also on neighboring ex-Soviet countries for some strategic goods, most notably aluminum for its processing. On the other hand, regulatory trade barriers are still high, which in addition to control of movement of migrant workers and capital, create
obstacles for free trade which would be important for development and growth, especially for the weak Tajikistani economy.