26.01.2021 2064

Since the first days of independence, Uzbekistan has paid attention to the issue of gradual decentralization of the public administration system. Especially after 2016, this direction was identified as one of the priorities in the strategy of actions for the development of the republic approved in 2017. The importance of the phased decentralization of public administration was identified among the approved main directions and tasks of the administrative reform of public administration.[1]

Cautious decentralization

The reforms carried out in the period from 2016 to 2020 in this direction demonstrate that Uzbekistan is still trying to carefully implement administrative and fiscal decentralization, while maintaining the status quo on the issue of political decentralization. The following decisions should be noted, which were aimed at strengthening local government agencies:

1. Strengthening the financial independence of the regions, supporting the growth of the revenue base of local budgets, and increasing the powers of local authorities to formulate priority expenditures at the level of oblasts, cities, and regions.

At the first stage, the country’s leadership decided to conduct an experiment with the local budgets of the city of Tashkent and its districts. Thus, on June 7, 2017, Presidential Decree No. UP-5075 “On measures to expand the powers of local government bodies in the formation of local budgets” and Resolution No. PP-3042 “On expanding the powers of local government bodies and increasing their responsibility for the formation of revenues of local budgets ”.[2]

According to the above legal acts, a number of receipts as a flat tax on certain types of entrepreneurial activity, property tax and land tax from individuals and legal entities, a single tax payment for micro firms and small enterprises to the revenues of regional budgets. As well as tax for the use of water resources, tax on the consumption of gasoline, diesel fuel and gas, as well as other fees were redistributed in full or in part in favor of the city budget of Tashkent and local budgets of its districts.[3]

Already at the end of 2018, it was decided to extend this practice to other regions of the republic. It was decided, in addition to the above types of taxes and fees, to the regional budgets to transfer part of the most important receipts in the form of taxes on personal income and value added tax, as well as fully receipts from the excise tax on alcoholic beverages, beer, retail sales of gasoline, diesel fuel and gas.[4]

However, unfortunately, the increase in the volume of revenues of local budgets is not always associated with a parallel increase in the level of accountability of local authorities and the introduction of a transparent system for their spending. In many cases, additional revenues are used only to strengthen the material and technical base of local khokimiyats [ local administration – ed.], and not to develop social infrastructure.

2. Transfer of decision-making powers from central government bodies to local authorities and increasing their responsibility for the socio-economic development of regions, cities, and districts.

At the end of 2018, local authorities were also transferred from the republican budget to local funding for a number of state-funded organizations. For example, financial departments / sectors of khokimiyats, departments of justice, territorial plant quarantine inspectorates, information and library centers, territorial departments of state financial control and treasury, museums and theaters of regional significance, as well as departments / sectors of the off-budget Pension Fund.[5] Along with this, in order to activate the independent activity of local kengashs of people’s deputies, it was decided to form separate secretariats that will provide organizational, technical and other services for the activities of local deputies.[6]

Moreover, starting in 2018, military-administrative sectors have been formed in each region of the republic under the leadership of the khokims of the regions. The innovations were justified by the need to ensure a sufficient level of interaction between military districts and local government bodies, as well as to attract local budget resources to develop the infrastructure of military camps and training grounds, to strengthen the material and technical base of military units, institutions and subunits.[7]

At the same time, it is important to distinguish between the functions of central and local authorities in this direction. According to the concept of decentralization, the central government usually retains control over such strategic sectors as the military and can only transfer financing and regulation of the activities of mainly territorial police institutions to local authorities.

In this context, it should also be mentioned that since August 2017, the activities of the sectors have been established – a new system for the integrated socio-economic development of regions.[8] In accordance with this and in order to increase the responsibility of local leaders for the incremental progress of the regions, the territories of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, regions, districts, cities are divided into four sectors for integrated socio-economic development under the leadership of the khokims of regions and districts (cities), heads of regional prosecution bodies, internal affairs, tax service. The heads of the sectors were instructed to systematically study the situation in the families of their regions and solve the identified problems at the place.

The issue of the timely and effective execution by the heads of the regional prosecutor’s office, internal affairs, and tax service of their direct official duties in parallel with the occupation of socio-economic issues and the balance of the distribution of powers at the local level requires a separate study.

During the period of a pandemic and the introduction of quarantine measures, the country’s leadership has repeatedly noted the responsibility of local authorities for the stability of the epidemiological situation in the responsible territories.[9] Moreover, local authorities were given the authority to independently tighten or weaken quarantine measures in their territories in agreement with the health authorities.[10] It was also proposed to make decisions on the resumption of traditional educational activities by schools in September 2020 for local kengashes of people’s deputies based on the epidemiological situation in each district or city.[11]

Challenges in implementing decentralization measures

Despite the measures taken to increase the responsibility and importance of local authorities, there are a number of systemic problems on the path of the decentralization policy in Uzbekistan:

1. While there have been some changes in the legislation, the fundamental legal act regulating the activities of local authorities, the Law on State Power in Localities, is still being implemented in the outdated version, approved in 1993.[12]

Back in May 2019, it was reported about the development of this legislative act in a new edition,[13] but so far it has not been adopted. According to this project, it was proposed to expand the powers of khokims on the ground, including in their list the coordination of the activities of territorial law enforcement agencies in matters of ensuring the observance of public order, the safety of citizens, the protection of their rights, freedoms and health, the prevention of offenses, compliance with the passport and visa regime, the social rehabilitation of persons who committed offenses of law.[14]

Obviously, it is necessary to adopt this normative legal act in a new edition in accordance with modern realities and within the framework of a cardinal transformation of the public administration system in accordance with the launched administrative reform. Along with this, the approval of the Strategy for the consistent decentralization of public administration with the indication of specific terms for each stage of the transfer of powers from central bodies to local authorities, increasing the independence of local authorities, their financial support, high responsibility, and transparent accountability.

2. In recent years, the powers of local authorities, especially khokims and khokimiyats, have significantly expanded. Currently, according to the legislation, they perform about 300 tasks and functions, while 175 of them are not included in the main competence of khokims and duplicate the functions of other departments.[15]

Decentralization in the country is developing according to the type of deconcentration, when the powers transferred from the center are consolidated in the hands of the local khokim. Effective decentralization requires greater involvement of non-governmental organizations in the work of local authorities. The transfer of certain functions and the involvement of NGOs to address pressing socio-economic issues in the field of protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, youth, supporting vulnerable groups of the population, as well as education could relieve local executive structures. It would also help to improve the targeting of government support and the role of civil society in resolving significant local issues.

Decentralization in the country is developing according to the type of deconcentration, when the powers transferred from the center are consolidated in the hands of the local khokim.

However, in the context of a low level of accountability of local authorities and the possession of extremely broad powers, several cases were recorded demonstrating the facts of corruption, the flourishing of localism and conflicts of interest. Thus, the ex-khokim of the Samarkand region T. Dzhuraev was accused of receiving large bribes, abuse of office and was sentenced to 13 years of prison.[16] In December 2020, the facts of winning large state tenders in Andijan, Jizzakh and Khorezm regions by companies controlled by the relatives of the responsible leaders of the khokimiyats of these regions became known to the public.[17]

Maintaining the practice of simultaneously leading the khokims of the representative and executive power in the respective territory, coupled with a low level of their accountability to the local population and the kengash of people’s deputies, non-transparency of the procedure for allocating land plots, decision-making, personnel appointments, public procurement and tenders for construction work, provision of services increases corruption risks. This can cause serious damage to the achievement of national interests in the socio-economic well-being of the country.

In this regard, the procedure for training and appointing leadership personnel in local authorities needs to be revised. There is a need for the adoption of comprehensive legislation on the civil service, the introduction of a system of stage-by-stage training of civil servants and their appointment to top responsible posts on the basis of meritocracy.

The fulfillment by the heads of territorial authorities and law enforcement structures of their direct responsibilities, enshrined in legislative acts, can increase the efficiency of their activities, as well as strictly observe the system of checks and balances with a special role of the judiciary as arbitrators in resolving disputes between central and regional issues at the level of each as a separate territory.

3. The concept of decentralization implies a gradual decrease in the role of the central government. However, in recent years, there has been a tendency towards an increase in the number of central administrative structures and their staff headcount. Compared to 2016, the number of ministries was increased from 14 to 22 units, state committees from 8 to 10, agencies from 6 to 7, committees from 2 to 4, inspections from 7 to 8.

In this vein, currently, khokims of the regions, cities and districts can have up to eight assistants on various issues[18] compared to three to six assistants at the beginning of 2016.[19]

An excessive increase in the staff of both central and territorial government bodies can lead to excessive bureaucratization of issues, concentration of powers, complication of the decision-making procedure and a tangible increase in the costs of maintaining administrative structures. Given the low potential of local authorities, the growth of their number cannot turn into a qualitative leap in the efficiency of management and in the socio-economic development of territories.

Unfortunately, despite the increase in powers and a tangible improvement in financing the activities of local authorities, the number of regions requiring the allocation of transfers from the republican budget to cover their expenditure items has grown from 7 in 2018[20] to 11 in 2021.[21] The country’s leadership also announced in December 2020 a decision to optimize the number of employees in the public administration system to an average of 15 percent.[22]

4. A unified approach to the appointment of the management and employees of the territorial subdivisions of the central authorities, as well as to the financing of their activities on the ground, has not been formed.

In this vein, the heads of health departments, main financial departments, preschool education departments are appointed and dismissed by agreement with local khokims, heads of public education departments and territorial divisions of the treasury are appointed and dismissed without agreement with local government bodies.

Prosecutors of regions, heads of regional departments of justice and departments of internal affairs are appointed and dismissed by their immediate heads from central departments.

At the same time, the heads of the departments of the State Customs Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan in the regions and the State tax departments of the regions are appointed and dismissed by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

The appointment of heads of socio-economic departments by decision of local kengashs, and heads of law enforcement agencies by central authorities could help increase the role of local deputies, as well as create a unified system for the formation of heads of local bodies.

Along with this, funding of the activities of the main financial departments of khokimiyats, territorial departments of state financial control, departments of the treasury by regions, departments of justice of regions in 2018 were transferred from the republican budget to local budgets.[23]

In these conditions, the process of purposeful, constant, and impartial monitoring of the formation of income and the distribution of income of local budgets by the above-mentioned financial bodies may be disrupted. Also, the implementation of effective control over compliance with the requirements of the legislation, legality in law enforcement practice and rule-making activities of state bodies at the local level is violated due to their dependence on local leaders.

This system in its current form can work effectively only in the context of increasing the accountability of local authorities and increasing the transparency of their daily activities.

Conclusion

In general, it should be noted that the decentralization of public administration is often perceived only as a simple strengthening of the powers of local authorities. In fact, effective decentralization is possible with thoughtful allocation, rather than division of overall responsibility between central and local governments.

Effective decentralization implies the creation of a new model of relationship between the central government and local authorities, based on closer cooperation and a strategic role of central government.

At the same time, many cases in Uzbekistan demonstrate that the expanded financial independence of local authorities at the current stage of development and, considering the existing gaps in the legislation, is detrimental to ensuring financial discipline and financial stability of the regions.

The key factors for the success of decentralization reforms are the combination of these transformations with a holistic modernization of the government system, the creation of the necessary regulatory and legal framework, the development of an adequate capacity of local authorities and a tangible increase in their real accountability in decision-making and budget allocation.

It goes without saying that tackling these issues takes time, long-term commitment, and political will from central governments to implement decentralization reforms. In this case, as the practices of many countries of the world show, decentralization can bring such positive results as improving the quality and efficiency of the provision of public services at the local level, accelerated socio-economic development of territories, as well as active participation of local residents in decision-making by the authorities.


This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or the donor.


[1] Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. UP-5185 “On approval of the Concept of administrative reform in the Republic of Uzbekistan” dated September 8, 2017 https://lex.uz/docs/3331176

[2] An experiment with the local budget will be carried out in Tashkent. // Information and legal portal “Norma”, June 21, 2017 https://www.norma.uz/novoe_v_zakonodatelstve/v_tashkente_provedut_eksperiment_s_mestnym_byudjetom

[3] Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. UP-5075 “On measures to expand the powers of local government bodies in the formation of local budgets” dated June 7, 2017 https://www.lex.uz/docs/3232503

[4] Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. PP-4086 “On the forecast of the main macroeconomic indicators and parameters of the state budget of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2019 and budget guidelines for 2020-2021” dated December 26, 2018 https://lex.uz/docs/4131693#4134663   

[5] Ibid

[6] Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. ЗРУ-636 “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Republic of Uzbekistan in Connection with Improving the Activities of Kengashes of People’s Deputies” dated September 14, 2020 https://www.lex.uz/acts/4996187

[7] Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. PP-3897 “On the establishment of the Fund for the Development of Military-Administrative Sectors” dated August 4, 2018 https://lex.uz/docs/4883904

[8] Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. PP-3182 “On priority measures to ensure the accelerated socio-economic development of regions” dated August 8, 2017 https://www.lex.uz/docs/3302446#3303504

[9] The President assigned additional responsibilities to the khokims. IA “Sputnik Uzbekistan”, April 14, 2020 https://uz.sputniknews.ru/society/20200414/13924070/Prezident-vozlozhil-na-khokimov-dopolnitelnuyu-otvetstvennost.html

[10] A.A. Khalmurzaev. Quarantine exit trajectory. // IA “KUN.UZ”, May 11, 2020 https://kun.uz/ru/news/2020/05/11/trayektoriya-vyxoda-iz-karantina

[11] The school year will begin on September 14 – President. // IA “Gazeta.uz”, August 28, 2020. https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2020/08/28/school/

[12] Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. 913-XII “On local government power” dated September 2, 1993 https://lex.uz/docs/112168#120911

[13] The law on state power at the local level will be adopted in a new edition. // IA “Gazeta.uz”, May 24, 2019. https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2019/05/24/project/

[14] Draft Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On Amendments and Additions to the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan” On State Power in Localities “dated May 20, 2019 https://regulation.gov.uz/ru/document/3518

[15] The powers of the khokims will be revised. // IA “Gazeta.uz”, January 24, 2020. http://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2020

[16] The ex-khokim of the Samarkand region was sentenced to 13 years. // IA “Gazeta.uz”, August 2, 2019. https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2019/08/02/samarkand/

[17] The Andijan Prosecutor’s Office began to check the facts of a possible conflict of interest in state orders. // AN Podrobno.uz, December 28, 2020. https://podrobno.uz/cat/obchestvo/andizhanskaya-prokuratura-zanyalas-proverkoy-faktov-vozmozhnogo-konflikta-interesov-pri-goszakazakh/

[18] Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. PP-2691 “On further improvement of the activities of local executive authorities” dated December 22, 2016 https://www.lex.uz/acts/3101496#3102616

[19] Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. PP-2497 “On improving the structure of territorial government bodies” dated February 24, 2016 https://www.lex.uz/acts/2906735

[20] Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. PP-4086 “On the forecast of the main macroeconomic indicators and parameters of the State budget of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2019 and budget guidelines for 2020-2021” dated December 26, 2018 https://lex.uz/docs/4131693#undefined 

[21] Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. ЗРУ-657 “On the State Budget of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2021” dated December 25, 2020 https://www.lex.uz/ru/docs/5186047

[22] In Uzbekistan, the number of officials will be reduced by 15% – Mirziyoyev. // АН Podrobno.uz, December 29, 2020. https://podrobno.uz/cat/obchestvo/v-uzbekistane-chislo-chinovnikov-umenshat-na-15-mirziyeev/

[23] Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. PP-4086 “On the forecast of the main macroeconomic indicators and parameters of the State budget of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2019 and budget guidelines for 2020-2021” dated December 26, 2018 https://lex.uz/docs/4131693#undefined 

Akram Umarov, Independed expert, Uzbekistan

Source: Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting (CABAR.asia)