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...
The conditions to perform free and fair elections have slightly worsened in the only Farsi-speaking Central Asian republic. This is mainly due to a weak opposition and a stronger president. As in Kyrgyzstan, a “foreign agents’ bill” puts the few civil society organizations under general verdict that they are financed by foreign secret services and gives state institutions a free hand to disband them. OSCE election observation mission described the parliamentary elections as not being administered in an impartial manner. Opposition candidates and their voters were intimidated and restricted. Thus the elections could neither be described as free nor fair.
Tajikistan is not a free country. Unconstitutional veto players such as the military, media tycoons living abroad and the fact that the country is deeply entrenched in Russia’s concept of neighbourhood policy have a detrimental effect on the development of democratic structures. The political elites, e.g. president Rahmon, keep this state of play for their personal profit.
There is no press freedom in Tajikistan. The main reason is basically the ruling elite’s perception of its role: media has to duly report what the government announces. Journalists who dare to report against the narrow mainstream are subjected to threats and loss of their job. Despite countless programs trying to promote investigative journalism, self-censorship remains widespread. One after another of the Central Asian republics follows the example of Russia. That is one of the reasons why Tajikistan fared worse in this year’s report, in comparison to the last year.
Tajikistani judiciary is facing setbacks regarding its independence and quality. There were several investigations against political opponents, individuals or groups, whereby court proceedings were kept secret from public. Arbitrary arrests are common. Prisons are dangerously overcrowded. Torture, extortions and corruption are frequent. Corruption in courts is a part of everyday life. Besides, capacity and experience of judges are insufficient. As Freedom House noted, “court proceedings rarely follow the rule of law”. A notorious case during 2014 was the arrest, with so far unclear results of the investigation, of a postgraduate student from Toronto Alexander Sodiqov, who had researched into social conflicts and post-conflict management following the widespread police and other
violence in the town of Khorog, where after he was accused of treason.
Parts of the legislation are intentionally designed so as to facilitate rather than to mitigate corruption. They allow for lots of arbitrariness by authorities, for favouring businesses close to the ruling clan and for tax evasion by the selected few, as well as, to civil servants, earning openly supplements to their salaries through bribes. President Rahmon’s family members hold important governmental posts and own the largest bank, the railroad and the main TV station. Other members of his clan own or control most of the country’s lucrative production facilities. In the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2014 Tajikistan was ranked 152 out of 175 countries, with the score 23, similarly as in 2013 when it was placed 154 of 177, with the score 22.
Similar as with corruption, the situation of human rights in Tajikistan stagnated throughout the past year. The level of protection remained low. Politically relevant associations, or the rights that might be used by the opposition parties, are limited one by one. Sometimes the struggle against extremism and terrorism is used as justification. NGOs encounter selective justice when applying to register or do other technicalities. In June 2015, the amendments to the law on NGOs were carried. They obliged NGOs to report to the Ministry of Justice each and every foreign donation they received. Limitations to free speech are numerous. Protection of LGBTs against discrimination is non-existing, thus people usually hide their orientation. Sexual harassment, discrimination at work and domestic
violence are common, albeit they are rarely reported and investigated. Sex- or other human trafficking is a serious problem. Women face societal pressure to wear headscarves, parallel to governmental pressure not to do so. In public institutions, hijab-style headscarves are barred (along with miniskirts) by the mandatory dressing code, but the traditional Tajik head cover is tolerated. In June 2015, in Brussels, EU and Tajikistan held the seventh annual round of their Human Rights Dialogue. During the meeting, EU representatives expressed concern over pressure on independent journalists and on social media websites in Tajikistan. They especially insisted on improvements of the freedom of expression.
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, connections between political and economic agents are widespread and can have major impact to conducting business. This provides ground for thriving corruption, nepotism and favouritism on behalf of public officials. Another serious problem resides in lengthy court procedures that bear significant costs, which impedes access to justice. The instrument of out-of-court settlement has not been developed. Private property expropriation by the state remains an area of concern, because this instrument can be used discriminatively and extensively, and the pecuniary compensation can be lower than
perceived fair market price. The insecurity of property rights in the agricultural sector is considerably due to low performance of the land cadastre.
The size of government in Tajikistan is considerably smaller when the government consumption is compared with the one of developed European countries. That leads to a lower level and quality of services provided to the general public. Such a low level of expenditure provides room for low tax rates, contributing to recent robust economic growth. However, low growth base due to low level of development, disruption of economy during the civil conflict, as well as the drop in economic activities due to economic transition, also had impact on the recorded economic growth. A downside of this situation is a low quality of infrastructure, especially in transportation, due to low public investments. That impedes private sector development. The budget deficits in the wake of financial crisis
accumulated a moderate public debt of 28% of GDP, however the debt is expected to continue to grow, both because of the envisaged slowdown in growth due to economic developments in Russia and due to higher interest rates. The share of shadow economy in the country is very high. Inflation has picked up, partially due to the pass through effect of the national currency devaluation. The role of the state in the economy is still considerable: it is one of the main proprietors of land in the country, which is then leased to private farmers, as well as of the main industrial facilities such as national electric grid operator, natural gas operator and the largest company in the country, the aluminium company Talco. Smaller private enterprises cannot compete with the state-owned enterprises because of the pressure from the ruling elite which is connected to state companies, although there are few official restrictions. Many of the SOEs have reported high financial losses during the previous years, which burden public finances. SOE mismanagement is also connected to corruption, which itself is widespread.
Labour Code in Tajikistan is characterized by both flexible and rigid components: hiring and firing regulations are not expensive, but working-hours regulations are stringent and inflexible, which incurs cost to employers. Centralized collective bargaining is not widespread so it does not create additional costs to private companies. The level of minimum wage in comparison to the average one is low, so it does not impede employment in the manufacturing sector. However, most of the workforce is still active in the low productive agriculture sector. Low quality of education, coupled with weak education and labour market connections, limit new job openings. Severance pay is limited to 8.7 weeks for redundant workers. Business regulation is complicated, with lengthy and costly procedures. In
getting electricity and obtaining construction permits, Tajikistan is at the bottom of world economies – on average it takes more than 6 months to get a permit or to get connected to the power grid. This regulatory framework with many procedures and long timetables is an environment prone to corruption, which has become endemic in the country while the bribe is considered as a necessary business cost. Tax administration procedure is another area that incurs high cost of compliance with regulation.
Full membership of Tajikistan in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2013 expanded the freedom of trade by lifting tariffs and other artificial barriers to trade. However, the average tariff rate is still highly standing at 8.1% (and higher it is for agricultural than for industrial products). Only a limited number of products are imported duty free. More than by high tariffs, international trade is impeded by bad transportation infrastructure and geographical position. This makes movements of goods expensive and effectively serves as a substantial barrier to trade. Furthermore, obtaining the customs documentation necessary for imports or exports requires a lot of time. As a former USSR and current CIS member, Tajikistani economy is connected to the Russian economy but important, more
distant markets are Turkey and China. Furthermore, its trade also relies on neighbouring ex-Soviet countries, for some strategic goods, most notably aluminium for processing. Regulatory trade barriers are still high, which in addition to control of movement of capital creates obstacles to free trade, so important for development, growth and economic restructuring. On the other hand, the procedure of starting a business is not too lengthy. There is no legal minimum regarding the required capital.