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The five-day Media Week to discuss the draft Action Strategy for Five Priority Areas in Uzbekistan for 2017-2021, initiated by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has wrapped up in Tashkent.

The Week was organized by the National Association of Electronic Mass Media of Uzbekistan (NAEMM) in cooperation with the Senate and the Legislative Chamber of Oliy Majlis, other governmental and nongovernmental organizations and the media. The event brought together national and foreign experts, parliamentarians, representatives of diplomatic corps and international organizations, ministries and agencies, journalists.

The grand event was aimed at raising the awareness of the general public about the nature and objectives of the policy document, at all-round study of people’s concerns, views and proposals.

The Media Week aroused great interest not just among experts and journalists, but also the wider public, especially young people, who were actively involved in the discussions. The organizers engaged the capacities of the internet and social networks, online transmissions from similar media platforms on the basis of nongovernmental TV stations in other regions of the country. The event was built on the latest multimedia technologies.

Presentations, questions and answers, exchange of opinions and debates were broadcast by popular television channels like MY5 and Uzreport TV in talk show and news program format.

Nation Building: Objectives and Prospects

The draft Action Strategy clearly defines the most relevant tasks on streamlining the state building and judicial system, economic liberalization and development of the social sector, consolidation of international and interethnic friendship and harmony. These are the five priority areas for Uzbekistan for the next five years.

After the opening ceremony, the work of the media forum began with a presentation and discussion of the first priority of the Action Strategy, which comes to streamlining of state and social construction. It was delivered by the speaker of the presentation, Minister of Justice Muzraf Ikramov, Chairman of the Legislative Chamber Committee of Oliy Majlis Ilhom Abdullayev, Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee Tolibjon Madumarov and others. They emphasized that the priority is aimed at further strengthening the role of the parliament in the government system, reformation of state administration through its decentralization, reduction of state regulation of the economy, improvement of public management system and boosting the role of civil society institutions and the media.

“Legislative work will be of special importance in this process: there is a need to develop and approve the Law ‘On public control’, ‘On regulatory acts’, introduce amendments and addenda to the laws ‘On social partnership’, ‘On mass media’, and others,” said Ilhom Abdullayev. “They will contribute to the development of modern ways of public scrutiny, and make social partnership more effective. The new regulations will provide for steady and gradual development of civil society institutions, catalyzing their social and political activity.”

Main thrusts of reforming the public administration will focus on optimization of the e-government system, raising effectiveness and improvement of quality and affordability of public services for the population and businesses. About a dozen of projects are aimed at the improvement of e-government services, meanwhile contributing to the development of existing information systems in the notary, tax and other services.

The introduction of effective mechanisms of dialogue with the people would be the core of reforms in this direction. Much attention will be paid to the improvement of performance of people’s reception offices.

Ensuring the rule of law

During the presentation of the second line of the Action Strategy, which aims at ensuring the rule of law and further reformation of the judicial system, experts drew a full picture of measures on ensuring the independence of the judiciary, reliable protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens, intensification of first against crime, and other aspects.

For example, the crime combating system in Uzbekistan will develop in four directions in the next five years, with enhancement of effectiveness of the fight against crime and crime prevention as key pillars. It is planned to approve a specific program on improving the performance of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and its territorial divisions.

A plan of countering extremism, terrorism and criminal offenses will become a guide to action. Streamlining of organizational and legal mechanisms for combating corruption and enhancement of effectiveness of anti-corruption measures is regarded as an independent direction. There are plans to adopt several regulations that would intensify the work in this direction.

Improvement of the legal culture and legal awareness of the population, organization of effective interaction between state structures, civil society institutions and the media is separated as an independent thrust.

Development and liberalization of economy

Development and liberalization of the economy - another direction of the Action Strategy - involves enhancement of its competitiveness and openness, freedom of economic activity, macroeconomic stability and preservation of economic growth, fundamental reformation of the financial and banking sector, all-round protection of private property and entrepreneurship, effective development of tourism, structural reforms in agriculture.

Among main objectives, experts accentuated the integrated work on cooperation with international partners, channeling of foreign investments, scale up of rating of Uzbek companies, with the focus on the development and support of agriculture.

The Plan assigns a big part to the upgrade of industry by bringing it to a new level with advanced development of high-tech manufacturing industries that are primarily engaged in the production of finished products with high added value on the basis of enhanced processing of local raw materials.

It is envisaged to cut energy consumption and resource intensity of the economy, broadly introduce energy saving technologies, expand the application of renewable energy sources, increase productivity in all sectors.

The Action Strategy empowers the measures on ensuring the government budget balance at all levels and maintaining social focus of expenditures, streamlining of the inter-budgetary relations that are aimed at strengthening the revenue part of local budgets.

A broad range of measures are aimed at further improvement of the monetary policy in accordance with best international practices, as well as at ensuring stability of the national currency and prices in the domestic market. Innovative market-based mechanisms of currency regulation, formation of the national currency, will gradually be introduced to ensure its free convertibility.

The policy of cutting tax burden and simplification the tax system, improvement of tax administration and expansion of incentives will be continued.

Enhancement of reformation and stability of the banking system, capitalization level and deposit base of banks, strengthening of their financial stability and reliability, further expansion of crediting promising investment projects, as well as small businesses and private enterprises will remain priorities for the next five years.

Experts predict an increase in insurance, leasing and other financial services through the introduction of new kinds of services and improvement of their quality, as well as the development of the stock market as an alternative source of capital attraction and placement of available resources of enterprises, financial institutions and the population.

There are plans to create new and enhance effectiveness of existing free economic zones, industrial parks, small industrial zones.

Experts pointed out to the intension of Uzbekistan to scale up international economic cooperation, namely, expand ties with the forefront international financial institutions, pursue a balanced policy of foreign borrowing, efficiently use foreign investments and loans.

The discussion aroused many questions. Some of them related to the operation of plastic cards, improvement of foreign exchange for individuals, the increase of cash reserves.

Priorities for social sector

The fourth day of the media forum was particularly interesting for the participants, as it spotlighted priority directions for the social sector.

The speakers highlighted such issues as increase of real incomes of the population, the size of public sector wages, pensions, stipends and social allowances in advance of inflation, improvement of education and health care, the state youth policy.

In his speech, Deputy Minister of Economy Dilmurod Turdiyev, provided the general outlook on the development of social sector, dwelled upon on the implementation of targeted programs on the construction of affordable housing, development and modernization of road transport, engineering, communications and social infrastructure, which, in turn, provide better living conditions. He mentioned the currently developing project on uninterrupted supply of electricity and gas to remote rural areas.

The draft Action Strategy envisages the further improvement of living conditions of the population, especially young families, residents of dilapidated houses, and other categories of citizens who need better housing conditions, through the provision of preferential mortgage loans and construction of affordable housing in urban and rural areas. It was proposed to renew the architectural appearance of standard design houses that have already been built in the regions, to diversify the overall appearance and facade.

The document pays particular attention to the issues of employment, especially young people. As noted by the representative of the Ministry of Labor B. Alimuhammedov in his speech, nearly million jobs is annually created in Uzbekistan in accordance with the employment program, approved by the Oliy Majlis. Meanwhile, the existing problems entail the need for search and implementation of new approaches.

Deputy Minister of Health Elmira Basitkhanova presented the profile of priority measures on the improvement of health care system. She pointed out to a vital need to reform this sector, since, despite a strong legal framework, which is aimed at ensuring the provision of quality health care to citizens, the mechanism of performance remains weak. The list of problems includes insufficient patronage in women, pregnant women, an acute shortage of medical personnel, including neonatologists, surgeons, adolescent gynecologists in regions.

The event touched upon the issues of further improvement of the system of continuous education, expanded access to quality educational services, training of qualified staff in accordance with modern requirements, creation of conditions for that.

In the next five years, it is planned to build 50 new state preschool educational institutions, reconstruct and overhaul about 2,200 existing preschools.

This direction caused a storm of questions and suggestions from those who were present in the International Hotel Tashkent, the venue of the Media Week, and by the Internet.

Will pensioners travel for free? Why are buildings commissioned while inaccessible for wheelchair users? Have experts considered the possibility for a 100% pension for working pensioners?

Experts gave detailed answers to the questions. It was said that no issue, no proposal remains neglected. They noted that a resolution on free travel for pensioners and full pension for working pensioners is currently under consideration. The question from persons with disabilities that most of the buildings are not provided with ramps looked sensible. The speakers said that the problem is highly relevant, and that it will soon be resolved in accordance with the Action Strategy, which envisages mandatory social guarantees for the population, strengthening of social protection of vulnerable strata, and other issues.

Along the path of sustainable development

The last, the fifth day of the media forum was very eventful. The presentation of the Action Strategy’s fifth area on ensuring safety, religious tolerance and inter-ethnic harmony, as well as pursuance of a balanced and constructive foreign policy was the central event.

As noted by speakers of the event, the ongoing related measures are aimed at strengthening the independence and sovereignty of the state, creation of a security belt around Uzbekistan, ensuring stability and good neighborly relations, promotion of a positive image of the country abroad.

Speaking on the priorities in this field, the experts emphasized that Uzbekistan is committed to friendly relations with the international community, and particularly with its closest neighbors - Central Asian states. Building the dialogue on mutual interests promotes cooperation in various fields.

Uzbekistan remains committed to the principles of non-alignment to military-political blocs, will not allow the deployment of military bases and facilities of other states on its territory, as well as the stay of our troops outside the republic. Foreign policy will be primarily based on national interests.

Being the most densely populated and multi-ethnic country in Central Asia, Uzbekistan maintains inter-religious and inter-ethnic harmony. The principles of equality go through all laws of the country, primarily the Constitution. 137 cultural centers and 16 religious confessions function across the country today.

The presentation was followed by a round-table discussion of the draft Action Strategy by representatives of ministries and agencies, diplomatic corps and international organizations.

As emphasized at the discussion, developed at the initiative of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the draft Action Strategy will contribute to the growth of economic potential of Uzbekistan, improve people’s welfare, and scale up the country’s prestige in the international arena.

The participants pointed out to the atmosphere of interethnic consent, friendship and mutual respect in our country. Successive reforms have been pushing the dynamic development of national economy, international cooperation. Joint projects produce good outcomes.

Foreign experts and representatives of international organizations highly commended the Draft Action Strategy for consistent implementation of scaled reforms on the basis of liberalization and modernization of all sectors, further enhancement of effectiveness of the measures taken, efforts on bringing the development of the state and society to a new level. They also mentioned the public discussion of the important policy document, as lively exemplified by the Media Week.

The final press conference underscored the results of the intense and eventful Week. In five days, the Media Forum was attended by more than a thousand people, including over 50 experts - representatives of ministries and departments.

The event was covered by more than 400 media workers of print media, TV and radio channels, news agencies and online outlets, as well as representatives of the foreign press accredited in Uzbekistan.

More than 50 representatives of regional crews produced and broadcasted more than 50 information products of different formats. They produced five original talk shows on each area of ​​action of the draft Strategy. More than 60 news sites have published about 160 stories about the event.

During the discussion, the experts received more than 150 questions and proposals on the draft Action Strategy.

As noted by the forum participants, its main organizer - the National Association of Electronic Mass Media - was the driving force for the nationwide discussion of the draft Action Strategy in the country.

(As part of the social order of the Oliy Majlis Public Fund for the Support of NGOs and Other Civil Society Institutions).

Akmal Saidov, Director, National Center for Human Rights:

Many of our officials do not always engage in contact with journalists. The Media Week has exemplified an effective cooperation, trust and dialogue between media workers and state agencies. So we need to continue this practice in the future!

Svetlana Artykova, Deputy Chairperson of the Senate of Oliy Majlis:

We have heard hundreds of proposals within the five days of the Action Strategy discussion. Some of them are very interesting and constructive, worthy of consideration, but some of them we will never admit, because they oppose to national traditions, our mentality.

Firdavs Abdukhalikov, Chairman of the Board of NAEMM:

According to domestic and foreign participants of the Media Week, it has successfully fulfilled its main mission of raising public awareness of the draft Action Strategy.

The forum has become a bridge between the government and the population. A huge number of people, including those from different regions of the country, have been actively involved in the discussion of the document, asked questions, came up with ideas and proposals. This suggests that the Strategy has reached everyone, which is a guarantee that the future work on its implementation will be successful.

Vinod Kumar, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of India to Uzbekistan:

The Media Forum has become a unique platform for open dialogue of heads of international organizations, diplomatic missions and representative offices, heads of joint ventures with experts and journalists.

We have learned about the five main areas of development strategy of Uzbekistan for the next five years. We believe that its priorities will empower the further development of the country. I am impressed by the discussions during the last five days.

Javlon Vakhabov, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs:

The Foreign Policy Concept, with its power of law, stipulates the Central Asian region as the top priority of foreign policy of Uzbekistan, which caters to the national interests of our country.

We always remain committed to open, friendly and pragmatic policy towards our closest neighbors. At the same time, I find it important to emphasize that the willingness of Tashkent for dialogue should not be regarded as derogation from the previous principles and priorities.

The national interests of any country, especially the vital and fundamental ones, have an objective nature and are based on fundamental factors. They are immutable.

Stefan Priesner, UN Resident Representative in Uzbekistan:

I’m impressed by the communication, by the proposals made. We have also come up with proposals on social protection of the needy and the environment. We hope for fruitful cooperation with the government of Uzbekistan on the implementation of this important document.

Krista Pikkat, Head of UNESCO Office in Uzbekistan:

The discussions, debates, questions, answers, comments provide a clear idea that the population of Uzbekistan is actively involved in public decision-making. An excellent start of the Year of Dialogue with the People! We look forward to fruitful cooperation on many items of the Action Strategy.

Eduards Stiprais, Head of the EU Delegation in Uzbekistan:

We welcome the fact that Uzbekistan is adopting an Action Strategy for five years. This allows us to consider a long-term cooperation, which is important for efficient operation. I must say, Uzbekistan tends to take mission-oriented decisions, and fulfill them promptly and accurately.

If you look at a world map, it becomes obvious that development of the region is impossible without Uzbekistan. The role of your country in dealing with security issues is very high. The thousand-year history of Uzbekistan also confirms that the country is destined to be a key element in ensuring stable development of the region.

Pamela L. Spratlen, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States to Uzbekistan:

The Media Forum was the opportunity to learn about the nature and content of priority dimensions of the Action Strategy from the officials of Uzbekistan, as well as from experts. We were also informed on the vector of interaction of the republic with the international community in the future. The leader of this country is open to the international community, increasing confidence in the nation.

Mjusa Sever, Director of the Office of International NGO Regional Dialogue for Uzbekistan (Slovenia):

The broad discussion of the Action Strategy for the coming years is highly relevant. This is especially important for a country that carries out fundamental reforms in socio-political, socio-economic, legal and judicial areas. In this context, it is important to maintain an open dialogue between the state and the public.

In this process, civil society organizations play an important role in terms of identifying the real problems and reporting on them to the government. Civil institutions and the media are the bridge that links the wider public to state bodies in addressing the crucial issues.

Jahon Information Agency