No Room For 'Rats' In Uzbek Finance Ministry

Secretly recorded audio obtained by RFE/RL appears to show the Uzbek finance minister's eagerness to deliver on President Shavkat Mirziyoev's demands that his ministry be purged of "incompetent" old-guard "rats."

The ministry has reportedly dismissed some 1,000 employees since Mirziyoev used the insulting language during a December 22 speech to parliament.

In blasting the ministry's inefficiency, the president warned newly appointed Finance Minister Jamshid Qochqorov to change the situation within a month or face dismissal himself.

The audio recording, provided to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on February 18 by a source within the ministry, reveals that Qochqorov took the matter up with his team the very next day.

"I'll carry out the president's order even if my blood comes out of my mouth," Qochqorov can be heard saying.

The source, who requested anonymity due to concerns about his welfare, told RFE/RL that the recording was made while Qochqorov was meeting with his deputies and others.

In the 44-minute recording, Qochqorov can be heard saying: "Make sure it's clear to you that our president does not trust the Finance Ministry. Doesn't trust it at all."

Qochqorov vowed "to clean" the ministry and said he wouldn't spare anyone, even his "own brother" if his brother worked at the ministry.

Qochqorov went on to accuse a former finance minister, Rustam Azimov, and his team of rampant bribery, incompetence, arrogance, and widespread abuse of office.

Azimov and his team acted as if they controlled the whole world, the minister said.

Qochqorov frequently used harsh language to describe the ministry's employees, calling them "monkeys" and "dogs."

"There were many of those who would get bribes from people, behave like kings. There were a couple of monkeys who would arrogantly put their feet up on the desk," he added.

Sergei Peretolchin, the former chief of the ministry's human-resources department, was singled out for harsh criticism.

Peretolchin -- who according to Qochqorov enjoyed enormous influence at the ministry during Azimov's tenure -- "became a dollar-millionaire" with bribe money, the minister alleged.

He said it was time to fire holdovers of the former minister and his allies.

"I issued an order to find out and get rid of every single employee brought here by Peretolchin, or by Azimov, including Azimov's bootlickers and lapdogs. Every single one of them should be gone. The secretaries should be gone, too," Qochqorov can be heard saying.

The minister said wrongdoings at the ministry and its subordinate agencies had been going on at all levels -- both in Tashkent and the provinces.

"I have worked 19 years as a deputy minister, I know what's been going on," he said.

"There is enough information about each of you," the minister said, suggesting compromising material was abundant.

Qochqorov took a swipe at the ministry's inspectors, who the minister said were often seen "getting drunk [while on duty], rolling around, singing."

"For example, the inspectors go to a main district hospital [for an inspection] and expect the hospital to provide them with breakfast and lunch every day.... Bastards! They demand that hospital nurses massage them," the minister said. "Don't think I don't know this. I know all of you."

Qochqorov said he was going to begin mass firings immediately.

Just four days later, state media reported that the ministry had dismissed 562 employees. Hundreds more dismissals came in the following weeks.

The ministry and its subordinate agencies, such as the pension fund, employ some 16,000 people.

Once seen as presidential material, Azimov was relieved of his duties as finance minister on December 15, 2016, one day after Mirziyoev was sworn in as president after having served in an acting position following the death of President Islam Karimov. Azimov was removed from his post as deputy prime minister the following June.

Azimov was replaced as finance minister by Botir Hojaev, who held the position for less than a year before taking over the Economy Ministry.

Qochqorov was appointed finance minister on November 28, 2017.

During the December 22 address to parliament, Mirziyoev said that he "had already fired top officials who had been working in finance for 15-20 years but didn't know much about finance."

"I fired top officials, but those rats at the bottom levels still remain there," he said. In that speech, Mirziyoev criticized the ministry for what he described as a poorly drafted state budget, failure to properly finance important projects, and embellishing economic data.

The president urged the ministry to bring young specialists -- regardless of their experience -- who "love and care about" Uzbekistan and are ready to serve the country.

Uzbek media has reported that a state-backed youth organization has recommended nearly 500 young specialists to work for the Finance Ministry structures.

Written by Farangis Najibullah with reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Zamira Eshanova