Dushanbe Mayor Makhmadsaid Ubaidullayev called on the city’s residents to donate half of their May and June income for the construction of the Rogun hydropower station on the Vakhsh River. According to Ubaidullayev’s calculations, these donations would amount to over $10 million and become a sizable contribution to the facility’s construction. The mayor, one of the most influential political figures in Tajikistan, was supported by the president’s administration and the Tajik parliament, the Majdlisi.
Although the donation was a “recommended civic duty,” the government’s financial institutions have begun a scrupulous documentation of those who “volunteered” and who refused. Mostly, public employees were forced to give away their salaries as part of mayor’s invented informal tax, while owners of small and medium-sized businesses will be pressured by official tax collectors.
All members of the Tajik parliament will have to submit their full salary to Rogun. One Tajik MP representing the opposition told Jamestown that he was asked to contribute his salary to Rogun, but he refused, instead donating the entire salary to a children’s hospital as a protest against Ubaidullayev and the regime: “actions speak louder than words. I don’t mind donating money to the country but not under such circumstances”
Ubaidullayev and other Tajik official take any criticism of their policies personally. Even their families stop communicating with families of those who criticized them.
This winter Tajikistan experienced a severe energy crisis, with the majority of the population living without water, electricity or heating in subzero temperatures for over four weeks. Due to significant shortages, Tajikistan is still continuing to import electricity from neighboring countries. Usually Tajikistan relies on its own production of energy starting in mid April. This year Tajikistan has produced 2,6 billion kwh, 500 million kwh less than in the same period in 2007.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been promoting a multiparty consortium for Rogun’s management and investment. He has also promised to invest 136 million somoni (roughly $40 million) into the construction of Rogun in 2008, with more funds coming in 2009. The Rogun dam’s construction began in 1976 but was left unfinished. Russia expressed interest in investing in the construction of Rogun in 2007, but the Tajik government preferred to attract other foreign investors.
In May Rahmon will travel to Astana to meet Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev to negotiate Kazakh involvement in constructing Rogun. Rahmon also pleaded for help from a number of Arab countries. It remains unclear, however, which countries will participate in the project. The president called for all Tajik professionals in hydropower engineering who went abroad to return to the country and help reform the sector.
Representatives of Tajikistan’s international organizations tell Jamestown that Ubaidullayev will indeed be able to collect a certain amount of donations, but further spending will lack transparency and large sums will most likely be pocketed. Other Tajik experts comment that citizens must pay double tariffs for electricity, while the government does not plan to compensate those who paid their “civic duty” to Rogun.
Meanwhile, prices for electricity in Tajikistan will double in May, driving the local population into further despair. At present, only Tajikistan’s larger cities are supplied with electricity, and central Dushanbe is the only place that receives electricity throughout the day. The minimum monthly salary that Tajikistan guarantees public employees is only slightly above $10 and the pension $15, while monthly living expenses are estimated to be $20 per person. According to International Finance Corporation’s data, more that 40 percent of small businesses regularly encounter difficulties from the Tajik authorities. The Tajik government reports that over 650,000 Tajiks are working in Russia.
In his annual speech to parliament on April 25, Rahmon announced that pensions would increase in the second half of the year, but Tajik experts warn about severe bread shortages and high inflation rates in the coming months.
Poor living standards and fears of another cold winter breed public discontent across the country. Today, roughly 40 percent of Tajiks still support the president, while the majority regard his policies as being full of promises but of little substance. Even residents of Kulob, Rahmon’s hometown, where he traditionally enjoyed more support, are expressing disappointment in his regime. Whereas in the past decade Rahmon was able to maintain stability in Tajikistan by threatening a renewal of civil war, his rhetoric today is waning. To subdue aggressive moods in the population, Rahmon’s highly centralized government might need more help from its 40,000-member police (Asia-Plus, Vecherny, Dushanbe, May 1).