By Maksim Yeniseyev
A public service announcement, produced in January 2016 by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Uzbekistan Prosecutor General's Office, shows an official arrested for taking a bribe in his office. [Screenshot from OSCE video]
TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan is tackling corruption, which authorities call a national security threat, through joint actions involving security agencies, media and civil society.
"Corruption weakens and breaks down law enforcement agencies, which ultimately impacts the country's overall security," Uzbekistani political analyst Umid Asatullayev told Caravanserai. "Buying off officials is a favorite tactic of extremists and terrorists across the world."
The new 2017-2021 National Development Strategy, approved by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on February 7, addresses corruption, extremism and terrorism.
Paragraph 2.4 of the strategy calls on officials to take greater action to fight religious extremism, terrorism and organised crime, and also improve anti-corruption measures in the coming years.
"We must take decisive measures to counter and prevent corruption in our society [...] and ensure that the punishments set forth by laws are actually carried out," Mirziyoyev said December 14 during a joint session of parliament.
Caravanserai previously reported about corrupt Uzbek officials who were caught selling exit visas to militants . A group of Ferghana Province police officers, under police Lt. Col. Odiljon Soliyev, was convicted last summer.
Soliyev had headed the provincial Entry, Exit and Citizenship Administration -- part of the Interior Ministry (MVD).
The court found him guilty of taking bribes from "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) recruiters enabling "ISIL accomplices in the country to obtain the [travel] documents they needed" for a price.
On January 4, the new Anti-Corruption Law came into force in Uzbekistan.
"The new law reinforces the system and ways that state agencies, mass media and citizens can get involved in fighting corruption," said parliamentary spokesman Azamat Mukhtarov.
To further support the implementation of the new law, Mirziyoyev on February 2 approved the 2017-2018 State Anti-Corruption Programme.
"The most important part of this programme is that it creates the Interagency Commission on Countering Corruption, chaired by the country's prosecutor general," Mukhtarov said in a statement.
"The commission will include 43 representatives from various organisations, such as the Interior Ministry, National Security Service, Customs Committee, Supreme Court and also NGOs."
"The commission will have broad authority," he said. "All agencies in the country are required to implement their decisions."
Uzbekistan has been making steady progress in reducing corruption, according to the latest Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index, published January 25.
In 2016, Uzbekistan received a score of 21 on TI's scale -- which runs from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). Uzbekistan's score was 19 in 2015, 18 in 2014 and 17 in 2013 and 2012.
One new measure, the president's "virtual reception" webpage where citizens can report incidents of corruption has received 409,000 complaints since September, of which 81.6% have been resolved, according to official figures. A majority of the complaints involved the MVD.
"I have run up against corruption in the court system, hospitals and universities," said Tashkent resident Viktoriya Tyan.
The "virtual reception" webpage is "really helping us defend our rights", she said.
"Bribe-takers fear being exposed, and that is how we can fight them," she told Caravanserai.
"Citizens are also guilty of corruption," Tashkent resident Sherzod Ismailov told Caravanserai. "Take, for example, traffic police ... Drivers rush to offer bribes first to get the officer to turn a blind eye to the violation."
People who offer bribes should be also punished by legislation, he said.
Presidents of Central Asian countries overall called 2017 a year of changes and said they foresee further innovations in 2018.
What is the biggest threat to peace and security in your country for 2018?