In Uzbekistan, the process of democratisation of administration and decision-making is based on the will of society. A large-scale transformation, launched in 2017, today covers all areas, writes Bobur Bekmurodov.
Today, it is obvious to everyone that the reforms in the country have gained momentum, and Uzbekistan has stepped into a new development trajectory, and the socio-political, economic, educational, scientific environment has become much more complex and multifaceted, which increases the relevance of a permanent analysis of ongoing processes, rapid introduction adjustments, creative finding of new sources of growth and management improvement.
We can definitely say that over the past period we have witnessed fundamental changes. In some areas, progress was not long in coming, in others, changes are long-term in nature, the results of which will be tangible in the short term. The important side of it is that the efforts do not stop; consistent steps are being taken towards the intended goals. Certainly, public participation in the decision-making process, public oversight by NGOs and the media contribute to increasing the effectiveness of measures.
The consciousness of society is being transformed, people are developing an understanding of the importance of monitoring the progress of reforms, analyzing the results, and engaging in state and social construction. The reform agenda for this year includes further democratization of society, ensuring reliable protection of human rights and interests.
Everything is reasonable. Investments in human capital, knowledge and new technologies are considered among the priorities for the development of the economy, as a condition for increasing its competitiveness and sustainable development of the country. Education and training of the population are among the key factors in strengthening human capital. This explains the scale of reforms in the field of education in Uzbekistan.
For example, in 2017 the coverage of children with preschool education was 27 percent, and by the end of 2022 it reached 72 percent, having increased by 2.6 times in six years. 1,811 new kindergartens began their work in 2022, and more than 85 percent of them are organized as non-state – family, private, or created on the basis of public-private partnerships. In 2023, the government plans to increase the enrollment rate in preschool education to 74.4 percent. And the coverage of children of six years of age is up to 92 percent.
The gross enrollment ratio for universal primary and secondary education is 99 per cent. Over the past seven years, more than 643,000 student places have been created in public schools. Starting from the current academic year, all schools in Uzbekistan are introducing free meals for primary school students. 2.3 trillion UZS will be allocated for these purposes. The initiative was piloted in Karakalpakstan and Khorezm regions. Since February last year, local primary school students began to receive free meals at the expense of the state budget. A total of 285,000 children were covered.
Significant changes undergo in the system of higher education: from increasing the number of universities, including in the regions, to granting them academic and financial independence. As a result, enrollment in higher education increased by 4.3 times. In 2017-2022, postgraduate admission quotas were also significantly increased. If in 2017 about 250 people were admitted to postgraduate studies, then in 2022 the quota was 2,747 people, with an increase by more than ten times.
In modern realities, economic prosperity depends primarily on the ability to acquire new knowledge and apply the knowledge in life. The World Bank estimates that 64 percent of economic growth in transition economies is driven by the quality of human capital. The development of innovations directly depends on the processes of creating and promoting knowledge in the field of scientific research. That, in fact is a powerful lever by which countries overcome the recession in the economy and modernize it, saturate the market with a variety of competitive products.
For example at the end of 2022, Uzbekistan was ranked 82nd in the Global Innovation Index, having risen by four lines in one year. In the Innovation Input sub-index, the country moved up seven positions to 68th position, and in the Innovation output sub-index, Uzbekistan moved up nine positions to 91th position. For comparison: in 2015, Uzbekistan ranked 122nd among 141 countries, and after a long break in 2020, it returned to the ranking, rising by 29 positions among 131 countries and taking 93rd position. However, there are still a number of urgent tasks in this direction that need to be solved, including encouraging the development of the private sector, increasing the share of high-tech exports in total trade, financing science and innovation, and strengthening the legal framework.
The work on involving citizens to the process of allotting budgetary funds deserves special attention. In particular, we are talking about the “Initiative budget” or Participatory budget projects. The “Initiative budgeting” mechanism was introduced in 2019. Over the past few years, millions of citizens have learned about it, its results, while the interest and involvement of the population continues to grow. The figures speak for themselves. The expansion of the share of budget funds allocated for initiative budgeting led to a 2.5-fold increase in the number of proposals put forward by citizens – from 28.7 thousand in 2019 to 69.7 thousand in 2022, and the number of citizens who voted increased from 87.7 thousand to 6.7 million respectively.
The number of projects selected for funding also increased. Behind these figures are active citizens who, due to their own initiative, were able to solve infrastructure problems in mahallas and villages. At the initiative of the President, the amount of funds allocated for initiative budgeting projects has been increased to eight trillion UZS this year. This indicates that the opportunity to become a direct distributor of the budget among the population is increasing.
Another important initiative is the Decree of the President on social support for the population of Karakalpakstan dated July 28, 2023 and recognition of the rights to housing built by individuals. The document notes that there are more than 43.4 thousand unauthorized houses in the republic, which do not have the formal right of ownership. Local councils approve the lists of objects that fall under the amnesty, the final recognition of the rights to real estate occurs after the execution of the relevant resolution of the Jokargy Kenes.
Earlier, with a continuous inventory in 2016-2017, 71.9 thousand unauthorized buildings were legalized in Karakalpakstan. In 2018-2019, when a one-time amnesty for rights to unauthorized buildings was announced throughout Uzbekistan, the rights to 50.3 thousand houses were recognized. Such decisions lighten the burden of citizens who can register housing, which until now was considered illegal.
In addition, this year a serious step has been taken in the fight against domestic violence. Amendments to the legislation of Uzbekistan have been adopted, which strengthen the protection of children and women from violence. Domestic violence is criminalized, liability for harassment is established, and parole and mitigating circumstances will not be applied to those who have committed sexual violence. I think that the whole society will benefit from this.
No less topical issue for the population is the growing demand for housing. So, over the past seven years, the volume of construction in the country has increased many times: from 30 trillion UZS in 2016 to 131 trillion UZS in 2022. Only in the first half of 2023, construction volumes in monetary terms amounted to 68 trillion UZS. All these figures indicate the scale of the work implemented. And it continues consistently, taking into account the needs of the population.
This year, about 90,000 apartments are planned to be put into operation in the “Yangi Uzbekiston” new neighborhoods and in areas where this issue is especially relevant. At the same time, the improvement and development of transport infrastructure, engineering and communication networks, and social facilities are underway.
The list of examples can be continued for long. All of them prove the commitment of the country’s leadership to the course of reforms, where people are in the core, with their legitimate rights and interests.
The Author, Bobur Bekmurodov, is Chairman of the Nationwide movement “Yuksalish”