Tajikistan Tries to Hide Embarrassing Remittance Data
Tajikistan, the country more dependent than any other on labor migrant remittances, will no longer release cash transfer data because the information could be “politicized,” the head of the National Bank says.
The government stopped publishing information on the volume of remittances sent to Tajikistan in May, the Asia-Plus news agency reported this week, citing the head of the National Bank of Tajikistan. "I'd rather not talk about migrants' funds because this issue may be politicized," Abdujabbor Shirinov said.
Tajikistan boasts the world’s most remittance-dependent economy. According to the World Bank, labor migrants abroad, mostly in Russia, transferred the equivalent of 47 percent of GDP back to Tajikistan last year. The Bank expects the amount to rise again this year. And the transfers the Bank measures do not include cash that individuals carry home, so the number in reality is likely higher.
Shirinov insisted that not all cash transfers from individuals are labor migrant remittances, noting that some of the money could be returns from small businesses. Certainly that is also possible, but it doesn’t change the fact that Tajikistan is utterly dependent on Russia.
Earlier this year the World Bank urged Tajikistan to do more to diversify its economy. Being dependent on sending roughly one-half of working-age males abroad makes Tajikistan vulnerable to shocks, not to mention political pressure from its former imperial master. But in a country where the elites tend to harass or even appropriate successful businesses, few Tajiks have an incentive to go into business. It’s safer to go abroad, many feel, even with the xenophobia they face in Russia.
For years, Tajik officials have tended to shift in their seats when asked about remittances and the leverage they give Russia. Critics of Tajikistan’s migration policy (insofar as it is a “policy”) highlight an episode in late 2011: When Tajikistan jailed two pilots working for a Russian company for allegedly smuggling airplane parts, it only took Moscow threatening to deport thousands of migrants to get Dushanbe to release the pilots. Moscow issues threats each time it grows weary with Dushanbe for, for example, dragging its feet on a military basing deal.
It’s not uncommon for officials in Central Asia, rather than address a problem, to obfuscate or avoid it all together. (When Kyrgyzstan scored last on an international student assessment exam, instead of addressing shortcomings in its education system, it simply stopped taking part in the exam.) But Tajikistan’s dependence on remittances can’t be swept under the carpet: Even if the figures couldn’t be generated by analyzing Russia data, hiding the numbers does little to change their consequences.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.