Kyrgyzstan continues to face widespread corruption in all sectors of the economy and at all levels of the state apparatus. Mid and high ranking state officials continue to build luxurious mansions and drive expensive cars while poverty levels among the general population remain high and infrastructure is underfunded. Corruption and years of cronyism and clientelistic practices fuel discontent among the general public and were one of the major causes of Kyrgyzstan’s two revolutions in 2005 and 2010; both resulting in a violent overthrow of the regime. The country’s current leadership declared the fight against corruption as one of its priority challenges and launched the state strategy on anti-corruption policies. The implementation of these policies was a top agenda of this year’s meeting of the Defense Council.
Members of the Defense Council have unanimously declared that corruption remains extremely prevalent in Kyrgyzstan and that major efforts have already been made to effectively counter this challenge. President Atambayev went on to state that “the recent anti-corruption mechanisms have shown that high ranking corrupt officials are not immune from responsibility for their wrongdoings and that now it is very dangerous to engage in any corruption deals.”
Indeed, Kyrgyzstan recently witnessed waves of arrests of high ranking officials, among them former Bishkek mayor Nariman Tuleev, who was sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment and confiscation of all his properties, the former Minister for Social Development and some mid-level officials. On November 20, the General Prosecutor’s Office issued a warrant to detain opposition lawmaker Akhmatbek Keldibekov amid an investigation into alleged abuse of office and financial misdeeds while running the State Social Fund and Tax Service several years ago. In turn, Keldibekov placed a video statement on the Internet a few hours before his detention, denying all the allegations and terming the investigations launched against him “politically motivated.”
Experts are also divided in their opinions on whether the arrests should mainly be considered a fight against corrupt officials or a method for repressing the political opposition. According to political analyst Valentin Bogatyrev, the country’s leadership is currently fighting corruption only among its political opponents, which seriously undermines the legitimacy of the government’s undertakings as well as public support. Johan Engvall of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program also noted that simply arresting some corrupt officials will not result in a full destruction of the corruption schemes and underlined the need for a systematic approach to the problem.
This year’s meeting of the Defense Council also resulted in several organizational changes. President Atambayev suggested that the Defense Council and its Secretariat coordinate all the anti-corruption activities in state institutions. He explained that “this way, the Council’s Secretariat will be able to ensure a single state policy and eliminate duplication of functions and actions of anti-corruption agencies.” The president also posited that “any leader not in a position to timely and effectively implement anti-corruption measures in his or her department should resign immediately.”
In this regard, Atambayev made a number of critical remarks against the Ministry of Education, noting “the prevailing practice of students buying their University seats and paying for their grades. This has led to the result that only around 10 percent of the University graduates in Kyrgyzstan can be considered competent experts in their respective fields.” Indeed, the corrupt education system is creating an entire generation of young people striving to become civil servants with the motivation of enriching themselves through corruption and stealing from the public.
In sum, the participants of the Defense Council meeting engaged in a fairly honest discussion regarding the scale of the problem and did not try to downplay it. Anti-corruption measures must indeed be systematic and not a subject of political bargaining or motivation, as put by the recently imprisoned.