https://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2019/08/30/feature-01
| Education

Gazprom fraud deprives Kyrgyz children of opportunity to attend Bishkek school

By Kanat Altynbayev

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A school in Bishkek built by Gazprom, seen in this photo taken August 18, will be out of reach for average citizens. Children whose parents cannot afford Gazprom's tuition fees will be able only to admire the new school from afar. [Kanat Altynbayev]

BISHKEK -- When Russian energy giant Gazprom promised to build a tuition-free, state-of-the-art middle school in Bishkek, local residents were ecstatic.

Now they are up in arms, as the company is charging fees that only the wealthiest of families can afford in a move residents are calling "fraud against society".

The school history dates back to 2013, when Gazprom purchased a 100% stake in Kyrgyzgaz, Kyrgyzstan's largest natural gas supplier.

The parties agreed that under the terms of the purchase, which was made for the token price of $1, Gazprom would spend five years modernising and rebuilding Kyrgyzstan's gas infrastructure. In addition, the Russian gas giant took on civic obligations like building sports facilities and schools in Kyrgyzstan.

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Gazprom equipped the school, seen August 18, with a swimming pool and other amenities for students who are able to pay. [Kanat Altynbayev]

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Azamat Dikambayev, the principal of the Gazprom school, answers questions from local residents on August 18. [Kanat Altynbayev]

Gazprom built the middle school in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital. The school would have 33 modern classrooms, computer rooms, a multimedia library, laboratory and auditorium, a 350-seat cafeteria, two gymnasiums and two indoor swimming pools as well as outdoor sports fields, announced Alexei Miller, chairman of Gazprom.

"The school is an exemplar of world-class practices, and its construction will give serious momentum to the well-rounded development of Kyrgyzstan's younger generation," Miller said in August 2017 when he and then-President Almazbek Atambayev laid a capsule under the foundation of the future building.

Bishkek's city hall also contributed to the "project of the century". It allocated a 3.5-hectare plot of land for the school and built an asphalt road leading to it.

The amount coming out of the municipal budget has not been disclosed.

A school for the rich

However, news emerged that the school would not be free after construction ended early this summer.

The tuition proposed by Gazprom is 22,000 KGS ($315) per month, 24.kg reported in June, citing a Facebook user named Bakuliya Jalilova.

Local residents who were waiting for the school's completion were taken aback. In Kyrgyzstan, the average monthly salary in 2018 was $235 (16,415 KGS), according to official statistics.

"I'm shocked. Now where am I going to send my son, who's starting first grade in September?" asked Tilek Surabaldiyev, a resident of Asanbai, the Bishkek neighbourhood where the school is situated.

Saikal Abdyrazayeva, who also lives near the school, said that the tuition would force her to continue taking her child to another school downtown on the bus.

Local residents were excited in 2017 when Atambayev and Miller inaugurated construction of the school, she recalled.

"But it turns out that they built the school for the rich. We don't have that kind of money or opportunity to get into such a luxurious school," Abdyrazayeva said.

"Why did they build that huge school with an observatory that my child can't enter? He won't be able to study in those classrooms, swim in the pool or play on the soccer field," she added.

When she put these questions to Azamat Dikambayev, principal of the Gazprom school, he evaded them, she said.

The city does not have the resources to run the school, which would require about 150 to 200 million KGS ($2.1 to $2.9 million) per year, Bishkek mayor Aziz Surakmatov has said.

'Fraud'

Gazprom intended from the start to run the school for profit, said Anara Dautaliyeva, a Bishkek human rights activist and director of the NGO Taza Tabigat (Pure Nature).

Gazprom's decision to charge tuition amounts to "fraud against society", she said in an interview. "Ordinary people, for whom public amenities such as schools should be built, were deceived by Gazprom and deprived of the fundamental opportunity to attend school."

Gazprom, with its deed, has separated Kyrgyz children into rich and poor, she added.

She is certain that Gazprom decided to take advantage of the Kyrgyz government's reluctance to stand up to it.

"Such a wealthy company should have thought about the children, not about its own profits," she said.

A similar story played out in Armenia. In Yerevan, where Gazprom began building a school and athletic facility in 2016, it promised local residents that their children would be able to attend the school for free. Construction was scheduled to end in 2018.

However, during construction of the building, reports emerged that tuition for the new school would cost about 1 million AMD per year ($2,100). Last September, Yerevan's indignant residents wrote an open letter to Gazprom chief Miller, asking for clarification on the substance of Gazprom's "social programmes".

The Bishkek school should have been public, not a Gazprom operation, said Dautaliyeva.

"We shouldn't forget about children's needs and rights. The issue isn't with the infrastructure but with education itself, to which every citizen has the right, according to the Kyrgyz constitution," she said. "It appears that Gazprom is removed from such principles."

This is not the first time that the Russian gas conglomerate has caused hard feelings in Central Asia. Earlier this year, for example, Gazprom forced struggling Turkmenistan to accept a humiliatingly low price for exports of Turkmen natural gas. In 2018, Gazprom also dashed Tajikistan's hopes of energy wealth when it stopped drilling for oil and gas in that country.

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Russian masters wage wars against children...

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Russia lies as easily as one blows his nose

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How did Gazprom deceive the public? What's the essence of their deception? Is it that our state is incapable of running the school? Is it Gazprom's fault that our state treasury only has enough money for bureaucrats to embezzle and for their fancies? Is it Gazprom's fault that our crooks waste money mindlessly on their fat arses and get more than 35,000 for "canned food?" Gazprom didn't impose these rules, our jacks-in-office did.

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'Where am I going to send my son now?' Ask this question to the president you voted for. As if Gazprom is at fault... Even if it were tuition-free, it would be a school for children of the wealthy, officials. and fat deputies, and [not] your kids.

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In the beginning, the Russians lied that the school would be tuition-free, but one can't trust them.

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Dear parents! We have capitalism, and social inequality comes along with it. Look at our universities; almost all of them charge tuition fees. We pay for healthcare, and it's just a matter of time before all schools will start charging for attendance too. This school is for children of the privileged. It can be changed only through a socialist Revolution or if you suddenly become a millionaire!

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As if you can expect anything reasonable from Russia. It is a terrorist country.

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These so-called human rights activists shock me. Namely, Anara Dautalieva herself is trying to tarnish every initiative. I have a question though: where does she get money to travel and live abroad? I am tired of these so-called [human rights] defenders. They are always meddling and stirring chaos to get their piece of the pie.

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Do you think other nationalities are all saints? I highly doubt it. Cut this nonsense!!!!

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Kick out Gazprom and shut down the Russian base - that [should be] our response.

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Why did they allow this crooked Gazprom build anything?

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Our leaders are at fault, undoubtedly. They knew it.

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Russians are liars and cons by nature

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Get your facts straight

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Oh yes, put it on the state balance sheet. Go ahead! And then come back in a year to see not a thing left of that school, because the state is incapable of caring for and maintaining these facilities! Or someone will put forward his prices for someone's relative to make money [on the school through nepotism]

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Russia is an expert in waging war against children

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What does "Gazprom must" mean? Does Gazprom owe anything to anyone in Kyrgyzstan?

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Russia always resorts to deception in its actions.

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Cut that fucking crap

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You suck

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One shouldn't trust Russians. Putin has bribed Atambaev, and now they will start introducing Russian schools in Kyrgyzstan and entirely ban education in the Kyrgyz language afterwards.

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I can smell a whiff of racism here... Nations don't matter; you can find mean and self-interested people everywhere...

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"Racism" means "to be against a certain race." I am the same race as Russians. So, it's a cheap shot.

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Gazprom learned to cheat from Soke [Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov's nickname]. Our pres is giving a bad example. God forbid they gyp up; we would be left with no natural gas.

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Gazprom didn't cheat, our crooks did. It's nothing new.

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But your Gazprom is not to be trusted; neither is Russia

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They sold it [Kyrgyzgaz] cheap. They should have charged [Gazprom] $2, but it was only $1

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On the other hand, Gazprom is making billions selling its expensive fuel to the people of Kyrgyzstan because they [Gazprom] asked the Russian government to ban Kazakhstan from supplying cheap natural gas and fuel.

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There's also natural gas and fuel in Kazakhstan. People from nearby towns in Russia are coming in to fill up their cars in Kazakhstan wondering why our [Russian] fuel is cheaper in Kazakhstan

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Was there any obstacle in making it a tuition-free school for talented children from Kyrgyzstan? [The school] could devise online testing for children from all over the country and enroll the best ones. And make the government responsible for running the school instead of having untalented officials vacationing on useless business trips and engaged in debauchery. That would be the beginning of educating a future competent workforce and a springboard pad for gifted kids who don't have an opportunity to get an education under the current situation.

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It would be the best decision for talented kids no matter their social status or family income...

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Why can't the local authorities build a school (and more than one) and make it tuition-free??? Gazprom built the school and has received a bunch of complaints afterward.

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Gazprom has nothing to do with it; our rulers let them treat the people this way!

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Gazprom would pay if it were a military school. Then Gazprom would have taken all the expenses upon itself. They are asking [parents] to pay [tuition] now since they are not interested in the future of these pupils. We should buy natural gas and fuel from our Kazakh, Uzbek, and Turkmen brothers. It is way cheaper, without them occupying [your country] in exchange...

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What is the problem here, exactly? Athletic facilities have been built and transferred to be run by the city. The school has been built as well, but the [Bishkek] administration refused to put it on the city balance sheet because in this case, they would have to pay for the school.

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City hall refused [take up] the school at the President and Prime Minister's demands.

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Idiocy

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The Kyrgyz should have understood long ago: Russians can't be trusted

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You moron, a Jew built the school, not a Russian!

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The Authorities are weak and willing to do anything to make a profit, they knew about it, and are simply playing the fool now. Somebody made money on that.

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