Image: UNDP Uzbekistan

Over the past four years Uzbekistan has made significant efforts to help its people feel confident that leaders in the national public and private sectors operate in a transparent and ethical way. With the establishment of a new anti-corruption body in the country, and having advanced 5 positions in the Transparency International index in 2019, Uzbekistan is slowly but steadily progressing in this field. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught valuable lessons about ensuring the transparency and accountability of state agencies and public expenditures, in the midst of efforts made to alleviate COVID-19’s impact on vulnerable population groups.

Since the adoption of the law on anti-corruption in 2017, Uzbekistan has doubled its efforts to prevent corruption in the public sector, and has widened international cooperation to achieve this end. Namely, in 2018 the ‘Preventing corruption through effective accountable and transparent governance institutions in Uzbekistan’ (PCEAT) project was established. This has been an enormous undertaking implemented by UNDP, the Ministry of Justice and the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Uzbekistan, seeking to eliminate both the perception and existence of corruption within Uzbekistan, under the lead coordination of the Republican Inter-Agency Anti-Corruption Commission. 

Learning from and informing global practice

Uzbekistan’s achievements in preventing corruption over the past years, attained through collaboration between UNDP, national partners and international experts, have been notable to the point where they have inspired reforms and change throughout some neighboring countries. 

Through the 2019-2020 State Anti-Corruption Programme, 14 high profile events were conducted by the project with guests including members of state agencies and NGOs, and international experts. The most prominent of these events was the UNDP Regional Forum on Innovations in Anti-Corruption, held in May, 2019. Global exchange of experience has been a central part of these events, with the sharing of lessons learnt in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Bhutan, Indonesia, and Scandinavian countries. 

Uzbekistan’s work in fighting corruption has been recognized by countries in Central Asia and beyond, including Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The Anti-Corruption Forum in 2019 saw the launch of the #NextGenAntiCorruption initiative, part of the global #NextGenUNDP movements, and the creation of firm connections with Transparency International’s branches in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. 

The project also supports and has undertaken the 4th monitoring of the OECD Istanbul Anti-Corruption Plan, while in March 2019 an Uzbekistan Delegation visited the Plenary Meeting of the OECD Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Blocking corruption at every possible level 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the on-going quarantine implemented since mid-March has presented many opportunities for possible corruption. Any authorized official could potentially overprice or manipulate distribution of in-demand protective equipment and other essential goods, or accept bribes from people seeking to get around necessarily-strict quarantine measures. Efforts made to fight corruption, with the involvement of citizens, businesses and the public sector, have been essential for ensuring Uzbekistan’s people can overcome this crisis with confidence in their leadership. 

As a trusted government partner, UNDP has since 2018 helped to establish a legislative basis for strengthening Uzbekistan’s anti-corruption mechanisms and improving internal control and audit tools, while also supporting the creation of analytical reports and methodology guides. Breakthrough initiatives have been simultaneously undertaken by the project and experts it has contracted  from the KPMG global auditing and consulting company, with the purpose of introducing an anti-bribery management system into government bodies. This system was introduced into the Ministry of Justice, the Agency of Public Services and their regional units in 2019, and into the Ministries of Health, Higher and special Education, and Construction, and four local mayors’ offices (Khokimiyats) in 2020. The business integrity of the ‘Uzbekneftgaz’ and ‘Uzhimprom’ state enterprises has also been assured.

The greatest sign of success has been the Ministry of Justice receiving IS0 37001 certification in September 2020, achieved through the project’s support.

Changing mindsets

Balancing these high-level initiatives have been efforts to counter the prevalence of perceived or actual corruption on the ground. Young people and their broader communities have been engaged and motivated to identify instances of corruption, with the application of new monitoring and evaluation tools, through various contests and awareness raising campaigns. Surveys have also been organized to map levels of perceived corruption within the construction, healthcare and education sectors, all of which have been identified as priority areas. 

Meanwhile the COVID-19 pandemic has been another situation in which preventing corruption has been essential. Achievements made in setting affordable food prices and preventing artificial food shortages, assuring transparency when issuing vehicle permissions, establishing strict quarantine rules, and regulating the collection and distribution of donations and medication, are all testaments to efforts made in limiting corruption. As mentioned previously and undertaken at the government’s request, in August 2020 the UNDP Anticorruption Project implemented an additional anticorruption management and compliance control system at the Ministry of Health. This intervention also aims to build integrity and create zero tolerance for corruption within the healthcare industry.

“The last years have seen considerable advancements made in Uzbekistan to address long-term issues of corruption, riding on the momentum to create positive change in the country,” said UNDP Resident Representative Matilda Dimovska. “As we deal with the current health crisis and a period of unprecedented circumstances, the value of these achievements in strengthening citizens’ trust in government has become even more apparent.”

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