Madina Muratova. BA in Sociology, American University of Central Asia. MA in Politics and Security Program, OSCE Academy Bishkek.
Sino Ruziev. BA in Political Science and International Relations, Eastern Mediterranean University. MA in Politics and Security Program, OSCE Academy Bishkek.
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Tajikistan being one of Post-Soviet states is still in the process of state formation, especially when it is referred to social services. For about two decades Tajikistan’s institutional structure is still following the model inherited from the Soviet Union. It is noteworthy that Tajikistan’s government currently improves and reforms social welfare sphere[i]. One of such projects “Living Standards Improvement Strategy of Tajikistan for 2013-2015” was designed for the achievement of “strategic objectives, such as reform of public administration, maintaining rule of law, demographic projection and planning, regulation of labour migration, development of private sector, supporting middle class”[ii].
However, the gap between what has been written on the paper and what has been put in practice is immense. If to refer to official written reports – social services are provided free for the population by default. However, the reality is slightly different. Thus, the present article critically assesses existing social services through analysis of information from the news highlights, international reports and compares it to the real life experience. It is divided into several thematic sections and provides description of the reform followed by the analysis of its effectiveness. The real life experience and data was collected by the authors of the article during their work for and participation in research projects of the Center of Sociological Research ‘Zerkalo’ in Tajikistan. ‘Zerkalo’ is an organization that conducts social development projects with different focuses, conducts interviews and focus groups to highlight and analyze social welfare issues.
The crucial component of social welfare is the care after elder generation. Before going into the details on the current pension system it is important to draw a social portrait of a pensioner in Tajikistan to demonstrate how the current system affects their living and what further reforms are suggested. First, pensioners are a ‘direct’ product of the Soviet social welfare mechanisms, which provided education, experience and ‘best years of their lives’. Second, social bonding of people in Tajikistan is extremely strong. As a rule, elders live with family of their children, including daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Moreover, pensions in Tajikistan are very low, with the claims to be no more than the amount of the electricity bill[iii]. Thus, in majority of cases, financial support from the family is inevitably important. Despite its low level, the pension is extremely important for pensioners, as it is the product of their lifelong tax payments and an indicator of their outstanding performance in the pre-retirement times, as well as individual’s independent money source.
During the last decade Tajikistan has implemented a number of reforms in pension system by increasing minimum pension rate (in January 2015 it was increased from 250 to 400 somoni, or from 39 USD to 62.5 USD respectively) and changing the method of payments[iv]. The system which was in place before was keeping the Soviet style of pension distribution center. Previously, at the first week of each month, neglecting weather conditions or distance to the pension distribution centers, elders had to stay in a line for hours waiting for their turn to the cashbox. Moreover, as an informal rule of receiving pensions, pensioners are expected to leave 5 to 10 somoni (currently 0.2 USD) to “warm up” cashiers. At the first glance this amount is close to nothing. However, taking into account the overall pension amount, the minimum of which is 400 somoni (62.5 USD[v]), as well as the overall price of living in Dushanbe, those 5 to 10 somoni could be spent on a return trip using public transportation.
From this point, the implementation of a credit card system introduced in 2010, is very much in favor among the pensioners, as it abolishes the need to stand in long lines and also eliminates the “warm up” component. Moreover, pensioners went even further in creating comfort for receiving of their payment. In one of the regions pensioners have collaborated in sending one of them to take pensions from a number of credit cards. The “messenger” collects the cards, writes down the passwords and brings the pension to distribute to his fellows. On the other hand, this initiatives are prompted by lack of knowledge in using the ATM, limited number of ATMs in the neighborhoods or the inaccessibility of ATMs overall. Pensioners are challenged by long distance trips or inability to use ATMs as machines are not adapted for people with disabilities.
The disability is one of the pressing issues in Tajikistan too, and there are several complications around it. First, the country cannot present official data on the number of people with disabilities; second, there is no infrastructure in place to accommodate the needs of those people. Governmental policies are attempting to address some of those hardships; however, the quality of implemented reforms is debatable.
People in Tajikistan still bear the consequences of the Civil War. In addition, the tradition of kinship marriages, badly qualified doctors who make mistakes while bringing newborn children increases the number of people with disabilities in Tajikistan. The official statistics are not reliable and at times are controversial where national statistics committee gives the number of 60 thousand, while NGOs in the related field present the total number of 200 thousand of people with disabilities throughout the country including unregistered.
Unfortunately, the infrastructure in cities and suburbs are not adapted for marginalized groups. There are some avenues in Dushanbe, which are being completely rebuilt due to the New General Reconstruction Plan of Dushanbe[vi]. Trying to reach the world standards, construction projects in the capital city are subjected to requirements of building in rampant and smooth transitions along the roads. However, modifications are not going beyond the capital yet.
In 2014, together with ‘Ishtirok’ ‘Zerkalo’ conducted a project among women with disabilities on the challenges that they face while receiving medical services. During the in-depth interviews, women shared that they have special certificates proving the degree of disability upon which doctors are supposed to decrease service payment for claimants[vii]. However, as long as doctors receive low wages the issue of facilitation bothered many. Thus, the interviewed women would complain about bad quality of treatment because doctors were unwilling to provide service upon certificates and were expected to be paid an extra informal fee.
Moreover, due to the recent reforms, the government has introduced re-certification where people with disabilities have to pass through the medical verification again for the purpose of taking new valid certificates[viii]. This decree does not take into consideration the complications that people with disabilities have in covering the distance to a hospital and overcoming unnecessary red tape. The statements and hardships mentioned in the interviews indicate inflexibility of hospitals to accommodate the needs of people on wheelchairs. For example, sometimes women have to visit to demonstrate X-Ray results, whereas it gets impossible to reach X-Ray since it would be situated in the basement. Or, gynecological chairs which are designed for average women and are not adapted for disability needs.
Unfortunately, people with disabilities in Tajikistan face far more difficulties with introduced reforms than lifting of the hardships. The cruelest aspect of those difficulties is social pressure. The population of Tajikistan is not accepting or integrating people with disabilities into societies. Before starting the project on obstacles faced by women with disabilities, there was an impression of conducting it in a short time. The reason for that was an illusion of having a small number of people with disabilities, because they are rarely met at streets. An important issue noticed during the data collection is that employed people with disabilities usually work in non-governmental organizations or state enterprises the scope of which is connected to disability, i.e. NGOs working with disabled people or the state factory making prosthesis. As the amount of related organization is few, other people with disabilities experience difficulties in finding jobs and applying to universities. Consequently, people have limited access to education.
Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, education in Tajikistan was provided for free. However, during transition period inflation skyrocketed and the government had to reduce expenditures[ix]. As a result, educational establishments would have to self-sustain its expenditures by organizing unofficial collection of money[x]. At the same time, the wages of teachers have been negatively affected with a significant reduction of the monthly payment till 57 USD in average[xi]. As a result, school teachers began to migrate to economically better off countries like Russia and Kazakhstan which led to the lack of qualified academics and teachers in Tajikistan and deteriorating quality of education.
Another issue which has been acute in Tajikistan is a wide spread corruption which is pervasive at all levels of the educational system. The act of bribery is considered to be a custom rather than something to condemn in Tajikistan. Thus, 2006 Corruption Survey Report conducted jointly by the President’s Strategic Research Center and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) shows that 58 percent of respondents in Tajikistan do not view the act of offering bribes as an act of corruption[xii]. These practices significantly degrade the integrity of universities in the eyes of students as well as professors.
The decaying facilities have posed another problem for the government. To illuminate, 56 % of all educational institutions in Tajikistan are not equipped with central heating system affecting students’ concentration and attendance in classes[xiii]. The junior and secondary schools across Tajikistan suffer from shortages of electricity in the winter. A notorious case was a winter period in 2014 when many governmental objects were short of electricity[xiv]. Local communities have had to self-organize purchases of heaters and coal as the Ministry of Education of Tajikistan have so far failed to provide a full supply. Instead, the government decided to give a month break in January as it happened to be the coldest month[xv]. At large, the classes would be poorly lighted and usually become extremely cold in the winter time. To sum up, if nothing is done especially in the peripheries of the country Tajikistan might face heavy consequences like high dropout rates which have already been alarming.
With independence Tajikistan had to face a few new challenges in the sphere of provision of the healthcare to its citizens, especially to those affected by HIV. The raising cases of HIV have proven to expose vulnerability of the system[xvi]. According to international reports, the government and international community managed to handle cases with appropriate measures. To illuminate, the Study Report conducted in 2012 by the EU and GIZ (Deutsche Gessellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit) shows that services for children, adult and intravenous drug users with HIV are enough to meet demand in Tajikistan[xvii]. The legislature to protect the rights of people living with HIV&AIDS and provide free health care services was passed by the government in 2005[xviii]. To foster the reform, the multi sectoral National Coordinating Committee of Tajikistan on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was established in the same year[xix]. Despite reforms and official reports on implemented measures, the cases of contamination have not ceased.
It is estimated that cases of HIV contamination have almost tripled from 1 004 in 2009 to 2 857 in 2010[xx]. The article published by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting argues that the government has failed to properly deal with infection because another risk group and transmission route has appeared. The cases of HIV infection where wives of migrants have been contaminated increased substantially[xxi]. The government responded with mild programs in information awareness and voluntary monitoring at medical centers. “Tajik officials counter that HIV testing is already widely available, and that they are doing all they can to make people aware of the risks”[xxii].
The situation further exasperates with stigma that the society imposes on people who are suspected to have HIV[xxiii]. For example, there are cases when family members would not engage for some time with HIV infected individuals just as they scared to be infected too. Interestingly, Manija Khaitova (expert or the Center of Mental Health and HIV/AIDS) opines that to control the spread of HIV through “screening for men returning from spells abroad” at airports could help to prevent HIV transmission[xxiv]. It is unclear what the next steps that the government is able to take are. However, there is a glimpse of hope for the National Development Strategy for 2006-2015 launched by the government to implement special measure for preventing and reversing HIV[xxv].
Taking into consideration that Tajikistan has recently become independent and had to face huge hardships in the range of 1990s, the reform system has developed progressively for the moment. The state is on the path of reforming and introducing social services into the lives of its citizens. From the facts described above we can see that there is a lot of room for the state to: 1) develop the reforms of social services; and 2) to put those reforms into practice. As of now, there are many international programs interested and concerned in investing into social welfare of Tajikistan, such as UN, GIZ, USAID and others. Possible recommendation in reform implementation is to put conditionality on projects carried out by international and domestic communities to ensure that the objectives are achieved. Some of those conditions need to include: first, monitoring of financial management to ensure the resources are spent wisely. Second, hold the government accountable for the stages of project implementation. Third, facilitate grass-roots engagement and thus build trust and transparency between the society and the government. All in all, the involvement of international community in Tajikistan is important. But to make social services work for people, civil society involvement remains vital.
[i]IMF 2009. “Republic of Tajikistan: Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper”. https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2009/cr0982.pdf
[ii]UN Tj “Living Standards Improving Strategy of Tajikistan 2013-2015” http://www.untj.org/files/Publications/MidTermReview_EN.pdf
[iii]Asia Plus 2014. “Increase in Pensions are due to the Holidays?.http://news.tj/ru/newspaper/article/povyshenie-pensii-podarok-k-prazdniku
[vi]Ozodi News 2015. “New General Reconstruction Plan of Dushanbe has been approved”. http://rus.ozodi.org/content/article/25061909.html
[vii]Law of the Republic of Tajikistan on Social Protection of People with Disability.http://www.mehnat.tj/pdf_doc/44soczashite_invalidov.pdf
[ix]“Tajikistan – Educational – System –overview”.http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1505/Tajikistan-EDUCATIONAL-SYSTEM-OVERVIEW.html
[xi]EurasiaNet 2009. “Tajikistan: The Education System Gets a Failing Grade”. http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insightb/articles/eav022009a.shtml.
[xiii]MERT. 2005. “National Strategy for Education Development of the Republic of Tajikistan”. http://planipolis.iiep.unesco.org/upload/Tajikistan/Tajikistan%20Education%20Plan%202006-2015.pdf
[xviii]“The Law of the Republic of Tajikistan on Countering Human Immunodeficiency and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome”;“ЗаконРеспубликиТаджикистан О противодествии вирусу иммунодефицита человека и синдрому приобретенного иммунодефицита”, Majlisi Oli of the Republic of Tajikistan, 2005, No.12, pp. 662. file:///C:/Users/admin/Downloads/law_on_prevention_combating_hiv-aids_2005_n.12_rus.pdf
[xix]Roth Sussan&ElfvingRekard. 2012. “HIV/AIDS Vulnerabilities in Regional Transport Corridors in the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan”, ADB Central and West Asia Working Paper Series, No. 2. http://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/29967/cwrd-wp02-hiv-vulnerabilities.pdf
[xxi]OodirHaramgul&ErgashevaZarina. 2012. “Tajikistan: Concerns at HIV Rise Among Women”, IWPR, RCA Issue 691. https://iwpr.net/global-voices/tajikistan-concerns-hiv-rise-among-women
[xxiii]Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 2012. “Interview: HIV Positive Tajik Woman Says ‘I Try To Banish Negative Thoughts’”. http://www.rferl.org/content/tajikistan-interview-hiv-positive-woman-looks-on-bright-side/24786701.html
[xxiv]OodirHaramgul&ErgashevaZarina. 2012. “Tajikistan: Concerns at HIV Rise Among Women”, IWPR, RCA Issue 691. https://iwpr.net/global-voices/tajikistan-concerns-hiv-rise-among-women
[xxv]Roth Sussan&ElfvingRekard. 2012. “HIV/AIDS Vulnerabilities in Regional Transport Corridors in the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan”, ADB Central and West Asia Working Paper Series, No. 2. http://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/29967/cwrd-wp02-hiv-vulnerabilities.pdf