On 21 July 2017, the Uzbek website www.sof.uz posted the audio recording of a meeting of school directors and heads of kindergartens held at the Uzbekistan District Education Department in the Fergana Region. [The meeting was recorded covertly and sent to the local journalists].
At the meeting, the head of the Uzbekistan district Education Department in the Fergana region Nafisa Nishonova told the teachers that agricultural issues had priority.
From the recording, it became clear that she had made an order that to four teachers from the local schools and two members of staff from kindergartens to go to the cotton fields and prune the cotton plants every day.
“Those [who are sent to the cotton fields] only work for two or three hours; they do not spend much time in the heat. If there is no one to supervise them, they don’t care. You pay for their transportation and send them to the cotton fields, but they go [to the fields] and sit under the silk-worm trees, they do not care. We [the teachers] need that cotton. Neither the farmers nor others need it. Their intentions are different, there are only very few fair people among the farmers.” – said Nafisa Nishonova.
[Translator’s note: Nafisa Nishonova alludes to the fact that teachers (and other public sector employees) in Uzbekistan are dependent on the state’s income from the cotton production as their salaries, pensions and social benefits are being paid from the state budget.]
If you listen to the words of this kindergarten director, it becomes clear that the order came from the Fergana Region Governor’s office:
“If you want to oppose the Governor of the region, you can tell that. Explain = that you are not going to work in the cotton fields; ask him not to assign you to do the work; assert that you are not obliged to do this work”, she says.
In the further course of the meeting, the head of the Education Department says that the teachers should plant potatoes. It seems that the teachers are being forced to do that by the order of the regional Governor in order to reduce the price of potatoes which has risen significantly on the market.
“You are concluding agreements with farmers on growing other agricultural products as well, aren’t you? We are supposed to plant potatoes.” Nafisa Nishonova explains that the local Governor had ordered her to show the planted potatoes to him, after a week or 10 days, when they begin to grow. He urged her to conclude the agreements with the farmers on the same day, and on the following day gather the heads of kindergartens and directors of schools, put them in a bus and present the state of affairs to his representative. He assured that he would inspect everything himself and did not want to see any false reports.
According to Nafisa Nishonova, the Governor does not trust the farmers. In trying to make more money, the farmers sell their land to others. As regards teachers, they work for free. It seems that the Governor of the region intends to reduce the price of potatoes by forcing teachers to work in the fields.
“Why are they forcing us to work? Unfair farmers are selling land to others. The price of potatoes is too high at the moment. If your kindergarten or school grows potatoes, it will be good for them – they will sell them and make some money for themselves, this is why we are telling you this. If 66 schools harvest a ton of potatoes each and if they sell 66 tons of potatoes, the prices will go down and people benefit from that. Even if they sell the potatoes to their own staff at 50 percent of the original price, they will benefit from that, too,” said Nafisa Nishonova at the meeting with the teachers.
The issue of compulsory collection of money at schools and kindergartens has also been raised at the meeting. In the recording, Nafisa Nishonova demands that school directors and heads of kindergartens as soon as possible collect money for books and tickets for a concert which had been sold out one and a half months ago [translator’s note: It is a common practice in Uzbekistan to oblige public sector employees to buy tickets for concerts, play, shows, etc., even if they do not want to or cannot go].
“The second point is that you should pay your debt. We do not care whether your staff actually went to the concert or not. It has been one and a half months now, so just bring the money. You should pay your debt for books as well.”
Listening to the speech of the Education Department official, one learns that retired people in the localities again receive their pension only in the form of plastic cards, not in cash [translator’s note: in accordance with a presidential decree, pensioners in the country should get their pension in cash but the bank authorities are issuing plastic cards instead]. The job of persuading pensioners to accept their pension in the form of plastic cards also has to be done by teachers and kindergarten staff.
In the meeting, Nafisa Nishonova demands that teachers should persuade their relatives to accept their salaries in plastic cards. She is urging them to do that in order to prevent them from being asked questions on whether they are against the policy of President Mirziyoyev:
“Now, concerning pensioners’ applications for money cards. From 70 people working in a school, there should come out 70 applications by pensioners. Today is Wednesday and we have to complete the campaign by Saturday. The teachers persuade their mothers or fathers to transfer at least 30 percent of their pensions to money cards. You understand why this is being done and there is no need to analyse it. Questions may arise if we visit home after home in the neighbourhoods – this is why we do not want that. It is easier for everyone to persuade their closest ones to get 30 percent of their pensions on plastic cards. If you visit families, you may be asked a million times: The president said one thing yesterday and why are you doing something different today? This is why you should not visit other families, it will be quite easy and calm if your staff persuade their parents or relatives to get 30 percent of their pensions on plastic cards”, she says.
In a conversation with Radio Liberty on 22 July Nafisa Nishonova admitted that school teachers and kindergarten staff in the district are being involved in field work. However, as the head of the Education Department stresses, the teachers and kindergarten staff are taking part in pruning cotton plants “of their own will and at the end of the week”.