2017-05-05 | Security

Uzbekistan continues police reform following complaints

By Maksim Yeniseyev

The government received tens of thousands of online complaints in a few months.

A screenshot from an MVD commercial shows officers of the Okhrana division in March.

TASHKENT -- Although Uzbekistani law enforcement already has undergone several reforms in 2017, officials and citizens want more.

Between September 24, 2016, and January 24 this year, almost 47,000 complaints about the Interior Ministry (MVD)'s job performance reached President Shavkat Mirziyoyev's online in-box.

"They [police] do a lot of useful work, and I feel safe," Tashkent resident Rustam Meliyev told Caravanserai. "But departments like the passport office, entry and exit [to and from foreign countries], and traffic police have too much bureaucracy."

The public is expecting major changes, Interior Minister Abdusalom Azizov said during a May 2 news conference, according to Gazeta.uz.

One answer to those expectations is to promote fresh faces, he said.

"We began appointing people who are 40 or so to leadership positions," said Azizov at the news conference. "[They] focus on self-improvement, understand modern technology and keep up with changes in the world at large and in their own field."

The Uzbekistani police force still suffers from shortcomings that plagued it in the 1980s, during the death throes of the Soviet Union, Tashkent-based political scientist Valerii Khan told Caravanserai.

Such problems include "colossal paperwork for rank-and-file officers, very few solved crimes and lack of public oversight", said Khan.

78 reforms by 2021

On April 10, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree on fundamental reform of the police.

The "profound shortcomings" of Uzbekistani police are preventing them from effectively fighting "threats and challenges" like extremism and terrorism, he warned in his decree.

The decree cited nine problems with law enforcement, such as lack of a clear chain of command, overworked officers and lack of dialogue with the public.

It included special emphasis on the failure to prevent terrorist recruitment of youth.

Solutions that the government proposes include creating an MVD Main Administration for Fighting Terrorism and Extremism.

All in all, the decree prescribes 78 reforms to be carried out by 2021, which the government intends to front load. It plans to start and/or complete 88% of them this year.

"This decree indicates that our authorities seriously intend to reform the country," Khan said. "We shouldn't expect modern police departments to take shape in one year. It's a long and gradual process."

'Serving the public interest'

The core of the reform is a planning document on "serving the public interest", which specifies the need to transform the police into a public-oriented, professional service, according to the official commentary attached to the presidential decree.

Mirziyoyev criticised the MVD in February, Caravanserai previously reported.

Afterwards, the country declared every Thursday to be "Crime Prevention Day" and a bill on reforming the police took effect March 17.

Less than a month later, Uzbekistani officials deemed it necessary to take more-radical steps.

"Never before has the MVD seen such a sweeping programme of reforms," MVD spokesman Samvel Petrosyan told Caravanserai. "It is planning to optimise all divisions, review personnel policy and the system for paying staff, and implement the newest technological solutions. Within two or three years, law enforcement agencies should be completely transformed."

Several reforms have targeted improving the image of law enforcement agencies. One such reform includes replacing the police's Soviet-era uniforms by July 1, 2018.

Uzbekistanis are already noticing changes.

"Police have started behaving more professionally," Iroda Bakhromova of Tashkent told Caravanserai. "Recently I handed in my old passport and received the new one in exactly 10 days, as the law prescribes. You used to wait for months. If the reforms succeed, they will transform our country."

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