Who is to blame and what to do. Big talk about corruption in Uzbekistan

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Corruption continues to eat away at Uzbekistan from within. Offshore companies, relatives of officials receiving government orders, expensive and inexplicable gifts - this is only a small part of what is happening in the country.

Corruption continues to eat away at Uzbekistan from within. Offshore companies, relatives of officials receiving government orders, expensive and inexplicable gifts - this is only a small part of what is happening in the country. Worst of all, the embezzlers managed to form a system in society that not only encourages, but also approves of corruption on the part of the population. After all, everyone here knows - if you don’t put it on, you won’t go. If you want to work normally, there are simply no other options. Learn more at https://newspapersatlantic.com/fighting-corruption-in-uzbekistan.html

Podrobno.uz correspondent spoke with an international expert on combating corruption, head of several anti-corruption projects, professor of international studies and philosophy, member of the Public Council of the Anti-Corruption Agency of Uzbekistan Kodir Kuliyev, to understand why corruption has become an integral part of our life and the culture of human relations, is there any chance for our country to get out of this swamp.  

- Everyone puts something of their own into the concept of "corruption". Can, for example, be considered a bribe of a chocolate bar to a doctor in gratitude for him to conduct a more thorough examination? How clear is the definition of corruption in Uzbekistan's legislation?

– Bribing a doctor with chocolate or anything of value with the intent of getting a thorough physical examination or faster medical care is certainly corruption.

However, the law "On Combating Corruption", adopted in 2017, defines corruption as "the illegal use by a person of his official or official position in order to obtain material or non-material benefits for personal interests or in the interests of other persons, as well as the illegal provision of such benefits."

In other words, if you hire a smart lawyer, he will try to prove that this action can be non-corrupt, if the profit or benefit (in this case chocolate) is not illegal. Here he can be prosecuted under Article 213 or 214 of the Criminal Code, but this will not be corruption (according to the definition in the law). Because, ideally, attempting to influence an incumbent through bribery, favors, or favors in order to obtain a particular benefit or treatment not available to others, even if that benefit is not illegal, is a form of corruption.

Transparency International defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain. Imagine that you work for a government or hold a position in a company. You are supposed to serve the purposes of a company, corporation, or your country, but in reality you are using your advantage - the power and authority to do something for your family, yourself and your friends. It's illegal and it's corruption.

In general, corruption is understood to mean everything from giving bribes in exchange for some favor and stealing public funds to a wide range of dubious enrichment practices and any abuse of state power for personal gain.

Moreover, corruption itself is a multifaceted phenomenon. We can say that this is a question of morality and personalities. For corruption to be a moral issue, all cases of corruption must have at least one of the following properties: they must harm others, they must go against social norms, they must not stand for moral values.

But corruption can also be a property of systems, not of people. If the probability of getting caught is low, the punishment is lenient, and the payoff is high compared to the positive incentives facing the public official, then we are more likely to find corruption here. Corruption thrives when someone has monopoly power over a good or service, has the right to decide who gets that good or service, or how many people get it, and there is no accountability by which others can see what that person is doing.

– Many experts and journalists talk about rampant corruption in Uzbekistan. How do you assess the situation? In what areas is it most common and why?

– In Uzbekistan, there are positive forces from business, civil society and the government, which are aimed at reducing corruption. At the grassroots level, people began to resist corruption, we see several successful examples of fighting what people considered "paper bureaucracy".

However, the problem is that the terms corruption and ethics are not understood by our citizens today. Simply put, Uzbeks do not understand how a sense of ethics and corruption can improve their lives. Unfortunately, the confidence of citizens in the work of officials has not increased in comparison with the intensity of the reforms. The media report as many failures as successful cases of fighting corruption.

In fact, a survey I conducted with my colleague from TROLL.UZ last September with over 37,000 participants showed that 88% of respondents believe that the recent reforms in Uzbekistan have not reduced the level of corruption in the country.

In addition, a broad consensus based on local values ​​and experience is needed. This, of course, does not mean that everyone has to completely agree with each other, and certainly is not an argument for radical cultural relativism regarding the definition of corruption. Rather, the concepts of ethics and corruption should be understood by the people in Uzbekistan, and not be seen as arbitrarily imposed.

Finally, citizens must see real opportunities to apply these ethical values ​​in their treatment of others and demand that citizens and officials treat them equally. This process is part of what makes ethics and current reforms "real" in everyday life.

Careful investigation of the root causes of this disease in the system of Uzbekistan reveals one of the disguised "viruses". Most, if not all, government employees often work overtime. In fact, they must give up their personal and family life for the needs of the employer, especially in government organizations, usually without reasonable compensation, motivation or reward for such a sacrifice.

As a general rule, work done in addition to normal working hours must be voluntary and paid, since in one day the employer takes away half of someone's daily personal time. That is, if the recommended average sleep time of 8 hours is subtracted from 24 hours, then only 16 hours remain, of which half (8 hours) - the global labor norm - is taken by the employer.

Working more than 8 hours is considered illegal, and the remaining half should be devoted entirely to personal life. So the propensity for corruption increases significantly as human rights are violated.

This problem is systemic and persists at all levels of government organizations. Corruption will flourish, and worst of all, what I call "re-corruption" of the system will occur if anti-corruption measures do not take into account the quality of life of civil service professionals, especially law enforcement personnel.

Today, our society tends to measure the effectiveness of the fight against corruption by "status". It is important that national anti-corruption authorities understand that the main driver of any change is the belief of the society.

Research shows that public trust is declining today due to the belief that anti-corruption efforts only target those who are below a certain level in society. What we see on TV and read in the newspapers, all this speaks more about the facts when the so-called "small fish" are being caught, and not about high-ranking officials.

For example, the widely discussed facts that testify to the presence of immoral elements in a generous gift (Mercedez-Benz) presented to the khokimiyat of Tashkent by a mysterious stranger, or about a corruption scheme around the Gavkushon madrasah and its half-century art workshop named after folk master Salimjan Khamidov, serve as an example of the fact that attracting to the responsibility of high-ranking people or "big fish" is mandatory and desirable, but not always achievable.

The President recently acknowledged that khokims, especially middle-ranking ones, do not perform their duties properly due to lack of qualifications or corruption. Although the official literacy rate in Uzbekistan is almost 100%, since primary and secondary education is compulsory, they are still corrupt and do a poor job.

Although the judiciary in Uzbekistan is constitutionally differentiated and independent of the executive branch, in reality it is vulnerable to pressure from the executive branch and corruption.

Cases of corruption in judges or in the field of cultural heritage are not as transparent and widely discussed as in the fields of education and health, but the scale of loss and harm in these two areas is enormous.

Let us recall the incident with the Gavkushon madrasah in Bukhara. The Department of Cultural Heritage of Bukhara and the Center for Leasing State Property of Bukhara organized a very intricate chain of corruption schemes, as a result of which the activities of the only Center (workshop) of Bukhara coinage named after Ust Salimzhan Khamidov in Uzbekistan were destroyed.

Dozens of craftsmen and entrepreneurs lost their jobs, the chairman of the center had a mini-stroke, and schoolchildren lost the opportunity to attend the only free school of the Bukhara Coinage. The family business, which hosted and entertained hundreds of tourists with a folklore national concert and master classes, was destroyed.

Worst of all, a foreign investor from the United States, who had struggled to restore the activities of this UNESCO-supported center, turned away due to corruption. Khokimiyats are ignored, the prosecutor's office does not want to interfere, judges have been influenced.

The meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Aziz Abdukhakimov did not bring any fair result. Officials support each other in order to prevent serving a sentence or, at least, dismissal. People who have abused the power entrusted by the state are free and unpunished.

Of course, there are facts about who is behind all this, but the question is how long law enforcement agencies will turn a blind eye to gross violations and will this not be a betrayal of our president's trust? The khokim of Bukhara made many promises, acknowledging the presence of corruption, but in the end nothing happens. Ordinary people begin to doubt the honesty of high-ranking officials and lose hope for a better future.

The integrity vaccine concept introduced by our president in 2020 is a necessary policy, but the application and implementation of this measure is paramount. When talking about "guilt," which is an attribute of honesty, there are some common positions that most people agree with and can't help but feel guilty about breaking them. That being said, there are some values ​​that people misuse and therefore use to commit corrupt acts.

At the government level, the notion of "protection of the national interest" is clearly abused, which gives people the opportunity to rationalize their corrupt behavior. The concept of "national interest", which today should be used in foreign policy, is widely used by officials to hide their dishonest behavior, they mask their actions, explaining this by protecting the interests of the state structure.

When you criticize someone or something in the state system, it will not be voiced in the state media. Such an approach, for example, used today by the National Television and Radio Company of Uzbekistan, not only distorts trust, but also hinders the fight against human rights violations and corruption. We forgot that a critical voice is the oxygen of any anti-corruption movement.

Part of the fight against the "Uzbek culture of corruption" should be to offer real and better alternatives. If we tell citizens not to bribe a bureaucrat, they should feel that there is another and better way to run their business. In addition, it is necessary to understand the culture of corruption and then fight it at all levels, not just in national institutions.

Also, if we look at the laws through the prism of psychology, we still have a lot of fuzzy legal acts and a huge number of motivated conflicts of interest that stimulate the justification of the commission of corrupt acts by people and, therefore, reduce the moral cost of corrupt acts. In other words, the moment we make excuses for our behavior, the guilt goes away. Guilt is the moral food we must feed our officials.

I want to draw your attention to the possible damage from corruption. A country will not develop if the legal system, credit mechanisms and property rights are systematically corrupted and if human rights are violated everywhere. Usually, if these things are completely ruined, the investment is not worth the wait.

While Uzbekistan places great emphasis on macroeconomic issues, human resources, infrastructure development and many other efforts to attract foreign investors, the country's political risk factors, including human rights violations and corruption, have strongly influenced the decisions of many foreign investors to invest or stay in the local market. I think this is the long-term damage from corruption.

Let's take roads in the regions of Uzbekistan as an example. Due to corruption, the top layer of asphalt is not strong enough, it lacks gravel. The poor quality of roads requires large and constant repair costs. In addition, the speed of traffic is seriously falling. These additional costs are charged by sellers on top of the price, for example, for fruit.

As a result, ordinary people need higher salaries to be able to afford these fruits. Also, due to potholes in the road, truck tires and springs have to be repaired very often, which increases costs. In the end, transport in certain areas between cities becomes unprofitable.

Economic growth in some regions is stagnating, people are getting poorer. When people have less hope for the future, they tend to become more corrupt, or worst of all, join radical groups of all stripes that will threaten state security for a long time to come. Therefore, it is in the long-term interests of the government and state security to fight corruption and ensure that this road is built to the highest quality standards.

– Recently, more and more videos have been appearing on social networks in which lynching of people who are trying to report offenses and corruption takes place. They are called "terpils" and "snitches". Why has such a mentality developed in society and how can it be changed?

– One of the main reasons for this is the ignorance and ignorance of the meaning and intentions of the whistleblowers. After all, the concept of reporting violations is completely new for Uzbekistan. Unlike "snitch", a highly negative term used during the Soviet era, whistleblowers serve the public interest by exposing corruption and other illegal activities.

We live in an era of materialism with low interest in ethical issues and low levels of "guilt". This, in turn, increased the level of crime, in particular corruption, in both the public and private sectors. People are different: there are weak and strong, smart and naive. It's inevitable, that's life.

Therefore, given the deep-rooted corruption in Uzbekistan, it is vital to legalize the concept and policy of whistleblowing, while ensuring the confidentiality and safety of whistleblowers, as well as monetary rewards for them. Once we create this, we will optimize our strategy to combat this phenomenon.

This process must be promoted as cooperation between society and the state. As the American scholar Edward Griffin said, "It is the highest duty of patriotism to resist government corruption."

Given the positive attitude of Uzbeks towards the media, they can be an important mechanism not only to raise awareness of the law that Uzbekistan may develop against whistleblowers, but also serve as an auxiliary mechanism for implementing the law, exposing corruption and protecting this group of people.

- In our country, large orders in public procurement are often received by companies where relatives of officials are in the management. We also often hear about "tanish bilish" which helps in getting a job. How to get rid of such a phenomenon as nepotism? How is it done in other countries?

– The most common type of corruption in Uzbekistan is favoritism, which refers to benevolence towards a person or group and unfair treatment of others, which negatively affects the quality of public activity and contributes to the unequal distribution of state resources.

Nepotism is favoritism shown by those in power to relatives or close friends, for example by giving them work. This is practiced everywhere. You can see this in the US, Europe and Asia, both in the private and public sectors.

For example, it is no coincidence that article 13 of the Model Code of Conduct for Civil Servants, annexed to the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe of 11 May 2000, states: impartial performance of his official duties" and that "the personal interest of a public official includes any benefit to him personally or to his family, relatives, friends and associates, as well as to persons and organizations with which he has or had business or political relationship. This term also includes any financial or civil obligation that a public official has.

In Uzbekistan, nepotism is well known in the form of discrimination, in which friends or family members are hired for reasons that do not necessarily have anything to do with their experience, knowledge or skills. Since assistance to family members and relatives (especially in finding employment) is highly valued and rewarded in Uzbekistan, solving this problem is not so simple. Unfortunately, it is already part of the culture. Usually, if a person refuses or is unable to provide such support, they may be rejected by family members and relatives.

"Tanish Bilish" is a valuable ethical concept when it is properly used in the matter of hospitality or "respect for elders", trust among friends or family. However, when these values ​​are applied in the public service, it can be detrimental to impartiality in the performance of public officials. It is wrong to not be able to voice the minor misconduct of your boss because of "respect for the elder", to give the official high and strong powers, to trust the subordinate without monitoring the performance of his official duties - this is wrong.

The problem is that if it's practiced over and over, people tend to think it's okay: "That's what everyone does, why shouldn't I do it?" The feeling of guilt disappears, only the “benefit-harm” thinking remains.

The young philosopher Christopher Gilbert said that "seemingly insignificant but persistent things in time penetrate the mind, making it difficult to realize their impact. Therefore, the most dangerous forms of corruption are those that are invisible and hidden from the radar."

Therefore, an effective and efficient way to prevent corruption in our society can be to invest in our citizens and officials having ethical thoughts, increasing the moral cost of corruption and guilt.

Nepotism in public procurement causes bitter resentment among suppliers for being treated unfairly. Again, in Eastern traditions it is customary to involve relatives and friends in matters of great importance, especially when it comes to welfare and material wealth. Today, this principle is still relevant and has a significant impact on both the political and socio-economic life of Uzbekistan.

Many of our tenders, in one way or another, involve an element of nepotism, where buyers tend to share key information with people with whom they have close and family ties. All this can lead to a violation of the rules of the tender and dishonest bidding results.

The main collusive factor between the buyer and the supplier is the price of the bid announced on the public procurement portal. Because higher bids bring greater financial benefits to both buyers and suppliers, both parties have an interest in keeping a low profile and hiding a pre-tender deal, which brings us to one of the common causes of collusion – nepotism.

Nepotism is the main reason why some suppliers consistently lose tenders while others consistently win. Thus, the buyer, who has access to information about the amount of the budget allocated for the purchase of certain goods and services, receives leverage and relies on people from his circle of trust.

- Also, large contracts go to new companies registered either offshore or in ordinary private houses in Western countries. How corrupt is this fact? Is this acceptable in developed countries?

– The conclusion of contracts with foreign companies is common everywhere, including in developed countries. Most government agencies in the US, for example, welcome applications from any firm that is eligible to compete for the opportunity to win a contract, whether it is based in the US or in another country. In the UK, it is also allowed to enter into contracts with foreign companies. Therefore, we cannot call it an act of corruption without knowing additional details.

However, there are several corruption schemes associated with the participation of a foreign company. The first question: was there a tender? If yes, then the main object of investigation is the organization that announced the tender. Then questions arise: who was the head of the tender commission? Have the results of the tender been announced, and if so, where? If not, why not? How many participants were in the tender process?

A careful study of the tender documentation can reveal companies to which the commission treated superficially. Sometimes members of the commission may have a conflict of interest, and this is another line of investigation. What were the qualification requirements of the tender process? Who are the shareholders of the company that won the tender? All of these questions should be answered before we make a conclusion about a foreign company.

There are also kickback brokers when a foreign company is trying to win a tender or get a major contract. Kickbacks in large public procurement projects are usually channeled through persons closely associated with each of the parties involved in the scheme. These "kickback brokers" are often local agents or joint venture partners of a foreign company seeking a government contract.

The services of these "business development agents", as they are often called, are used by many large companies planning to do business in a country where they do not have a representative office.

Foreign companies use the services of these agents to accompany participation in tenders for public procurement contracts. Corruption usually occurs in the early stages of procurement. By using a local agent, the foreign company eliminates the need to have a permanent presence in the buyer's country. Essentially, a foreign company pays a local agent a fee to “hijack” a contract for it, influencing local officials.

– At the beginning of March, the Anti-Corruption Agency reported on its work over the past year. As a representative of the Public Council, how do you evaluate the work done? What positive and negative points can you point out? To what extent does the board's opinion matter in the organization?

– The creation of the Anti-Corruption Agency in 2020 was an important step. This is a signal to citizens and the international community that Uzbekistan has officially recognized the existence of corruption and intends to fight it.

A specially organized state body that implements state policy aimed at preventing and combating corruption is responsible for ensuring effective interaction between state bodies, the media, civil society institutions and other non-state sectors, as well as for international cooperation in this area.

But whether he performs his functions well and how important the opinion of the board is in the organization are sore points. The Public Council has been working for more than a year and has done a great job. We have talented and experienced professionals from various fields who have helped the institution. I personally represented our Motherland, the anti-corruption policy of our president and the Agency at several international and local conferences, lectured on anti-corruption and compliance control in several state and non-governmental organizations of Uzbekistan, proposing advanced anti-corruption measures necessary for the development of the National Strategy in this domain.

However, recent criticism of undemocratic practices in the process of electing the board of directors of the council, the unethical actions of some conservative members who oppose freedom of speech and truth, as well as the council's request for detailed travel expenses to Egypt, and my recent interview with KUN.UZ, have led to the dissolution of the council. , and without any legal grounds and with a lot of violations. I must admit that the scheme for withdrawing objectionable people is "well thought out." To be more detailed, I will dwell on some facts:

 

  • at the last meeting of the council, on the basis of which the decision on liquidation was made, the inefficiency of the functioning of the council was discussed, the issue of self-dissolution was not on the agenda of the meeting. A vote was taken, and only one member stood up and proposed, without any arguments or justification, to liquidate the council due to "inefficiency". I suspect this was a pre-arranged tactic;
  • the discussion of the liquidation of the council was not carried out within the framework of the law, the opinion of each member was not heard. During the voting, the task was not clearly formulated. Members only agreed on the board's weaknesses and problems based on a few unsubstantiated opinions that the board called "inefficiencies";
  • the most important meetings were always attended by someone from the Agency's leadership. At the same time, the issue of liquidating the council is extremely important, it must take into account every vote and justification, however, none of the leadership was present at this meeting;
  • There is an obvious conflict of interest here. In the interests of the monopolistic power established in the council by several members, it was important to liquidate the council. After all, otherwise they would have to answer many open questions and be held responsible for some violations. It would have been impossible to remove educated, influential, fearless and honest patriots from the council for their great support to the Agency and who played an important role in the fight against corruption without such tactics.

By formally approving a corrupt public council decision to dissolve that violates fundamental human rights, including the laws and norms of Uzbekistan and perhaps even articles 18 and 46 of our Constitution, as well as articles 2, 19, 22 and 26 of the ICCPR and article 5 of the ICESCR, the Agency proved to many that it does not fully use the created mechanism, does not conduct a full-fledged examination and does not use the tools of public control insufficiently.

Instead of sharing their views on the immoral acts of a minority, condemning actions that are contrary to the Agency's mission and values, and supporting honest employees who have done a lot for society, the Agency simply agreed to liquidation. Participants are currently awaiting a formal, signed decision, along with a response to their application, in order to challenge it in court.

- Based on the experience of foreign countries, can you say what changes are needed in our legislation in order to fight corruption? The practices of which states can be applied in our country?

– The law should stigmatize and criminalize "promise", "offer" and even verbal consent to receive a bribe. It would be difficult to prove a verbal promise of acceptance or an offer, but stigmatizing and criminalizing it would certainly increase liability and could greatly reduce bribery if used properly.

The law should also detail offenses related to bribery for material and non-material gain. The drafting of a civil service bill is good news, but there should also be a well-drafted law on whistle-blower protection and conflict of interest. In addition, the legalization of the consideration and verification of anonymous messages will bring big positive changes.

In addition, many new laws and regulations are passed each year, which may seem impressive, but laws are not an automatic response to corrupt practices. Sometimes more laws and regulations are ineffective and may create new opportunities for corruption.

New laws are good when they limit monopoly power, clarify discretion, provide transparency, and increase accountability. Uzbekistan acceded to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2008, but we have not yet sufficiently strengthened the current anti-corruption legislation to give the treaty force in the country.

We also have many laws and regulations that violate morality. Therefore, it is important that laws before they are adopted are discussed in society and correspond to morality.

If the Uzbek authorities want the fight against corruption to be taken seriously, it must also take Transparency International, a non-governmental international organization with zero conflict of interest, seriously, organize periodic conferences for them on corruption in the country, as well as the opportunity to advise national anti-corruption bodies.

To eradicate corruption in the justice system, judges must be given a buffer against pressure. They must ensure that their behavior, public or private, is in accordance with legal and ethical standards. To do this, they must be placed in an institutional environment that guarantees accountability to the public.

Thus, judges are required to act impartially, objectively and in good faith, and they must be punished for any misconduct such as abuse of office, bias or biased judgment, or negligence in the performance of their duties.

I personally complained several times to the Council of Judges with hard and obvious facts about cases of bias and unprofessionalism of judges, but no sanctions were applied against them. Also important is easy access to litigation for the media. A law that allows representatives of journalists to attend and record court hearings without a time-consuming approval process is essential to ensuring uncompromising justice.

Our law does not provide for the punishment of employees of state bodies who abuse their entrusted powers for personal gain, if this does not harm the state. The saddest thing is that the dismissal of an employee who has committed an unethical or even corrupt act may be the only sanction in the public sector.

For example, in the case of Gavkushon in Bukhara, it was proved that a former employee of the city's cultural heritage department had abused his official powers, but the Bukhara prosecutor's office refused to open a criminal case, without even applying any punishment. This is argued by the fact that there is no fact of causing harm to the state. Violation of the rights and legitimate interests of citizens, moral damage and harm to the health of citizens were not taken into account. Employees of the State Unitary Enterprise "Leasing Center" of Bukhara, who illegally organized a tender for the lease of the Gavkushon madrasah, also remained unpunished. The new management does not take responsibility. The result is corrupt officials on the loose.

 

 
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