Exactly a month after he was sworn in as only Uzbekistan’s second leader since the fall of the Soviet Union, President Shavkat Mirziyoev delivered a speech to a joint session of parliament on the state of the nation, Central Asia’s most populous.
His address on January 14, 2017, touched on numerous themes -- human rights protections, greater transparency, and anti-corruption efforts -- that Mirziyoev, 63, has publicly promoted while distancing his image and ruling style from that of his authoritarian predecessor, Islam Karimov, who died a few months earlier.
Mirziyoev also raised the issue of fiscal responsibility.
“I know how to calculate money very well. The state budget is not limitless, and that’s why we must use it wisely for specific purposes. These are obvious and irrefutable truths for everyone. The wealth of the country and the people must be treated with care,” he told lawmakers.
Within weeks of the speech, however, Uzbek state-owned companies embarked on a secretive project that raises questions about the government’s commitment to prudent and transparent use of taxpayer funds: an exclusive mountain compound, including a new reservoir, that was built for Mirziyoev’s use.
The recreation complex is the focus of a new multipart investigation by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, which spoke with numerous sources directly involved or aware of the opaquely financed project located on a protected biosphere reserve and sealed off from the public by roadblocks and security personnel.
These sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of retribution from authorities or employers, told reporters that the compound -- located about 100 kilometers by car from Tashkent -- includes a luxurious mansion built for Mirziyoev and his relatives. Two sources estimated the cost of the development at several hundred million dollars, though only a handful of publicly available official documents make reference to the compound and the adjacent reservoir, which were largely completed by 2019.
The investigation, for which Mirziyoev’s office did not respond to inquiries, also reveals that:
The investigation also reveals some of the project’s human cost, including the water disruptions suffered by villagers downstream and the displacement of a family known for their stewardship of the area’s rich ecosystem.
The 93-year-old matriarch of that family complained to lawmakers and Mirziyoev about the development in June 2017, six months after his first state-of-the-nation address to parliament, noting that the new president had stressed “the importance of the ‘rule of law.’”
“Why don’t local officials follow these requirements” instead of acting “in their own interests?” she asked.
She added: “Why don’t our leaders go out and see the reality on the ground for themselves?”