Asia-Plus, a Tajik weekly that also publishes in English online, informs us:
DUSHANBE, January 8, 2010 — More than 80 million somoni worth [about $1.82 million — ed.] of shares in open joint-stock company (OJSC) NBO Roghun were sold in Dushanbe on January 6, when a large scale Roghun share sale campaign was launched in the country, Shavkat Saidov, a spokesman for the Dushanbe mayor’s office, told Asia-Plus today.
“The shares were sold both in cash and by written order on account,” said Saidov, “The mayor’s office appreciates Dushanbe resident’s active support for the construction of the Roghun hydroelectric power plant (HPP).”
Because we hear about Roghun all the time here — it is trumpeted on banners festooning the main streets of Dushanbe, the president harangues passers-by about it from huge “L.A. Story“-style (or is it “1984”) video screens, locals talk nervously to us about affording the shares in the dam company that they are expected to buy, my friend Cedric has Facebook updates about it — it can be easy to forget that that rest of world knows next to nothing about this dam which, allegedly, can change Tajikistan’s destiny, according to the authorities.
The dam itself isn’t necessarily a bad idea. While short of fossil fuels, Tajikistan is blessed with water and a lot of it. Due to its surprisingly heavy precipitation and to glacier melt, Tajikistan has water supplies that its wealthier, more powerful neighbors do not. Unfortunately for Tajikistan, its water resources are difficult to harness as they require the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars to build hydro-power stations. Doubly unfortunate is that what Tajikistan has in water resources, it lacks in other energy resources.
Uzbekistan, one of Tajikistan’s wealthier and more powerful neighbors (and with whom it has a not innocuous rivalry), in particular, has tried to use this energy disparity against Tajikistan’s government by alternately threatening to and actually cutting off natural gas supplies to the country, as the majority of the natural gas used in Tajikistan comes from Turkmenistan and must transit Uzbekistan via a pipeline to reach the country.
This is where Roghun Dam comes in.
Construction of the dam fulfills two strategic goals for Tajikistan’s current government: 1) become more energy self-sufficient and 2) obtain some leverage against Uzbekistan, for an operational Roghun would allow the Tajik government to significantly reduce the flow of river water to Uzbekistan, if it so chose.
Due in part to the embargo on Southern cotton during the American Civil War, Russia and then the Soviet Union extensively irrigated the arid desert flatlands of Uzbekistan to grow cotton, and lots of it. Cotton is an extraordinarily thirsty crop and requires massive amounts of water to grow. Being in the desert, Uzbek cotton farmers, primarily students press-ganged by the Uzbek government, depend on the rivers flowing down from the mountains of their neighbor — you guessed it — Tajikistan to water their vast fields of cotton. That its economy is based on a cotton monoculture only makes the dictatorial Uzbek regime even more touchy about the construction of any Tajik dams that may interfere with Uzbek water supplies.
For years, Russia used the potential construction of the Roghun station as a way to play Tajikistan and Uzbekistan off against each other, and enhance its own leverage against the former Soviet provinces, by first supporting and then withdrawing support for the project. Flustered by Russia’s fickleness, unable to secure other investors, and lacking the cash to build the dam within the governmental budget, the president decided to ask for (impose a) voluntary (mandatory) donations (taxes) on the Tajik people to pay for building Roghun.
As construction of Roghun is expected to cost $600 million just to get the first of six planned power stations operational, and Tajikistan’s population is about 6.8 million people, this donation/tax could come to $88 for every man, woman, and child in the country. This is a place where the average monthly salary is $60, meaning that most working people live on a dollar or two per day. And remember that the unemployment rate is about 30%, not including the 50% of the population that is under the age of 18.
Long story short, $88 is a heck of a lot of money for an average Tajik citizen. And the government is leaning on people here to pay up, as Shane details in his blog, if not for the whole $88 yet.
The hypocrisy is astounding, if not surprising. I’d be interested to know how many somoni in cash the president is contributing to the construction of Roghun, considering that news reports indicate that he has potentially hundreds of millions of dollars squirreled away in secret bank accounts around the world. More on this here and here. And the president isn’t the only one who’s bent, many people in government are on the take. How much have they “donated” to the building of these power stations?
As far as anyone knows, they haven’t contributed a single Tajik dinar diram* to the project. That’s disgusting, and disgustingly typical.
*Edit to use the correct currency. 100 Tajik dirams = 1 Tajik somoni.