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Uzbekistan is reforming the banking sector

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The reform strategy adopted in 2017 provided for the reform of the banking sector, including the privatization of state property. Over the past 4 years, there have been major changes in the development of this sector, which was mainly due to the liberalisation of monetary policy in September 2017 and the free movement of the national currency, writes Khalilulloh Khamidov, Centre for Economic Research and Reforms.

Development dynamics of the sector

Over the past years, there has been a development dynamic of the sector. 55 new credit organizations have appeared, including 4 commercial banks (Poytakht Bank, Tenge Bank, TBC Bank, Anor Bank), 33 microcredit organizations and 18 pawnshops. The assets of commercial banks grew, which in 2020 increased by 120% compared to 2017. The average annual real growth of assets (excluding devaluation) was 24.1%.

The volume of lending also expanded. As of January 1, 2021, the total volume of loans increased by 150% compared to 2017. Real growth of loans averaged 38.6% per year. The volume of loans to individuals increased by 304%, the volume of loans to industry increased by 126% and the volume of loans in the trade and services sectors increased by 280%.

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The average annual real growth rate of deposits for the same period was 18.5%. As of January 1, 2021, 24% are deposits of individuals, and 76% are deposits of legal entities. However, the growth rate of household deposits has accelerated significantly in recent years. In national currency, they amounted to 38.2% in 2018, 45.2% in 2019, 31.7% in 2020. The volume of deposits in foreign currency increased by 2% in 2018, by 40.1% in 2019, by 27.7% in 2020.

As a result of the liberalisation of foreign exchange policy, the level of dollarisation in the banking sector has significantly decreased. If in 2017 the share of banks' foreign currency assets was 64% in total assets, then in 2020 this indicator decreased to 50.2%, the share of loans in foreign currency decreased from 62.3% to 49.9%, and the share of deposits in foreign currency decreased from 48.4% to 43.1%.

Entering the international capital market

Following the successful placement of US $1 billion of sovereign Eurobonds by the government of Uzbekistan in February 2019, several commercial banks entered the international market to raise long-term capital.

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In November 2019, Uzpromstroybank was the first commercial bank to issue Eurobonds on the London Stock Exchange in the amount of 300 million Eurobonds. In October 2020, the National Bank for Foreign Economic Relations raised $300 million from the London Stock Exchange. In November, Ipoteka Bank also issued $300 million in Eurobonds.

As a result of the ongoing reforms, the growing investment attractiveness of the financial sector of Uzbekistan has attracted the interest of foreign investors. In 2018, a joint-stock company, managed by the Swiss company ResponsAbility Investments and specialising in development investments, bought out a 7.66% stake in Hamkorbank from IFC. In 2019, Halyk Bank of Kazakhstan established a subsidiary of Tenge Bank in Tashkent. TBC Bank (Georgia) opened its branch in Tashkent as the first digital bank in Uzbekistan. In 2020, Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH, DEG and Triodos Investment Management invested in the authorised capital of Ipak Yuli Bank through the purchase of new issued shares in the amount of $25 million.

Privatization of banks

Although the positive trends in the banking sector of Uzbekistan have strengthened in recent years, however, the share of funds received from the government remains high in commercial banks with state assets.

The banking system of Uzbekistan is characterized by a high concentration: 84% of all bank assets still belong to banks with state shares, and 64% to 5 state-owned banks (National Bank, Asaka Bank, Promstroy Bank, Ipoteka Bank and Agrobank). The share of deposits of state-owned banks in loans is 32.9%. For comparison, in private banks this figure is about 96%. At the same time, deposits of individuals account for only 24% of total deposits in the banking system, which is 5% of GDP.

Therefore, the banking sector needs to deepen reforms by reducing public participation and strengthening the role of the private sector. In this regard, last year the President issued a decree on reforming the banking system of Uzbekistan, which provides for the privatisation of state-owned banks. The decree stipulates that by 2025 the share of non-state banks in the total assets of banks will increase from the current 15% to 60%, the share of banks' liabilities to the private sector from 28% to 70%, and the share of non-bank credit institutions in lending from 0.35% to 4%. In particular, Ipoteka Bank, Uzpromstroybank, Asakabank, Aloqabank, Qishloq Qurilish Bank and Turonbank will be privatised.

The Project Bureau for the transformation and privatization of state-owned commercial banks has been established under the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The organization has the right to engage international consultants and enter into agreements with international financial institutions and potential foreign investors. To support the privatization of Ipoteka Bank, IFC has allocated a loan of $35 million in 2020. The EBRD advises Uzpromstroybank on privatization, improvement of treasury operations, asset management. The bank has introduced underwriting, which allows to conduct credit operations without the participation of employees.

It is expected that the privatization of the banking sector in Uzbekistan in the coming years will increase its competitiveness and will actively contribute to attracting foreign investment in its development.

In conclusion, it is worth noting the changes that have occurred under the influence of the pandemic in the banking sector of Uzbekistan. As in the rest of the world, the pandemic in Uzbekistan has stimulated the transformation of banks towards digitalization, the development of remote banking services, and the restructuring of customer service algorithms. In particular, as of January 1, 2021, the number of users of remote services amounted to 14.5 million (among them 13.7 million are individuals, 822 thousand are business entities), which is 30% more than in the same period last year. The issuance of licenses by the central bank for digital banks and branches has also contributed to the further digitization of the financial and banking system.

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Development of public services delivery system in the Republic of Uzbekistan

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The national action strategy on five priority development areas 2017-2021 and the Concept of administrative reform in the Republic of Uzbekistan, adopted in 2017, contributed to the accelerated transition of the national system of public services delivery to a qualitatively new level, writes Muhammad Babadjanov, Center for Economic Research and Reforms.

The development of the public services delivery system can conditionally be divided into two stages, where the first stage includes the period from 1991 to 2017, and the second stage begins from 2017 and continues to nowadays.

At the first stage, the level of public services delivery in most cases did not meet the expectations and requirements of citizens and entrepreneurs, it was characterized by a high level of paper bureaucracy and did not contribute to an increase in confidence in the public administration system.

At the second stage of the development of public services delivery system, thanks to the reforms being implemented, there have been colossal changes, the entire system of public services delivery has been improved and optimized, electronic interagency cooperation has been clearly established, and excessive bureaucracy and paperwork have been eliminated. In other words, in the 2nd stage, public services delivery system became more customer-oriented.
In 2017 the Public Services Agency under the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Uzbekistan has been established (with 205 public service centers and 115 branches in remote areas). Until that time such a practice did not exist in Uzbekistan.

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Since its establishment, the Public Services Agency has begun to implement a unified government policy on public services delivery to citizens and legal entities, eliminating redundant administrative procedures, and developing inter-ministerial electronic interaction.

It should be noted that the types of public services provided based on the “one-stop-shop” principle are increasing dramatically. For example, if in the period from 1991 to 2016 16 types of public services were provided only for business entities, starting from 2017 to 2020 public services delivery began to both business entities and citizens, and their number reached up to 157 types, i.e. the types of public services provided based on the “one-stop-shop” principle have been increased by 10 times.

Compared to the period from 1991 to 2016, in total 167 documents were required for obtaining public services, whereas in the period from 2017 to 2020 their number decreased by half and reached 79.

The length of public services delivery time is one of the important factors affecting the satisfaction of users with public services. In the period from 2017 to 2020, compared to 1991-2016, the length of public services delivery time has been reduced by 45%.

Along with this, at present, access to 279 types of electronic public services is provided through the Single portal of interactive public services (70 of which are provided in automatic mode, and 209 in semi-automatic mode). In the first half of 2021, more than 2,3 mln public services were provided through the Single portal of interactive public services, which saved more than 18 bln soums of users.

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At the same time, the constant increase in number of the population and business entities applying to government departments to obtain public services required the introduction of an effective system for monitoring and assessing the quality of public services, including through remote monitoring in real-time and public opinion polls.

In this regard, according to the Order of the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Accelerator of Socio-Economic Reforms under the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan was tasked to create a system for measuring the level of satisfaction of users with public services delivery system.

Thus, the Accelerator formed a working group of experts from ministries and departments and studied the experience of foreign countries - Canada, Russia, Kazakhstan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Based on the studied foreign experience, Accelerator has developed and launched an interactive portal to assess the quality of the provision of public services to citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Through this portal, citizens can assess the quality of delivered public services - https://baho.gov.uz/uz.

The citizen can assess the quality of public service delivery (on a scale from one to five) through this portal using a special QR-code installed on the territory of the assessed organization, based on the following 5 criteria:

  • Meetings the deadlines;
  • the competence of employees;
  • compliance with the rules of etiquette;
  • justice;
  • the presence of the necessary conditions for the appeal.
    Each rating given by citizens to the public services provided affects the overall rating of the government organization. The more evaluations a government organization accumulates, the more objective its evaluation will be.
    Users’ assessments are automatically reflected on the platform. Anyone can follow the rating of a particular government organization.
    The downgrade of rating is a negative signal for the employees and management of the assessed government organization. Government agencies that have a downgrade rating should take appropriate remedial actions.
    To date, 223 institutions are connected to the portal in a test mode in Tashkent. In particular, the citizen can leave their feedback about the quality of public service at:
  • 44 offices of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan (centers for replacing passports with ID-cards, issuing exit passports, obtaining a driver's license, compulsory technical inspection of vehicles, obtaining state numbers of vehicles);
  • 167 health care institutions (scientific and practical medical centers of the republican level, family polyclinics, and hospitals)and ;
  • 12 branches of JSC “Hududiy elektr tarmoqlari” (energy sales company).
    As of October 19, the total number of ratings on the portal was 3910, of which 3205 were positive, 705 were negative, and the average rating is 4.3.
    Currently, measures are being taken to popularize the portal's activities among the population and the public, to increase the involvement of the population in the process of assessing the quality of public services delivery, as well as to expand the portal's activities to cover all other ministries and departments throughout the republic.

    We believe that this platform will become an effective tool for public monitoring of the public service delivery system.

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Uzbek heritage: A visit to Khiva

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I had the pleasure of visiting one of Uzbekistan’s oldest, most treasured cities while on my travels to the country for the 2021 Presidential elections, writes Tori Macdonald.

Khiva is an enchanting city in the west of Uzbekistan, located in the region of Khorezm. Although it is small and rural, Khiva is rich in culture and history which span back more than a millennium.

I began my journey into Khiva’s pure magic by stopping at a local polling station to observe how the pre-election process had been unfolding in this part of the country. (Learn more about the 2021 elections in my article here.) This polling station was dedicated to the memory of Xudaybergan Devonov, an Uzbek photographer and the first photographer in Central Asia who lived between 1878-1940. He captured many well-known Uzbek actors, artists, and celebrities at the time. The theatre in this polling station was recently built in Devonov’s memory in the classical, turn of the century style.

I then went to begin diving into the exquisite heritage by exploring a couple of the old palace buildings with the help of my incredibly friendly and well-read guides, Shahnoza, my interpreter and language student, Murod a manager at a local construction bank and Sevara, a local journalist.

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Khiva is composed of two parts: the inner part, or “Ichan Kala”, and the outer part, “Desha Kala”. I began by visiting some of the palace buildings in the outer part of the city.

One of the palaces contained a couple of small exhibitions on Khivan culture, one dedicated to art and the other, Devonov which contained infographics and copies of iconic shots he had taken, as well as some original artefacts such as the camera he used to capture his first photos.

One of the buildings, Nurillaboy Palace, was constructed between 1884-1912, overlapping the last two kings of Khiva. King Feruz (Muhammad Rahimhon II) or “Feruzxon” in Uzbek, lived from 1845-1910. He was a literature and arts specialist, a musician, and a composer. He was known for writing much of his poetry on love. He was acceded by his son, Isfandiyar Khan (Muhammad Rahim Khan II) after his death, who ruled until 1918. Khan was also a Major General in the Russian Empire. Despite wearing several hats, Khan wasn’t regarded as fitting for the role of king unlike his father. Khan was responsible for the construction of several buildings in the southeast of the inner city, including the largest minaret in Central Asia and smallest Madrasa (a religious; educational institution). He received a great deal of financial and material aid for construction from a vizier named Islam Khodja. 1 million Persians and an unknown number of Russians were ordered to facilitate the constructions.

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Khan was the subject of the first ever documentary in Uzbekistan, shot by the photographer, Devanov.

I then ventured into the inner part of Khiva for a guided tour around the Royal Court, or “Ichan Kala” in Uzbek. It reminded me a lot of Samarkand, Uzbekistan’s second city which is famous for its tall, turquoise domed buildings such as the Registan. Like in Samarkand, Khiva’s inner quarter is adorned with a strong Persian influence which is visible through the architecture. The classic Islamic style buildings, predominantly made up of patterns called “Majolica” in a colour scheme of a variety of blues doesn’t hold back in beauty and mesmerising intricate detail. Arabic lettering which contains excerpts from the Coran can be seen on parts of the buildings, intertwined amongst the various patterns. These impressive buildings were famously quoted on by Amir Temur, the 14th century ruler of Samarkand and founder of the Temurid Empire, who said “If anyone doubts our power, let them look at the buildings we have created.”

My friendly tour guide who spoke English very well, even with a hint of English accent despite never having left the country, took me round the inner city, shedding light on the tales and tragedies that had occurred over its history.

One big mausoleum in the centre is a solid representation of the timeline of the old city as one of its striking features is the difference in the thick columns by which it is composed. Some are intricately patterned and detailed whereas others more minimal. The former having been erected during the 11th century whilst the others were much more recent, during the 19th and 20th centuries during the time of Khan’s rule.An interesting addition to the building is the two holes carved out in the walls either side of the platform where the king would make his speeches. These were to create an echo when he spoke, allowing his voice to carry further.

The Ichan Kala also features mosques and further “Madrasas” among its many buildings. As you can imagine, this was a prosperous time in history and much of Kiva’s wealth was due to its status as a trade depot on the Silk Road. The main exports were cotton, craftsmanship in the form of stone and wood, carpet making and embroidery. The inner city also boasted a powerful fortress, and it was, (and still is) one of the best examples of well-preserved Islamic architecture.

But as the 20th century elapsed and social norms began to change in the surrounding world, Young Khivans started demanding reforms to move with the times. Many of the upcoming generation were inspired by what was happening with the Tsarist regime in Russia and soa representational body called the Majlis was created in 1917 which continues to this day. This meant Khan’s power became limited, however because progress was slow regarding the development of these changes, Khan managed to cancel the reforms. But not for too long…

With social changes continuing in Russia, Khan was overthrown in 1920 by the Red Army and the Khorezm dynasty lost political importance when Sovietism was fully integrated in 1924.

Learning about Khiva was one of the most poignant cultural experiences I’ve had. The architecture is of course iconic enough on its own, however, uncovering the crucial historical moments along the way which completely transformed centuries of the city’s social, religious and political culture made for some fascinating storytelling. It’s always a pleasure to learn more about the world’s cultures, however now reflecting on my second trip to Uzbekistan, it’s quite remarkable that many in the world today remain unaware or perhaps a better description would be unintroduced to the wonders of Central Asian heritage.

I hope following my travels to Uzbekistan I can help spread its merited recognition in tandem with the country’s own recent achievements. It will be interesting to watch the continuing developments as Uzbekistan works to grow in presence in the modern world.

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Uzbekistan National Elections: Building a bright future

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I had the pleasure of visiting Tashkent for the second time this year following the Central & South Asia Connectivity Conference in July. This time I returned as an international journalist for the Uzbek national presidential elections which occur every 5 years, writes Tori Macdonald.

Enthusiasm was evident and the smell of optimism was fresh in the air as I was met by many smiling faces on my arrival at the Central Election Commission Centre just two days before the main event on Sunday 24th October. First being introduced to the CEC’s Press Secretary,Jaloliddin UsmanovI was welcomed into the press conference area, (Media Hall) in typical Uzbek fashion; nothing short of warm and hospitable.

Usmanovopened by informing me there had been significantly more interest towards this election than any previous. We were coming to the end of a 10-day pre-election process and statistics were showing that people were ready and waiting to cast their vote for the next incoming tenure. Usmanovsaid, “We’ve put great effort into publicising the elections and their importance as much as possible through all kinds of new projects, particularly of digital nature.” He continued to share that a major objective has been to create more interest amongst the younger generations around the importance of contributing to the future of their country. Interestingly, many of the volunteers helping to operate the polling stations were of the upcoming generation, generally under 28 years of age.

At this point, we were joined by a young, twinkly eyed volunteer who continued the explanation saying, “we’ve launched several campaigns online through social media platforms and encouraged youth participation through trending hashtags such as #ImGoingToVote and #ImAnElectioner. Furthermore, general social media content, infographics, TV adverts and website updates.” The organisers have also been carrying out various informative lectures on the elections, ensuring youths would be as clued up on the political differences and insights as possible. These lectures have been run by political experts, youth parliamentarians as well as other related organisations. As a country with an average age of only 27.8 years, undoubtedly great attention has been needed to be paid to their involvement. Incentives have been provided such as competitions to win books and other materials for their online and offline contribution.

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I was told that the silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic has been that people have been more attentive and responsive to the digital publicity due to spending so much time at home. Content has been clear in explaining clearly how citizens can cast their votes and reassuring that despite the recent restricted way of living, the elections would still continue, and voting could take place as normal.

Another major objective was to make it as clear as possible where all the available polling stations were located so citizens could easily make their way to their local point without confusion. A mobile app has been created featuring an interactive map so citizens can tap around and zoom in on their municipality with the aid of a smartphone. Voting was also possible online for those who for whatever reason were not able to physically attend the polling stations.

There’s also been a big effort made to increase international awareness on these elections through the establishment of 17 mass media memorandums. This has been especially effective in maintaining awareness and attendance from the many Uzbek nationals living outside of the country.

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The four competing parties, featuring a newly accredited fifth party, consisted of the XDP (People’s Democratic Party), the Adolat SDP (Social Democrats), the Milly Tiklanish (“National Revival” democratic party), the newly entered O’EP (Ecology (Green) party), and finally, the current ruling party, Mirziyoyev’s “O’ZLIDEP” (Liberal Democrats).

It was mentioned to me that the Milly Tiklanish, the party of most conservative nature, define their “national revival” ideology by phasing out remaining Russian influence. They are also the party with the highest percentage of female members.

On the day of the elections, I visited several polling stations in and around the centre of Tashkent. One of the venues I went to visit was the site of Tashkent’s 100-year-old "Republic Art school" named after 20th century Uzbek artist, Benkov. I spoke to a few party representatives manning the site.

The first, a representative from the current ruling party, O’ZLIDEP. When I asked him how confident he felt that Mirziyoyev would win a second term, following the polls which had him very much in favour to swoop the victory once again, he replied, “I’m very confident. I’ve been participating in the elections since Islam Karimov, the first President of the independent state of Uzbekistan in 1991. I have great respect for Shavkat, and I trust he will only continue to deliver in great development for the country. He has been responsible for many works in construction and general infrastructure. He’s also pledging to help facilitate the return of Uzbek women stranded in war torn Syria. Mirziyoyev is the only party leader making such an effort for these women.” I then asked him what his feelings were towards Uzbekistan eventually becoming a major global player, he said, “We have begun a 30-year development plan. It will be a step-by-step process and only God will determine when we become a real contender.”

I then spoke to a couple of competitors, Shavkat Samandarov of XDP and Durdona Allayarova of the Ecology Party.

I first asked the XDP representative how he’d found the voting process so far, to which he replied confidently, “elections should be honest and real. The whole process is being carefully monitored and this is visible.” When I asked him why his candidate, Vorisova Azizovna should come to power, he responded, “Development is undoubtedly the main aim of all parties which is why there are similarities between everyone competing. However, Azizovna will try to put focus towards medicine development as her background is in this field. Also, sports development, increasing salaries and expanding imports and exports.”

I then challenged him, asking what he would say to the outside world looking in who may have concerns that Mirziyoyev’s likely re-election could suggest that authoritarianism continues to rule. To this he responded reassuringly, “the population can see the President has made great and genuine actions to support and protect everyone during the COVID pandemic. For example, continued efforts to augment salaries and he organised a large number of car imports from Turkey. He also supplied government funded houses to homeless and young people in these times, providing opportunity to pay back through a reduced monthly mortgage. The Uzbek people really do believe in Mirziyoyev and support him.”

The Ecology Party representative was shy when I asked her how she’d felt it was going running for the first time. “It’s been ok. Naturally it’s a step-by-step process to attract support as a new party. We’ve got work to do but we won’t give up as saving the earth is what matters most right now. Uzbekistan has a water shortage issue so we will work to tackle this. The O’EP also has a foot in the medicinal industry, and we will put effort towards researching and fighting against cancer forms.” Allayarova told me that the younger generation were the most engaged and supportive of the party, which didn’t come as a great surprise.

Having visited several polling stations, they appeared to be very well organised.

Registration desks were clearly labelled by family name first letter, and party representatives were readily available to answer any final questions. At the back of the rooms, several booths were present giving citizens enough privacy to fill in their voting form before placing in a large, clear column in the centre of the room. There were always foreign language interpreters available on site, speaking at least Russian and in many stations Korean and English speakers were also present.

On the day of voting, I returned to the CEC for a few press conferences. We were informed that there were 54 fixed polling stations in 37 countries as well as 316 mobile polling stations 128 cities. Furthermore, 11 polling stations in 11 countries where there are no diplomatic relations.

The foreign based voters results were received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at different times depending on the time zone and participation was proving to be active and passionate despite distance.

A total of 1671 journalists were accredited to attend and observe the elections, with over 300 of them being foreign.

I spoke again to the Press Secretary, Jaloliddin Usmanov and asked him how the process would be managed, to which he said, “The Press Centre’s main IT company here at the CEC oversees the data gathering. The pre-election result is shown first then when the election finishes, then all the polling station boxes are opened, and ballots are gathered and totalled.

I asked the press advisors I spoke to at the centre about their hopes for feedback from the arriving international observers. Another member told me that, “of course, to be positive and democratic.” He added, “The OSCE have already deemed the pre-election process transparent, and all election materials are always written and sent out in 3 language versions, Uzbek, Russian and English.” I went on to enquire about the progress made in the last few decades, notably as Uzbekistan are this year celebrating 30 years of soviet independence. Usmanov reflected by sharing, “there have been huge reforms since the current President (Shavkat Mirziyoyev) came into power in 2016. Many of the major national spheres have been brought great opportunities such as freedom of speech and a liberalised economy. Journalists have more freedom than ever before, now safe to state their honest opinions to news outlets about our country’s evolution. Journalism quality is also being improved through the cooperation and training from international journalists coming from countries such as Germany and USA. These are some examples of how the democratic process has been dramatically improved.” He concluded by stating his hopes that the rate at which these reforms have been occurring will continue if not accelerate in pace.

I was interested to know Usmanov’s impressions around civilian involvement this time compared to the last elections, to which he said, “We’ve been working with more young people this time. Providing trainings and more social media promotion. Reports are coming in showing big queues of youths waiting to cast their votes at polling stations nationwide which is fantastic. It’s great to see the work is being rewarded and they are motivated to be a part of the country’s future.”

As the polls predicted, Mirziyoyev did indeed renew his tenure as President with a margin of 80.1%. Despite foreign concern, in reflection on the many conversations I had with people of all backgrounds in Uzbekistan, one of, if not perhaps the main factor behind Mirziyoyev’s success has been through his motivation to evolve and open to the world. In reflection on his first term as President, Mirziyoyev has certainly proved his intentions through the many actions carried out in such a short period of time. It will be interesting to see what stage development will be at in 2026.

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