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Uzbek Central Bank Complains of Shortfalls

Monday 18 May 2015

(RFE/RL) – A deputy chairman of Uzbekistan’s Central Bank, Ulugbek Mustafaev, has complained in a letter to Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev that the country suffers from a stubborn shortage of traceable funds. RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service has obtained a copy of the letter, which is dated April 10 and marked “For Official Use”.

It highlights Uzbek vulnerability against the backdrop of a tightly controlled economy and a low level of confidence in the national currency and in financial institutions, prompting savers and even institutions to rely heavily on cash – often in the form of hard currencies like the ruble or dollar.

To tackle the problem, Mustafaev recommends increasing the number of ATMs, developing Internet banking, starting to pay at least half of salaries to employees of the “special contingent” entities electronically rather than in cash, and offering loans for items like automobiles, white goods (appliances), and other consumer products.

But a former Uzbek Finance Ministry official who now lives in Kazakhstan, Saparboi Jubaev, told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service that the problem was hard to remedy when “the cash, as we can see, does not come to the bank.”

The Central Bank’s proposed remedies “would be able to solve just some 10% of the problem if implemented”, he said, and “there is no word in the letter about how to solve the remaining 90% of that problem.” He predicted the Uzbek government would respond with increased financial regulation, but added, “By increasing control and inspections only the problem cannot not be solved.”

In his letter, central banker Mustafaev writes that a 1.5 tln-som ($602 mln) shortfall left Uzbek banks unable to pay the salaries of employees of major state-run companies and state entities.

The letter also says that as of April 1, the banks were unable to pay off some 58 bln soms ( $25 mln) in pensions and 54 bln soms in salaries to “special contingent” entities, meaning Interior Ministry, National Security Service, Defence Ministry, and other crucial parts of the government.

The lack of funds, the letter says, had prompted banks to borrow around 470 bln soms ( $200 mln) from “insurance funds” to pay salaries to the “special contingent”, as of April 2. It is unclear what the term “insurance funds” means, but in the early 2000s, senior Uzbek officials sought to create a public wealth fund to tackle possible financial problems.

“If the cash deficiency continues through 2015 we will have to use 3 tln soms to cover salaries to the special contingent and cotton pickers” by the end of the year, the letter says.

Mustafaev blames retailers, private companies, and individual entrepreneurs for the situation, saying that they are reluctant to keep their money in banks. Mustafaev says retailers across the country deposited 3.2 tln soms ( $1.25 bln) less than expected in banks in January-March.

According to Mustafaev, new regulations regarding hard-currency transactions introduced in 2013, the sale of GM Uzbekistan cars for hard currency, and plane-ticket sales for hard currency by airlines have contributed to the problem.

Mustafaev also blames Uzbek citizens for a reluctance to pay household utility bills, adding that as of April 1 the outstanding household debt for such utilities was 6.1 tln soms ( $2.5 bln).

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