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Anti-corruption policy in Uzbekistan, ongoing reforms and future objectives

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The fight against corruption has become one of the most pressing problems facing the international community today. Its catastrophic impact on states, regional economy, politics, and public life can be seen on the example of the crisis in some countries, writes Akmal Burkhanov, director of the Anti-Corruption Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Another important aspect of the problem is that the level of corruption in a country directly affects its political and economic prestige in the international arena. This criterion becomes decisive in such issues as relations between countries, the volume of investments, the signing of bilateral agreements on equal terms. Therefore, in recent years, political parties in foreign countries have made the fight against corruption a top priority in the parliamentary and presidential elections. Concerns about this evil are increasingly voiced from the highest tribunes in the world. The fact that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres claims that the world community loses USD 2.6 trillion annually due to corruption shows the heart of the problem[1].

The fight against corruption has also become a priority area of state policy in Uzbekistan. This can be seen in the conceptual regulatory acts adopted in recent years in this area, on the example of administrative reforms aimed at preventing corruption. In particular, the National Action Strategy on Five Priority Development Areas 2017-2021, adopted at the initiative of the President, plays an important role in increasing the effectiveness of the fight against corruption[2].

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Improving the organizational and legal mechanisms of combating corruption and increasing the effectiveness of anticorruption measures was identified as one of the important tasks in the priority area of the Action Strategy - ensuring the rule of law and further reforming the judicial and legal system.

On the basis of this policy document, a number of important measures have been taken to prevent corruption.

Firstly, the system for considering appeals of individuals and legal entities has been radically improved. The People’s Receptions of the President as well as hot lines and virtual receptions of each ministry and department have been launched. 209 people’s receptions offices have been created throughout the country, the priority task of which is to restore the rights of citizens. In addition, the practice of conducting on-site receptions of officials at all levels in remote areas has been established.

The people’s receptions provide the citizens with the opportunity to take an active part in the events taking place in the region where they live, as well as throughout the country. Ensuring the freedom of people to directly address with various issues and direct communication of officials with people led to a decrease of corruption in the lower and middle levels in itself [3].

Secondly, practical measures have been taken to ensure freedom of the media, journalists and bloggers, the openness of government structures to the public and the media, and the establishment of close communication and cooperation between senior officials and journalists in their daily activities. As a result, every action of the officials was made public. After all, if there is openness, it would be more difficult to engage in corruption.

Thirdly, the system of government services has been radically reformed and more than 150 types of government services are provided to the population using convenient, centralized and modem information and communication technologies.

In this process, the reduction of the human factor, the elimination of the direct contacts between the civil servant and the citizen, and the widespread use of information technologies, undoubtedly, significantly reduced the factors of corruption[3].

Fourthly, in recent years, the mechanisms for ensuring openness and transparency of government agencies, as well as public control institutions, have radically improved. The widespread use of digital and online technologies has increased the accountability of government agencies to the public. A system of online auctions of land plots and state assets, as well as state numbers for vehicles has been created and is constantly being improved.

Information on state procurement is posted on the website www.d.xarid.uz. The open data portal (data.gov.uz), the registered database of legal entities and commercial entities (my.gov.uz) and other platforms play an important role today in ensuring the principles of openness and transparency and public control, which are the most effective tools for combating and preventing corruption. Licensing and permitting procedures have also been radically improved to completely improve the business and investment climate, remove unnecessary bureaucratic barriers and outdated regulations.

Fifthly, a Resolution signed by the President in 2018 provides for the creation of a public council under each ministry and department. Of course, such councils are an important link in the establishment of effective public control over the activities of government agencies|4].

More than 70 regulatory acts aimed at combating corruption in all sectors of state and public construction have served as a solid basis for the implementation of these reforms.

The most important step in this area was the signing of the Law ‘On Combating Corruption’ as one of the first legislative acts after the President came to power. The law, adopted in 2017, defines several concepts, including “corruption”, “corruption offenses” and “conflict of interests”. The areas of state policy in the fight against corruption were also determined [5].

The State Anti-Corruption Program 2017-2018 was also adopted. The Law on Public Procurement, the Law on Public-Private Partnership, the Law on Dissemination and Access to Legal Information and the Law on Public Control, adopted under the Program, are also aimed at ensuring economic growth by combating corruption[6].

President Mirziyoyev, in his speech on the occasion of the 26th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan, proposed the creation of special anti-corruption committees in the chambers of the Oliy Majlis based on best foreign practices and the requirements of our Constitution.

In 2019, the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis adopted a resolution "On the establishment of Committee on Judicial-Legal Issues and Anti¬Corruption" of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan [7].

In the same year, the Senate of the Oliy Majlis also established the Committee on Judicial-Legal Issues and Anti-Corruption [8].

At the same time, the committees and commissions of the Jokargy Kenes of Karakalpakstan and the regional, district and city councils of people's deputies were reorganized into a "Permanent Commission on Combating Corruption".

Their main tasks were to conduct systematic parliamentary oversight of the implementation of anti-corruption legislation and government programmes, to listen to information from government officials involved in anti-corruption activities, to take measures to eliminate legal gaps in existing legislation that permit and create conditions for corruption, to study generally recognized principles and norms of international law on combating corruption and to develop proposals for further action.

A joint resolution of the Kengash of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis and the Kengash of the Senate “On measures to increase the effectiveness of parliamentary oversight of anti-corruption efforts” was adopted to coordinate the activities of committees and councils and identify priorities [9].

These chambers and kengashes serve to improve the effectiveness of parliamentary oversight of the fight against corruption.

In particular, the Senate of the Oliy Majlis and the responsible committee of the local council critically discussed information on the status and trends of corruption of public officials carrying out anti-corruption activities in the regions as part of parliamentary oversight.

The information of Minister of Higher and Secondary Specialised Education on the progress of the Corruption-Free Sector Project was listened.

The Prosecutor General also briefed on the work being done to prevent corruption in the health, education and construction sectors. The activities of the Ministries of Health, Education and Construction were critically discussed.

Regular dialogue was held in the regions with the judiciary, sector leaders and the public to discuss anti-corruption issues in cooperation with local Kengashes of people's deputies and to assess the responsibility of officials in this regard.

The Committee on Judicial-Legal Issues and Anti-Corruption of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis held hearings on the work of the State Customs Committee, the Ministry of Construction and the Ministry of Health in preventing corruption in its system.

The Committee made effective use of effective parliamentary oversight mechanisms during the period under consideration, and about 20 oversight and scrutiny activities were carried out by the Committee during that period. These included examining the implementation of legislation, listening to the heads of State and economic bodies and monitoring the implementation of the decisions of the Legislative Chamber and the Committee.

The responsible committee of the Legislative Chamber also works effectively with citizens and non-governmental organizations. In particular, since the Committee began its work, civil society institutions have submitted proposals for 22 relevant amendments and additions to the codes and 54 to legislation. These contain reasoned opinions on amendments and additions to the Criminal Code, the Labour Code, the Courts Act and other legislation.

In addition, during the past period, the committee has done work on timely study and resolution of citizens' appeals on systemic issues in the field. In particular, 565 appeals of individuals and legal entities submitted to the committee have been reviewed.

In 2018, committees for combating and eradicating corruption were created in the Legislative Chamber and the Senate of the Oliy Majlis. These structures serve to enhance the effectiveness of parliamentary control over the fight against corruption.

The Civil Service Development Agency was launched in 2019. In order to increase the prestige of the civil service at all levels, eliminate corruption, red tape and bureaucracy, the Agency was instructed to take measures to provide financial incentives and adequate social protection for civil servants [10].

The State Anti-Corruption Program 2019-2020 was adopted to implement specific tasks, including further strengthening the independence of the judiciary, eliminating conditions for any undue influence on judges, increasing the accountability and transparency of government agencies and institutions [11].

The year 2020 occupies a special place in the history of our country in terms of improving the institutional framework for combating corruption, because, on June 29 of that year, two important documents were adopted. Those are the Decree of the President ‘On additional measures to improve the system of combating in the Republic of Uzbekistan’ and the Resolution of the President ‘On the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan’. These documents provided for the establishment of a new institution for the implementation of state policy aimed at preventing and combating corruption - the Anti-Corruption Agency [12].

The Agency is defined as a specially authorized government agency responsible for ensuring effective interaction between government bodies, the media, civil society institutions and other nongovernmental sectors, as well as for international cooperation in this area. The Decree also reorganized the Republican Interdepartmental Anti-Corruption Commission into the National Anti-Corruption Council.

In addition, as of January 1, 2021, 37 licenses and 10 permits were revoked. A Road Map was approved for the implementation of measures to strengthen the activities of ministries and departments to combat the shadow economy and corruption, as well as to improve tax and customs administration.

Along with these regulatory documents, ministries and departments adopted and implemented departmental documents aimed at increasing the effectiveness of combating and preventing corruption, “corruption-free sector” programs, as well as other plans and programs in various areas.

In 2020, under the chairmanship of the President, about a dozen meetings and sessions were held addressing the issues of combating corruption. All this means that our country is determined to fight this evil at the state level. This is perceived not only by the citizens of our country, but also by the international community as a serious political will.

In particular, the head of state delivered a speech at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly. In his speech, he emphasized the importance of combating corruption, noting that this work in Uzbekistan has reached a new level, important laws have been adopted and an independent anti-corruption structure has been created. The Uzbek President showed the whole world how important this road is for our country. Positive transformations, along with ensuring the social and economic growth of our country, serve to increase in international ratings and indices and improve the image of our republic.

In the 2020 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Uzbekistan climbed 7 positions compared to 2019 and achieved stable growth for 4 consecutive years (from 17 points in 2013 to 26 points in 2020). Therefore, in its 2020 report, the Transparency International recognized Uzbekistan as one of the fastest growing countries in the region.

However, despite the results achieved, we still have a formidable challenge ahead of us. In his Address to the Oliy Majlis, the President also touched upon the problem of corruption, stressing that intolerance to any form of it should become a part of our daily life.

A number of tasks set in the Address to combat corruption are also reflected in the State Program “Year of Supporting Youth and Strengthening Public Health”. In particular, the Anti-Corruption Agency was tasked with further improving the mechanisms for ensuring openness and transparency in government agencies.

According to study and analysis carried out by the Agency, today the Open Data Portal contains more than 10 thousand collections of open data from 147 ministries and departments. Based on the results of the study and analysis, a list of 240 proposals for expanding open data submitted by 39 ministries, departments and institutions were selected and compiled. The State Program also includes the development of the E-Anticorruption project, which will take anti-corruption reforms to a new level. The project will conduct an in-depth analysis of the existing factors of corruption in all ministries and departments in the context of sectors and regions.

This process will involve representatives of civil society institutions, international experts and interested organizations. As a result, for the first time in our country, an electronic register of corruption-prone relations will be formed [13]. This, in turn, makes it possible to gradually eliminate existing relations with signs of corruption with the help of open and transparent mechanisms using modem information technologies.

The State Program also focuses on another important task. In particular, it is planned to develop the National Anti-Corruption Strategy 2021-2025 in order to continue work in this direction on a systematic and comprehensive basis. In developing this strategy, special attention is paid to a holistic plan that fully covers the real situation. The experience of countries that have achieved successful results in the development and implementation of a comprehensive political document for five years is being studied. It is noteworthy that many countries achieve significant positive results in the fight against corruption through the adoption of such a strategic package of documents and the systematic implementation of its tasks.

The experience of countries such as Georgia, Estonia, and Greece shows that a comprehensive long-term program has led to an increase in the effectiveness of the fight against corruption and its prevention, as well as to an increase of their positions in international rankings. In our country, the development and implementation of a long-term, systematic, comprehensive program to combat corruption will serve to increase the effectiveness of reforms in this area in the future.

Today, the Anti-Corruption Agency is actively working on the draft National Strategy. The document includes an analysis of the current situation, positive trends, and problems, main factors causing corruption, goals and its indicators. In order to cover all issues and take into account the opinion of the government and society, it is widely discussed at national and international consultation meetings with the participation of representatives of government agencies, officials, members of NGOs, academia, and international experts.

It is planned that the draft Strategy will be submitted for public discussion in order to learn the opinion of our people.

The Agency has also studied this year the facts of corruption and conflicts of interest in the field of state procurement in regions. Reasonable proposals have been prepared for the public disclosure of information on the shortcomings identified during the study, as well as information on the composition of tender commissions for state procurement and investment projects, commissions for issuing permits, participants in the process of buying and selling state assets and public-private partnership projects, as well as on recipients’ tax and other benefits. Work is currently underway to further improve these proposals.

It should be noted that the fight against corruption is not a task that can be solved within one organization. It is necessary to mobilize all government agencies, public organizations, the media and, in general, every citizen to fight this evil. Only then will we get to the root of the problem.

Of course, it is gratifying to see the positive results of the work done over the past three-four years. That is, today it is clear from the views of our people that corruption has become one of the most used words in social networks, in our daily life. This indicates that the population, which plays an important role in the fight against corruption, is becoming increasingly intolerant of this evil.

Since the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Agency, many ministries and government departments, nongovernmental organizations, international organizations and citizens have expressed their readiness to provide free assistance, and cooperation is gaining momentum now.

The main thing is to strengthen the spirit of intolerance towards corruption in our modem society, the fighting spirit of anti-corruption in journalists and bloggers, and so that government agencies and officials look at corruption as a threat to the future of the country. Today, everyone is against corruption, from senior officials to the majority of the population, the clerisy, the media have understood that it needs to be eradicated, and the country cannot develop along with it. Now the only task is to unite all efforts and fight against evil together.

This will undoubtedly serve to fully implement the development strategies of our country for the years to come.

Sources

1. “The costs of corruption: values, economic development under assault, trillions lost, says Guterres” UN official site. 09.12.2018.

2. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On the strategy of further development of the Republic of Uzbekistan”. 07.02.2017. #PD-4947.

3. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to further improve the system of dealing with the problems of the population”. #PR-5633.

4. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On additional measures for the accelerated development of the national system of public services” 31.01.2020. #PD-5930.

5. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On additional measures to improve the anti-corruption system in the Republic of Uzbekistan” 29.06.2020. #PR-6013.

6. Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to implement the provisions of the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On Combating Corruption" 02.02.2017. #PD-2752.

7. Resolution of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On the establishment of the Committee on Combating Corruption and Judicial Issues”. 14.03.2019. #PD-2412-III.

8. Resolution of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On the establishment of the Committee on Combating Corruption and Judicial Issues”. 25.02.2019. #JR-513-III.

9. Joint Resolution of the Council of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Council of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to increase the effectiveness of parliamentary control in the fight against corruption”. 30.09.2019. #782-111/ JR-610-III.

10. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to radically improve the personnel policy and the system of civil service in the Republic of Uzbekistan”. 03.10.2019. PD-5843.

11. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to further improve the anti-corruption system in the Republic of Uzbekistan” 27.05.2019. #PD-5729.

12. Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On the organization of the Anti-Corruption Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan”. 29.06.2020. #PR-4761.

13. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to implement “the strategy of further development of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2017-2021” for the Year of Youth Support and Public Health”. 03.02.2021 #PR-6155.

Uzbekistan

Worthy of the timeless monuments of the glorious past: In 2022 Uzbekistan will see the grand opening of Silk Road Samarkand, a unique tourist complex

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In 2022, Silk Road Samarkand, a multifunctional tourist complex designed to become a modern attraction not only of the city of Samarkand, but also of the entire Central Asia, will be opened for visitors. The complex will combine cultural, gastro, medical and business tourism facilities.

The new complex will house world-class hotels, specialized boutique hotels, contemporary public spaces, parks, recreation and sports areas, authentic restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as an international congress hall and sites of cultural interest. The state-of-the-art project developed by an international team of architects and engineers will allow for combining various thematic zones into a balanced architectural ensemble without parallel in the entire region of Central Asia.

The scale and significance of Silk Road Samarkand are to make it a well-deserved follow-up to the sublime monuments of the past and a driver of tourism development in the region. The name of the center was selected deliberately: the routes of the Great Silk Road passed through the territory of current-day Uzbekistan from the II century BC until the XV century, and ancient Samarkand was one of the most important stops for trade caravans.

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The location

The new complex is located in the eastern part of the city and covers an area of about 260 hectares. It centers around the affluent waterway of the Samarkand rowing canal, which in Soviet times served as a training base for the USSR national team and a venue for All-Union competitions.

The complex includes multiple various zones. To the north of the rowing canal is a Business Cluster, including a congress hall and four upscale hotels with beautified territories. The Southern Cluster includes four boutique hotels, each operating in their own medical and sanatorium area of activity, as well as an eco-village, the Eternal City historical and ethnographic complex, and some shopping areas.

The business cluster

Silk Road Samarkand has eight hotels, four each on the northern and southern banks of the rowing canal. They will provide for a total of about 1,200 rooms. To the left of the congress hall, a 22-storey five-star Samarkand Regency Hotel with 234 rooms, including executive suites and two presidential suites, will be put up. This is the first and only hotel in Central Asia being part of LHW, the world's leading hotels association.

Savitsky Plaza, a hotel named after Igor Savitsky, an honored artist of the Uzbek SSR and a collector of avant-garde art objects, is distinguished by its one-of-a-kind interior design and has 179 rooms available for the guests.

Other hotels of the highest category include Silk Road by Minyoun with 242 rooms and Stars of Ulugbek by Lia! Minyoun, named after the great astronomer and mathematician of the Timurid era, counting 174 rooms. Both buildings are managed by the leading Asian hotelier Minyoun Hospitality.

All hotels have conference rooms, meeting rooms, restaurants, bars, gyms, SPAs and swimming pools.

The Congress Hall

At the international congress hall, a multifunctional hall, presidential and VIP halls, rooms for delegations and meeting rooms, as well as banqueting room and exhibition hall will be available.

The medical cluster

The medical cluster of Marakanda Park Hotels will be situated to the south of the rowing canal. Each of the four boutique hotels specializes in a certain type of medical services: preventive medicine, detox, joint and spine treatment, and pulmonary medicine. The second floors of the hotels are allocated for health centers. In addition to medical and treatment rooms, the hotel guests will be offered the services of a cosmetician, massage, mud therapy, therapeutic showers, infrared sauna, pressure chamber. The offered programs are developed for 3, 7, 10 and 14 days of stay. The hotels of the cluster will have a total of 366 rooms.

The Eternal City

Over more than 10 hectares, the image of an ancient city has been recreated, inviting guests of the resort to experience the history and traditions of the lands and peoples of Uzbekistan. Artists, artisans and craftsmen will "settle" on the narrow streets. Visitors to the city will be offered to try national cuisine from different eras and regions of the country and watch authentic street performances. The Eternal City will provide guests with an exceptional opportunity to find themselves at the borderline of Parthian, Hellenistic and Islamic cultures, and observe the diversity of the bygone centuries' heritage with their own eyes. The author and curator of the project is the famous modern Uzbek artist Bobur Ismoilov.

The place of attraction

Resort guests will enjoy green pedestrian zones, open spaces and a well-designed environment. The entrance will be decorated in traditional motifs reminiscent of the majestic arches of Registan. Sports grounds and bike paths, the Volcano aqua zone with swimming pools and a variety of cafes and bars are sure to become a place of attraction. Bicycle rental will be available.

“Samarkand was a major stop on the Great Silk Road, a place where entire civilizations crossed. We believe that Silk Road Samarkand will become a center of international tourism, where residents of the city, tourists, travelers and businessmen from all over the world will be able to spend time with pleasure and benefit. I am sure that the opening of the complex will launch a new era in the history of tourism in Samarkand,” said Artiom V. Egikian, CEO of the managing company of Silk Road Samarkand.

Accessibility

The complex is easily accessible by transport: it takes 20 minutes by car to get there from the historical center of the city, 15 minutes from the international airport and 25 minutes from the train station. The project includes the construction of a road junction and a bypass bridge. You can get to the resort both by car (parking lots are available) and by special shuttles that will be launched when the center opens.

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Development of the economy of Uzbekistan in the first half of 2021

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Despite the ongoing pandemic in the world, the economy of Uzbekistan has reached record growth rates. According to the State Statistics Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the gross domestic product for the first six months of this year increased by 6.2%. For comparison: over the same period last year, due to the pandemic and lockdowns, the economy grew by only 1.1%, and in the first three months of 2021 - 3%, writes Ruslan Abaturov, Centre for Economic Research and Reforms.

At the same time, it should be noted that Uzbekistan’s main trade partners’ economy is stabilizing at the end of the six months and returning to the growth trajectory. Thus, Kazakhstan's GDP increased by 2.2%, against the decline for the same period last year by 1.8%. The Kyrgyz economy is gradually decreasing, in January-June, the rate of decline slowed to 1.7% against 5.6% in the first half of 2020. China maintains dynamic growth this year, where a 12.7% increase in GDP is recorded in the first half year. In Russia, GDP grew by 3.7% during January-May.

In Uzbekistan, inflation in the consumer sector continues to slow, despite serious price hikes for certain commodities such as carrots and vegetable oil. According to the results of six months, prices increased by 4.4% while in 2020 over the same period - by 4.6%. By May 2021, prices decreased by 0.2% due to seasonality. The largest increase in prices is noted for food products - by 5.7% (in the first half of 2020 - 6.2%). The rise in prices for non-food products is also slowing down - 3% against 3.6% in January-June 2020.

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The inflow of investment in the first quarter of this year has shown positive dynamics. Investment in fixed assets rose by 5.9% against a decline of almost 10% in the same period last year. Investments from the budget decreased by 8.5%. Investments and loans attracted under the guarantee of the government decreased by more than 36%, and their share in the total volume of investments fell to 8.9%. The inflow of investments from non-centralized sources has noticeably increased - by 14.9%. Investments at the expense of the population and own funds of enterprises increased insignificantly - by 4.4% and 4.7%, respectively. A significant inflow of investments is due to the growth of attracted loans from commercial banks, foreign direct investment and credit funds from abroad.

The positive dynamics of production is noted in all sectors of the economy. The main drivers are industry and the service sector.

The industrial sector in January-June demonstrates high growth rates - 8.5% against a decline of 0.3% over the same period last year. The mining industry grew by 7.5% (a decline of 18% in January-June 2020), the manufacturing industry - by 8.6% (4.9%), electricity, gas and air conditioning - by 12.1% (8.4%). The production of consumer goods increased by 7.7% against the growth of 1.2% in the same period last year, with the outstripping dynamics in the production of food products.

The service sector, such as tourism, catering and accommodation, demonstrates impressive dynamics - an increase of 18.3% in the first half of the year versus an increase of 2.6% in January-June 2020. The transport sector is actively recovering after last year's decline: freight turnover increased by 14.1%, passenger turnover by 4.1%. Retail trade in the period under review increased by 9%.

A slowdown in relative to last year is noted in agriculture to 1.8% versus 2.8%, which is due to difficult weather conditions this year and lack of water. The growth rates of the construction sector also slowed down to 0.1% against 7.1% in the first half of 2020.

Foreign trade also managed to overcome the recession. In the first half of this year, sales grew 13.6% to $18 billion. In the same period last year, there was a significant decline of 18%. During the period under review, exports grew by 12% to $7.1bn and imports by 14.4% to $11bn. In the second quarter, Uzbekistan sold gold abroad against the background of positive price conditions on the world market. However, it should be noted that in the first six months the volume of exports without gold increased by 36.4% and reached $5.7bn.

In the structure of exports, the volume of food supplies to foreign countries increased by 6.3%, chemicals by 18.6%, industrial products by 74.4% (mainly textiles, non-ferrous metals), machinery and transport equipment doubled.

At the same time, there is an increase in imports of food products by 46.2%, industrial products by 29.1% (mainly metallurgical products), chemical products by 17%. Imports of machinery and equipment with the largest volume increased by 1.4%.

Thus, according to the results of the half-year, the economy of Uzbekistan is actively overcoming the consequences of the crisis and reaching the dynamics ahead of the pre-crisis indicators.

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Uzbekistan is a tourist country

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Since ancient times, Uzbekistan has been in the center of Great Silk Road and has a great historical, cultural and architectural heritage. Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva are the brands of the ancient culture of the East. The landscapes of mountains and deserts of Uzbekistan attract attention and admiration of the Internet community. Therefore, the tourism potential of this country can hardly be overestimated and the government is making significant efforts to develop it, writes Khasanjon Majidov, Leading Researcher at the Centre for Economic Research and Reforms.

Explosive development of tourism

At the beginning of 2016, a process of radical reform of the tourism industry was launched in Uzbekistan. More than 60 regulations were adopted related to the development of tourism industry during the 2016-2020.

The visa regime between the countries was simplified. In 2018, Uzbekistan introduced a visa-free regime for citizens of 9 countries, in 2019 for citizens of 47 countries, in 2020 - 2021 another 5 countries. As of May 10, 2021, the number of countries for citizens of which a visa-free regime is granted in the Republic of Uzbekistan is 90 countries.

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In addition, citizens of about 80 countries have the opportunity to apply for an electronic visa in a simplified manner. Five new types of visas have been introduced for foreigners: "Compatriot", "Student", "Academic", "Medicine" and "Pilgrimage". According to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the simplification of the visa regime has yielded positive results. In particular, in 2019, if the average growth in the number of foreign tourists was 26%, then the growth rate among the countries where the visa-free regime was introduced reached 58%.

The government took comprehensive measures to develop tourism infrastructure. Firstly, 22 types of requirements regulating the activities of hostels related to the type of budget housing have been canceled. In particular, the procedure for mandatory certification of hotel services provided by hostels has been canceled and the practice of working with a unified register of guest houses and hostels has been introduced. Secondly, in order to increase the number of small hotels, entrepreneurs were provided with 8 standard projects of small hotels up to 50 rooms free of charge and this measure is developed based on the experience of Turkey and South Korea.

As a result, the number of placements in the country has increased dramatically. In particular, from 2016 to 2020, accommodation places increased from 750 to 1308 and the number of guest houses increased 13 times to 1386. Their number is planned to be increased to 2 thousand.

As a result of the reforms in the tourism sector from 2016 to 2019, the number of tourists increased from 2.0 million to 6.7 million. The dynamics of the increase in the number of foreign tourists in 2019 compare to 2010 amounted to a record 592% (an increase of more than 6 times). It is noteworthy that the growth in the number of tourists from different regions occurred in different ways. For example, the number of visitors from Central Asian countries increased by an average of 22-25% per year, while the annual growth among tourists from non-CIS countries was 50%. At the same time, positive results were noted in domestic tourism. Compared to 2016, the number of domestic tourists in 2019 almost doubled and amounted to 14.7 million.

Impact of the pandemic

It should be noted that due to the restrictions imposed against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and the consequences of the global crisis, the tourism industry has suffered serious losses. In particular, the number of foreign tourists visiting Uzbekistan decreased by more than 4.5 times, to 1.5 million, and the volume of tourist services fell to $261 million in 2020.

Taking into account the current situation, the “Uzbekistan project” was developed. Safe travel guaranteed ("Uzbekistan. Safe travel guaranteed"), which is a new system of sanitary and epidemiological safety for tourists based on world standards. Certification of tourism objects and related infrastructure, tourism services based on new sanitary and hygienic requirements for all state border posts; air, railway and bus stations; objects of tangible cultural heritage, museums, theaters, etc. To mitigate the consequences of the pandemic for the tourism industry, the Safe Tourism Fund was formed at the expense of an initial contribution from the Anti-Crisis Fund, as well as payments for passing voluntary certification implemented within the framework of the “Uzbekistan. Safe travel GUARANTEED ".

Tourism players received a number of benefits and preferences to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The income tax rate was reduced by 50% of the established rates, they were exempted from paying land tax and property tax of legal entities and the social tax was set at a reduced rate of 1%. They also partially reimbursed interest expenses on previously issued loans from commercial banks for the construction of accommodation facilities and expenses for renovation, reconstruction and expansion of the material and technical base. Subsidizing accommodation facilities is provided in the amount of 10% of the cost of hotel services from June 1, 2020 to December 31, 2021. In total, 1,750 tourism entities received benefits on property tax, land and social taxes in the amount of about 60 billion soums.

Diversification of directions

In recent years, Uzbekistan has been focusing on the diversification of tourism services and the development of new types of tourism. In particular, much attention is paid to increase the flow of tourists through MICE tourism, which is organizing various tournaments, meetings, conferences and exhibitions in Uzbekistan. The traditional sports tournament "Game of Heroes" in Khorezm, the "Art of Bakhchichilik" festival in Surkhandarya, the "Muynak-2019" rally in Karakalpakstan and others have been held. The government approved the Action Plan for the development of MICE tourism in Uzbekistan.

Film tourism is an important tool for shaping the country's image, providing information to potential tourists. For the development of film tourism in Uzbekistan, a regulation has been developed on the procedure for reimbursing part of the costs ("rebate") of foreign film companies when creating audiovisual products on the territory of Uzbekistan. Moreover, foreign film companies have released films such as Basilik, Khuda Hafiz and Al Safar. Last year, foreign film companies shot 6 feature films in Uzbekistan.

Pilgrimage tourism. In order to create special convenience for those visiting Uzbekistan for the purpose of pilgrim tourism, new requirements have been introduced for hotels, a map of the country's mosques has been developed and posted in the mobile application. The first Pilgrimage Tourism Forum was held in Bukhara and 120 foreign guests from 34 countries took part.

Medical tourism. In Uzbekistan, measures are being taken to develop medical tourism and attract more tourists to medical organizations. In 2019, the number of foreign citizens visiting Uzbekistan for medical purposes exceeded 50 thousand. In fact, this number can be higher, since determining the number of tourists visiting private medical clinics is still a difficult task.

Conclusion

In recent years, Uzbekistan has been recognized as the best travel destination in the world by The Guardian, the fastest growing country in the eyes of Wanderlust and the best growing tourism destination according to Grand voyage. As a result of consistently implemented measures, Uzbekistan has climbed 10 positions (22 places) in the Global Muslim Tourism Index, compiled by Crescent Rating. In addition, the World Tourism Organization ranked Uzbekistan 4th in the list of the fastest growing countries in the tourism sector.

In conclusion, it should be noted that the tourism of Uzbekistan needs to transform its business models through innovation and digitalization. It is necessary to develop such market segments as agro and ethno tourism.

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