09/13/2007, 00.00
CENTRAL ASIA
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In Central Asian nations public servants extort money to pay grocery bills

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan pay starvation salaries to their public servants, who end up charging “extra” the people they are supposed to serve. Others simply neglect their regular job for a second one. Everyone loses faith in government, which is indifferent anyway.

Bishkek (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Salaries paid to public servants in Central Asian nations, including medical doctors and policemen, are so low that they cannot live on them alone; many are forced to take a second job or “charge” people.

In the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia the average official monthly salaries range from around US$ 35 in Tajikistan to about US$ 96 in Kyrgyzstan; Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are somewhat in between. Only in oil-rich Kazakhstan are public sector salaries better.

Some schoolteachers in Uzbekistan can make as little as US$ 80; in Kyrgyzstan they can earn between - a month, which can buy at best 20 kilograms of beef or 10 kilograms of butter.

In Tajikistan, where doctors officially make around US$ 35 a month, a litre of vegetable oil goes for US$ 1; a kilogram of beef costs US.

With such salaries no one can have a family with kids and pay for food, clothing, housing and other basic necessities.

To make matters worse, many public sector workers like medical doctors are paid with two-three months delays.

And actions promised by Central Asian governments are utterly inadequate.

During Independence Day celebrations in Uzbekistan on September 1, Uzbek President Islam Karimov announced that his government was considering doubling the pay of state workers over the next three years.

Recently, the Tajik government promised to increase public employees' wages by 50 per cent next month, whilst teachers in Turkmenistan were told that they would receive a 40 per cent pay raise in their September salaries.

Despite this, such increases cannot counter the effects of a rising cost of living. In many ways, things are worse because retailers are quick off the mark to raise their prices as soon as wage hikes are announced.

Public sector employees thus end up taking up a second job during their regular work hours. Many can be found selling fruits and flowers, making clothes, growing their own food or raising their own livestock.

Hundreds of thousands of graduates in medicine, engineering, teaching move to Russia or other countries to work temporarily, coming home for a few weeks every year.

Some public servants go beyond this and ask people for ‘gifts.’ For example, as much as health care is in theory free, patients are still expected to pay charges to their doctor. Similarly, before exam time many teachers remind their students about their low salaries.

Indeed, many police officers, customs officials, airport staff, taxi drivers are often accused of extorting money.

In its 2006 report Transparency International, an NGO that addresses corruption worldwide, placed Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan among the 20 most-corrupt countries. 

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