Since Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power, the government of Uzbekistan has operated a string of hefty strategies. The core strategy is the five-year Development Strategy for 2017-2021 that covers five major themes. It is reinforced by detailed annual strategies, with this year’s being the third. In 2019, as in the previous year, the government issued a 400-page long strategy on January 17. These annual strategies evolve around a particular cause and 2019’s focuses on investments. The strategy lays out 274 objectives with specific agencies, individuals, and budgets assigned to each.
The 2019 strategy is divided into the same five major themes as the five-year strategy. These are described below along with their salient points. Overall, the strategy indicates that the government is invested in limiting its role in the economy to the benefit of the private sector to boost investments. Other areas the strategy focuses on are social development, judicial reforms, governance, and foreign policy. Of course, it would be an overstatement to conclude that all the objectives will be met. The strategy merely explains what the leadership of Uzbekistan will be focusing on in 2019, what developments to expect, and more importantly the yardsticks by which to drawn up a progress report at the end of the year.
Economic Development and Attracting Investments
In order to reduce its interference in the economy, the Uzbek government will first need to set defined limits to its involvement. The government plans to sell off its share in food and cotton processing, dairy and meat production, and other areas that are not natural monopolies to allow the private sector to overtake these sectors. As these processes will be taking place, the government promises to fight against the “hidden” economy with the help of increased use of banks for business transactions and digitizing government services susceptible to corruption. A push to reach urbanization rates of up to 60 percent by 2030 is also part of the economic development plan.
In the investment realm the government is trying to balance the distribution of investments across all of Uzbekistan’s regions. Each region has appointed officials responsible for attracting investment and executing investment projects. The process will be under strict monitoring of the presidential administration. The parliament, on their part, will hear quarterly reports from responsible officials and evaluate progress and even enact proposed punishments to officials not living up to expectations. The newly established Investment Council will analyze identified investment barriers to report to the president of the country.
The government has come up with creative ways to attract investments, namely issuing residence permits valid for 10 years to foreigners investing at least $3 million. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will also plan to introduce “compatriot” visas and passports for individuals with family connections to Uzbekistan willing to visit, work, or invest in the country. In the meantime, the strategy makes it clear that the compulsory residence registration, propiska, for Uzbekistan citizens will not be abolished, but rather simplified.
The government detailed several reforms in higher education that expose deep deficiencies developed over many years in the education sector. Namely, public universities will be able to set admittance quotas independently from the government. In addition, prospective students will be able to apply to several universities within the same year. The process of recognizing foreign diplomas will be loosened as well.
The government has not abandoned the practice of ensuring a certain number of jobs each year to the population. Although those numbers for 2019 are much lower, 221,500 fewer than the previous administration used to set, an additional 200,400 people are promised to be placed in jobs abroad through government recruitment. In addition, 338,700 people will be assisted in finding jobs inside the country.
The legislative branch will continue to receive increased power as Mirziyoyev experiments with handing over some of the power that had accumulated in the presidency. In 2019, the parliament will work on adopting important legislation and oversee the implementation of existing laws. The parliament will also move toward adopting laws of direct enforcement and decrease the number of bi-laws that are usually elusive.
The Cabinet of Ministers will be under closer watch of the parliament, which will now approve the members of the Cabinet of Ministers (deputy prime ministers, ministers, and state committee chairs) rather than have them appointed by the president. The practice of deputy prime ministers heading government enterprises will be abolished in order to separate business interests. The strategy also promises to introduce the practice of regional councils of deputies approving regional and subregional governors. Regional governors will be given more independence in decision making on regional issues.
The reforms in the judicial system are less expansive compared to other sectors. The strategy details that the judicial system of the country will undergo reforms in selecting and appointing judges. Specifically, appointment of judges will take place by a community of judges. Reforms in legal norms will particularly focus on liberalizing criminal law and order and reforming criminal and criminal-procedural laws. To attract and retain court staff and law enforcement personnel, the government is ready to cover tuition fees of those who want to continue their education in universities.
Security, Interethnic Religious Tolerance, Foreign Policy
In the security realm the defense forces of Uzbekistan will work on improving defense capabilities by engaging in increased theoretical and practical training. In the international arena, Uzbekistan plans to host two regional meetings. The first is the 8th Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan, which possibly will take place some time in 2019. The second is the meeting of Central Asia leaders on security, stability, trade, transportation, banking, and finance. Uzbekistan will also attempt its first ever bid to become a UN Human Rights Committee member for 2021-2023.
The five areas in the strategic plan for 2019 will serve as the guiding principles for the various actors attached for their implementation and oversight. The strategy is very much a top-down effort, detailing a great amount of hand-holding by the state. Execution of the strategy agenda fully seems unlikely, but it nevertheless gives a sense of what the government is prioritizing for 2019.