Managing “Managed Freedom”
While Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s government has implemented some reforms, it has gone only as far as a system of “managed freedom.” There is room for some dissent, though how much is not always clear, and the state is still quick to revert to repressive measures. That is not good enough.
LONDON – On July 9, Uzbek blogger Miraziz Bazarov posted an open letter to the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank on Facebook, highlighting the likelihood that the government was misusing COVID-19 relief funds. Bazarov’s allegation proved to be justified, but he paid a price for making it: he was summoned to the State Security Service (SGB) office for questioning.
Bazarov addressed the IMF and the ADB, because they – along with the World Bank – had together issued nearly a billion dollars in loans for Uzbekistan’s battle against COVID-19. But Uzbekistan has a long record of official corruption. It ranks 153rd of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, not least because officials have often used their positions to enrich themselves and silence their critics.
That is why Bazarov urged the IMF and the ADB to refrain from issuing loans to Uzbekistan until the government devised a mechanism that would enable the public to track how the funds are spent. That way, the funds would be invested in Uzbekistan’s health-care system, which is on the brink of collapse, and would help the many citizens who, as Bazarov noted, had been left “without incomes and the means for survival.”