Interview: Uzbekistan’s Journey to Progress & Prosperity

In the framework of her travel to Uzbekistan, SOCIETY publisher Gertrud Tauchhammer spoke with the Executive Director of the Development Strategy Center, Mr. Eldor Tulyakov, about the main objectives of the center, the numerous measures already taken in order to achieve sustainable development and future goals.  

As Executive Director of the Development Strategy Center, can you give us an overview of the most pressing issues the Center is dealing with at the moment? What are the principal goals and objectives?

The Development Strategy Center was established in accordance with the Decree of the President of Uzbekistan on February 14, 2017. Its main goals and objectives include providing information and analytical support for the measures outlined in the Strategy of Actions for the five priority areas of development of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017-2021 and the Development Strategy of New Uzbekistan for 2022-2026 and the State programs implemented within its framework. The center also conducts studies on best international practices, international standards, and assessments from international organizations and experts regarding the activities carried out under development strategies and government programs. Furthermore, it develops well-founded proposals for specific measures to effectively implement the Development Strategy and prepares draft laws, regulations, and other relevant documents specified in the state programs.

As you just mentioned, in January 2022, the Development Strategy of New Uzbekistan for the period 2022 – 2026 was approved by the President of Uzbekistan, H.E. Shavkat Mirziyoyev. This strategy is a continuation of the Strategy of Actions for 2017 – 2021 which focused on five priority areas. What were the results of the Action Strategy? And what are the main goals of the Development Strategy for New Uzbekistan?

The Strategy of Actions for the period 2017-2021 encompassed five key areas of focus, namely state and public building, the rule of law, economic development, the social sphere, and security, along with the implementation of a mutually beneficial and constructive foreign policy.

During this period, approximately 300 laws and over 4000 decisions by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan were adopted and effectively implemented by relevant ministries and agencies.

Significant achievements were made in enhancing the state and public building system. Notably, the Virtual and People’s receptions of the President of Uzbekistan were established in 2017. Additionally, the annual Address of the head of state to the Oliy Majlis (the country’s parliament) was introduced, alongside reforms in state authorities and administration.

Furthermore, the institution of the „government hour“ was implemented at meetings of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis, allowing ministers to respond to questions from parliamentarians. It is noteworthy that starting from 2021, these hearings are broadcasted online via social networks.

Considerable attention was devoted to upholding the rule of law and advancing judicial and legal system reforms. Particular emphasis was placed on transforming courts into bastions of justice, including improvements in the operations of the Supreme Court. The merger of the Supreme Court and the Superior Commercial Court took place, and the practice of returning criminal cases for additional investigation was abolished. To ensure judicial immunity and prevent corruption, a Judicial Inspectorate was established.

In the realm of human rights protection and advocacy, significant strides were taken. Notably, the long-standing issue of the „residence registration“ system was reformed. The procedure for granting citizenship was also streamlined, resulting in over 70,000 individuals being granted citizenship of the Republic of Uzbekistan from 2018 to 2021.

Efforts to ensure gender equality were bolstered through the adoption of more than twenty normative legal acts aimed at comprehensive support for women and increasing their involvement in state and societal management. Additionally, the Commission on Ensuring Gender Equality of the Republic of Uzbekistan was established, and the Strategy for achieving gender equality in the country until 2030 was approved.

The state administration system has been improved, with increased openness, transparency, and accountability of state bodies and officials to society. This has been achieved through the regular publication of reports on their websites and reporting to parliamentarians at all levels.

State service centers serving residents and entrepreneurs were established, providing access to over 254 types of state services through the portal.

Media reform has taken place, including the unblocking of previously banned websites. The social and political activity of civil society institutions has increased, and state bodies are now obligated to post complete information on budget expenditures on their websites.

The role of the parliament in state and society management has been increased, with expanded powers for the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis in the formation of the government.

Significant progress has been made in the protection of human rights and freedoms. Forced labor has been abolished through collaboration with national and international partners like the ILO. Public groups under the Ombudsman have been established to identify and prevent cases of torture. Uzbekistan was elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the first time, and a representative of the President for the protection of the rights and legal interests of business entities (Business Ombudsman) was established. The Law „On Combating Corruption“ was adopted, and an anti-corruption agency was established.

Regarding the accomplishments in the field of economic development and liberalization, it is important to highlight that the primary objectives of the economic reforms were to ensure macroeconomic stability, decrease inflation, simplify the tax system, diversify economic sectors, create a favorable business environment, improve infrastructure, develop rural economy, promote economic integration, and embrace the digital economy.

The reforms implemented in the monetary policy sphere included the deregulation of the foreign exchange market and the establishment of provisions for the free repatriation of profits for foreign investors. The Central Bank of Uzbekistan adopted an inflation-targeting approach, resulting in a decrease in the inflation rate from 18.8% in 2017 to 10.0% by the end of 2021.

Significant changes were also made in fiscal policy. The number of tax types was reduced from 13 to 9, and the value-added tax (VAT) rate was lowered from 20% to 15%. Measures were taken to enhance the service-oriented tax service, and the publication of the information edition „Budget for Citizens“ was initiated.

Entrepreneurship was actively supported through various measures. The process of business registration was simplified, and the regulation of business activities and self-employment was streamlined. Efforts were made to reduce the number of state-owned enterprises. The establishment of small industrial zones increased to 348, with the implementation of 453 projects worth $2.6 billion. Additionally, the „Digital Uzbekistan – 2030“ strategy was adopted to promote digital transformation in the economy.

Efforts were also directed towards creating a favorable investment climate in the country. The open publication of macroeconomic indicators, state budget execution, balance of payments, international investment position, and gold and foreign exchange reserves was initiated. Uzbekistan obtained its first sovereign credit rating and successfully issued international Euro bonds on the London Stock Exchange. The country also benefited from the European Union’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) and activated negotiations with the World Trade Organization.

The liberalization of foreign trade and the effective utilization of the country’s export potential resulted in significant changes in Uzbekistan’s foreign trade activities. Customs duties were eliminated for all exported goods and services, while customs fees were reduced for certain imported goods. The licensing system and export procedures were simplified.

As a result, the total trade turnover of Uzbekistan with foreign countries doubled over the five-year period, reaching $41.1 billion by the end of 2021, compared to $20.1 billion in 2017.

Regarding the fourth priority area – the development of the social sphere – measures for social protection of the population have been implemented. The budget expenditure allocated to social protection has almost doubled, increasing from 0.7% of GDP in 2017 to 1.3% in 2021.

Furthermore, overall pensions have increased, ensuring that people with low pensions are brought above the poverty line. The upper limit of pension payments has been raised from 8 times to 10 times the base calculation amount. Additionally, social register systems have been launched to improve the targeting of social assistance programs.

Efforts have also been made to improve the healthcare system in the country. New specialized polyclinics were established in 306 city and district hospitals, along with the creation of 1,200 emergency departments. The number of ambulance teams has increased from 1,648 to 2,685. Furthermore, the salary of medical workers has been increased by 3.3 times, aiming to attract and retain skilled healthcare professionals.

Reforms have been implemented in the field of education and science as well. The Ministry of Preschool Education was established, resulting in an increase in preschool education coverage from 27.7% to 67%. Based on feedback from the general public and parents, the country has reinstated 11 years of compulsory schooling. The number of higher education institutions has doubled from 77 in 2016 to 141, and the admission quota for higher education has tripled, reaching 28 percent. Additionally, various specialized schools and educational programs have been created to cater to the needs of gifted children.

Overall, these achievements demonstrate the commitment of Uzbekistan to social development, healthcare improvement, education reform, and security enhancement. These efforts have contributed to the well-being and prosperity of the population, as well as the country’s positive image internationally.

In terms of security, interethnic harmony, religious tolerance, and foreign policy, significant progress has been made. The legal framework in the defense sector has been improved, including the adoption of the Defense Doctrine of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has been recognized as one of the safest countries in the world, effectively protected from the threat of terrorism. The country has also pursued a balanced, mutually beneficial, and constructive foreign policy approach.

Speaking about security, interethnic harmony, religious tolerance, and foreign policy – can you tell us a bit about the measures Uzbekistan took in these regards?

Uzbekistan has emerged as a leading example of a secure nation, effectively safeguarded against the threat of terrorism. This achievement can be attributed to a novel approach towards promoting religious tolerance, which has garnered substantial support both domestically and internationally. Notably, in 2018, Uzbekistan’s efforts in this regard led to its removal from the list of „countries of particular concern“ in the international report on religious freedoms. Building on these positive developments, the country’s democratic reforms have resulted in its exclusion from the list of „states under special supervision“ since 2021.

Furthermore, Uzbekistan has undertaken a comprehensive reassessment of its strategies to counter religious extremism and terrorism, focusing on proactive measures such as preventive and educational initiatives aimed at enlightening the population and combating ignorance. By prioritizing interethnic harmony, the country has fostered enhanced mutual understanding among its citizens, bolstering mechanisms for interethnic and interfaith dialogue and fortifying the legal and organizational frameworks supporting citizen freedoms. To this end, the establishment of the Committee on Interethnic Relations and Friendly Ties with Foreign Countries under the Cabinet of Ministers exemplifies Uzbekistan’s commitment to nurturing harmonious relations. As of the end of 2021, the country boasted 38 friendship societies and 150 national cultural centers.

Uzbekistan has also made significant strides in cultivating friendly and mutually beneficial relationships with its Central Asian neighbors. Collaborative solutions have been reached on intricate issues such as water usage, state border delimitation and demarcation, border crossings, and transportation networks within the region. Consultative meetings among Central Asian leaders have been initiated, while citizens of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan have been granted visa-free entry into Uzbekistan. As a testament to the deepening regional ties, foreign trade turnover with Central Asian countries has more than doubled, reaching a substantial $7.5 billion by the end of 2022. Notably, Uzbekistan has prioritized peace in Afghanistan, recognizing the country as a source of opportunities rather than a threat. The establishment of the United Nations General Logistics Center in Termez for delivering humanitarian aid to Afghanistan highlights Uzbekistan’s commitment to facilitating international efforts.

As a diplomat’s magazine, we are also interested in the progress/changes in the area of diplomacy.

Uzbekistan’s multilateral diplomacy has flourished within international and regional organizations. The country’s initiatives have resulted in the adoption of five resolutions by the UN General Assembly. Furthermore, Uzbekistan has become a member of the Organization of Turkic States, expanding its regional engagement. By the end of 2021, diplomatic relations had been established with 138 countries, while visa-free access to Uzbekistan had been extended to citizens from 90 foreign nations.

As we already mentioned, on January 28, 2022, in continuation of the Strategy of Actions, the Development Strategy of New Uzbekistan for 2022-2026 was approved by decree of the President – what are the main pillars of this new Strategy?

The Strategy of Actions was initiated with the implementation of extensive reforms across various sectors, and the Development Strategy aims to continue and enhance these reforms by building upon the experience and capabilities gained. It is noteworthy that the Development Strategy seeks to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the ongoing reforms. In formulating the Development Strategy, existing issues were taken into consideration, and the document reflects the actual tasks that require resolution. It is important to highlight the increased involvement of citizens in the preparation of this document, thereby positioning it as a significant historical document created by and for the people.

The new Development Strategy of Uzbekistan encompasses seven priority areas, each targeting specific sectors for development. For instance, the first area of focus, „Building a people’s state by safeguarding individual interests and promoting the growth of a free civil society,“ encompasses 12 objectives. Notably, the establishment of a system enabling access to all government bodies from mahallas (local communities) and the provision of public and social services directly within mahallas are prominent aspects. Additionally, the introduction of hokim’s assistants has been implemented in accordance with the Development Strategy. Presently, efforts are being made to enhance the welfare of the population through entrepreneurial development. Hokim’s assistants engage in active communication with the population to identify individuals interested in starting businesses and provide them with advice. The state allocates substantial resources to support aspiring entrepreneurs, aligning with the principle that reform initiatives should originate from the people.

The second priority area, consisting of eight goals, focuses on transforming justice and the rule of law into fundamental and indispensable prerequisites for national development.

Among the other priorities outlined in the Development Strategy for 2022-2026, notable areas include further economic development with an emphasis on liberalization, competition improvement, monopoly eradication, increased foreign investment attraction, price stabilization, and decentralization leading to greater regional empowerment. Simultaneously, a key objective for the country is to achieve a 1.6-fold increase in GDP per capita over the next five years, and to raise per capita income to $4,000 by 2030. This will be achieved by ensuring sustained high growth rates across all sectors of the economy, thereby creating conditions for Uzbekistan to be classified as an „upper-middle income“ country.

Another important goal is to ensure macroeconomic stability and gradually reduce the annual inflation rate to 5% by 2023. In turn, this year the government intends to reduce the inflation rate to 9%.

The fourth priority area focuses on conducting a fair social policy and developing human capital. This includes goals such as improving the quality of education, increasing enrollment in preschool education, and raising the monthly salary of qualified teachers. The aim is to enhance the overall level of education and increase the population’s access to higher education.

The next priority area emphasizes ensuring spiritual development and raising this area to a new level. This includes a focus on education issues and the development of the basic laws of state development.

The sixth priority area aims to address global problems based on national interests. This includes measures to eliminate environmental problems in the Aral Sea region, such as creating additional green areas and implementing projects to protect biodiversity and prevent climate change and soil erosion. Social support for the population living in the Aral Sea region will also be strengthened.

Additionally, measures to combat extremism and terrorism are of special significance. Uzbekistan will expand its role in international initiatives that promote information exchange and cooperation to counter extremism and terrorism in Central Asia. Efforts will also be made to ensure peace and harmony in Afghanistan.

The seventh priority area focuses on strengthening the security and defense potential of the country and conducting an open, pragmatic, and active foreign policy. Measures will be taken to improve the combat readiness and social protection of military personnel. A system for warning and preventing emergencies will be established, including the organization of an aviation service within the Ministry of Emergency Situations. The private sector will also be involved in the production of firefighting equipment.

Furthermore, the seventh priority area encompasses measures to enhance Uzbekistan’s global presence, strengthen cooperation in various sectors within Central Asia, expand partnerships with traditional allies, and engage in economic diplomacy. To foster closer interaction with Central Asian countries, annual Consultative Meetings of the Heads of State of Central Asia will be organized, and efforts will be made to develop a Strategy for Regional Cooperation. Border checkpoints in Uzbekistan will be upgraded to increase capacity, and cooperation in the field of ecology, pollution prevention, and nature conservation will be elevated.

Uzbekistan also aims to broaden its activities in international organizations, including comprehensive engagement with UN bodies and institutions and intensified measures to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). Notably, the WTO intends to develop measures supporting and subsidizing exports in line with organizational rules, which will further enhance the country’s export potential.

The seventh priority area also highlights the importance of providing services to Uzbek citizens abroad through diplomatic missions and consular offices. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will introduce modern information and communication technologies to improve consular services for citizens abroad and expand coverage of services provided by diplomatic missions and consular institutions.

It is important to acknowledge that the Strategy of Actions has laid the foundation for a new era in Uzbekistan’s history. The country’s recent achievements will undoubtedly serve as a valuable legacy for future generations.

As we already heard now, Uzbekistan underwent profound political, economic and social reforms in recent years. How would you describe the status-quo of Uzbekistan – politically, economically and socially? And what’s your personal vision for the “future Uzbekistan”?

Indeed, Uzbekistan has undergone significant political, economic, and social reforms under the leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who took office in 2016. In the framework of the above mentioned two strategic documents, Uzbekistan is experiencing notable political changes aimed at increasing transparency, reducing corruption, and improving human rights. The government has initiated measures to liberalize the country’s political system, including the release of political prisoners, easing media restrictions, and granting more space for civil society organizations.

The government has also pursued regional diplomacy by engaging in constructive relations with neighboring countries and seeking regional cooperation.

Moreover, Uzbekistan has been implementing economic reforms to attract foreign investment, diversify the economy, and reduce the role of the state in the market. These reforms have focused on privatization, reducing bureaucratic hurdles, and promoting entrepreneurship. Efforts are being made to improve the business climate and attract foreign companies to invest in various sectors, such as agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and textiles.

In addition, Uzbekistan has been pursuing social reforms to improve citizens‘ well-being and living standards. There have been efforts to enhance education and healthcare systems, provide social support programs, and invest in infrastructure development. Uzbekistan has also sought to promote cultural heritage and tourism, with initiatives to preserve historical sites and promote the country as a tourist destination.

How important is cooperation with International Organizations? Who are the most relevant partners for Uzbekistan? What is your assessment of the significance of Uzbek-Austrian relations for the Development Strategy of your country?

The new approaches taken in Uzbekistan’s foreign policy have given a completely new meaning and actively promoting national interest of the country in international arena despite the complex geopolitical processes, at regional and global levels.

Uzbekistan’s activities and multilateral cooperation within leading international and regional organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Organization of Turkic States, and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) have been widely supported by the world community. These initiatives address pressing issues of international security and regional development.

In 2018, the UN General Assembly adopted resolutions on strengthening regional and international cooperation in Central Asia and promoting enlightenment and religious tolerance. Furthermore, the establishment of the Multilateral Trust Fund for Human Security in the Aral Sea Region under the auspices of the United Nations highlights Uzbekistan’s commitment to addressing regional challenges.

Uzbekistan has also focused on expanding cooperation with international financial institutions and trade organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, and the World Trade Organization. The resumption of cooperation with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has created opportunities to finance social projects in the country.

In 2021, Tashkent hosted the annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the Islamic Development Bank, where discussions were held on expanding multifaceted partnership and adopting a new cooperation program. Additionally, Uzbekistan has made significant efforts to diversify foreign trade routes and integrate with international infrastructure, including its accession to the World Trade Organization. The Development Strategy of New Uzbekistan for 2022-2026 identifies accession to the WTO as one of its main objectives.

Regarding Uzbek-Austrian relations we should mention that in recent years, the bilateral relations between Uzbekistan and Austria have exhibited a positive trajectory, characterized by mutual respect and friendship. The commemoration of the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries in March 2022 attests to this positive trend. Notably, Uzbekistan established its embassy in Vienna in early 1994, which also serves as its diplomatic representation to the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Cultural relations between Austria and Uzbekistan are actively maintained, with close collaboration observed in the realm of scientific endeavors. Since gaining independence, Uzbekistan and Austria have regularly convened meetings of the Uzbek-Austrian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. This demonstrates the commitment of both nations to fostering economic ties.

The Austrian business community has shown an increasing interest in Uzbekistan. Austrian companies are particularly attracted to investment opportunities in sectors such as infrastructure, energy, agriculture, oil and gas, as well as the water industry. This growing interest signifies the potential for enhanced economic cooperation between the two countries.

It is crucial for Uzbekistan to pursue a mutually beneficial, open, and pragmatic foreign policy with all countries without giving special preference to one major country. Priority directions of the partner should include ensuring peace, stability, and security within the country, strengthening relations with neighboring Central Asian states and partner countries, and actively promoting national interests within regional and international organizations. By doing so, Uzbekistan aims to become one of the most developed countries and maintain sustainable development.

Foto: Abdulloh9191/Wikicommons