Deputy Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Isabelle Coleman visited Tajikistan on February 17-18.
USAID is one of the main donor organizations in Tajikistan, having provided more than $700 million in assistance over the past 30 years to develop the economy, health care, education, combat malnutrition and poverty in the country. Radio Ozodi journalists met Ms. Coleman and asked her a few questions.
Isabelle Coleman: My visit to Tajikistan is part of a tour of some Central Asian countries. I have been to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and now Tajikistan. And my tour is justified by several reasons. USAID promotes trade and regional integration among the countries of Central Asia. Our office in Kazakhstan is also responsible for Afghanistan. As for Tajikistan, we cooperate with this country in various areas, mainly in the field of healthcare, in particular, we contribute to the fight against tuberculosis and HIV. The United States has provided the population of Tajikistan with 4.5 million doses of vaccines against a new type of coronavirus. Another area of our cooperation is economic development. We have established cooperation in the field of education.
Radio Ozodi: At the beginning of the conversation, you said that since the very beginning of its activity, since the 90s, USAID has provided more than $700 million to Tajikistan. For what purpose?
Isabelle Coleman: Our main goal is to help the people of Tajikistan. The priorities of cooperation change over the years depending on the needs of the population of Tajikistan, but the priority areas remain unchanged. The broadest cooperation is in the field of healthcare, we have launched and are implementing several programs to combat diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. Another part of our cooperation is the promotion of economic development. We want Tajik entrepreneurs to set up their business, develop production and export their surplus products abroad. Another area of our cooperation is the field of education. I visited a boarding school in Gissar, and we donated 2,000 Braille books to children with visual impairments, which encourages children to learn with other children in regular schools.
“Our activity is completely transparent”
Radio Ozodi: There are mixed views on humanitarian aid in Tajikistan, especially from Western countries. Some are looking for ulterior motives behind this charity. What can you say in response?
Isabelle Coleman:Speaking on behalf of the American government and USAID in particular, I can say with full confidence that our activities are completely transparent. There are no hidden motives. Our only goal is to provide reliable medical care, the foundations for economic development and education. In addition, we cooperate with and support civil society. Civil society is an important partner of the government. At the moment, we are cooperating with several public organizations, one of them is Avesto, which provides treatment and monitoring for 60 TB patients, interacting with the government of Tajikistan. Of course, caring for 60 TB patients is not an easy task, which is why we are convinced that civil society can ease the burden on the government.
Work environment concerns for civil society
Radio Ozodi: According to human rights organizations, the situation with human rights and freedoms in Tajikistan has deteriorated greatly in recent years. Against this background, there is criticism of those organizations and Western countries that help the government of Tajikistan, why do they not demand respect for human rights in exchange for help? Do USAID and other Western humanitarian organizations raise these questions when providing aid?
Isabelle Coleman:The US government attaches great importance to human rights and freedoms. We raise this issue with our partners every time and in all countries of the world, including in Tajikistan. I had a meeting with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan, during which I expressed concern that today the environment and climate for the activities of civil society and public organizations is becoming more and more unfavorable, and also expressed concern that the new law regarding the activities public organizations, may further limit their activities. Public organizations play an important role in ensuring transparency in society. We are sure that favorable conditions for the activities of public organizations should be created in all societies. Respect for human rights
“Foreign loans must be transparent”
Radio Ozodi: Ms. Coleman, as Deputy Administrator of USAID, you are in charge of the work of this agency to counter the influence of China and Russia. Central Asia has been under the influence of Russia for almost two hundred years. In recent years, Western experts have also been concerned about the growing influence of China in this region. How do you assess China’s influence in the Central Asian region?
Isabelle Coleman:China and Russia are the closest neighbors to the countries of Central Asia, and it is not surprising that they have influenced these countries for centuries. There are also good neighborly relations. Both countries have a large trade turnover and business with the countries of Central Asia. We believe that the countries of Central Asia have the right to freely make their own decisions. They can choose with whom they have trade relations, pursue their foreign policy as they see fit. Today, most countries in the region are pursuing a multi-vector foreign policy, and we, of course, respect this choice. We also respect the borders and independence of the country at the highest level, but on the other hand, we follow the principles of transparency and accountability. Before my trip to the countries of Central Asia, I visited Ukraine. I can say that Russia does not respect international borders and freedoms of countries. Russia does not respect the borders of neighboring countries. Prior to that, she invaded Georgia, and in 2014 appropriated part of Ukraine. This year she continued her invasion of Ukraine. Such an attitude cannot be called good neighborliness. Today, Russia is destroying civilian objects in Ukraine, and this is outrageous. We hope that the countries of Central Asia will maintain their independence and freedom and, of course, will keep their future under their own control.
Radio Ozodi: Do you think there is a serious threat to the independence of the countries of Central Asia?
Isabelle Coleman: No, I don’t think there is such a threat. I heard that Russia threatened some countries in Central Asia. On the other hand, I am sure that the countries of the region are free and independent and can maintain their sovereignty. Today we are supporters of regional integration, which testifies to the dynamic development at the regional level, and we hope that the countries will be able to ensure their development.
Radio Ozodi: We asked a question about China’s influence on the countries of Central Asia. Over the past 20 years, China has invested billions of dollars in the economies of Central Asian countries, including Tajikistan. Against the backdrop of these financial injections, we have not seen significant investment from Western countries. How can the countries of Central Asia not fall under the influence of China under such conditions?
Isabelle Coleman: There is nothing wrong with investing from one country or another. Of course, before making such investments, we must ensure transparency and know where they will go and under what conditions. There are states that have received many foreign loans, mainly from China, and today there is a problem with repaying loans. It is important that the population of these countries does not know when and under what conditions loans were taken.
One such country is Sri Lanka, which went bankrupt due to such debt bondage. Of course, most of Sri Lanka’s debt is to China. We must avoid such situations. On the other hand, investments and trade itself give a positive result. The most important thing here is to pay attention to transparency, the population should know for what purposes these loans are taken. Another important point that we should pay attention to is that the relationship should be mutually beneficial. And one more thing: the more transparent the investment environment, the taxation system, and the rule of law is ensured, the more it can contribute to the inflow of investments into the country.
“We do not intend to suspend cooperation with Tajikistan”
Radio Ozodi: How do you see the prospects for USAID activities in Tajikistan?
Isabelle Coleman: As you mentioned at the beginning, USAID has invested millions of dollars in Tajikistan, and of course, we are not going to suspend assistance. During my visit, I met a woman who, with USAID support, bought pistachio peeling equipment and, as a result, was able to increase her income 5 times. I visited a dairy factory whose owner used to produce ice cream. And now, with the support of USAID, he was able to expand his activities through the production of cheese and double his income.
We met with a farmer who is growing a new strawberry variety with USAID support. All these projects enable the beneficiaries to receive more income, expand their activities, and, most importantly, introduce new technologies and equipment, improve the living standards of the Tajik people. That is why we intend to continue cooperation with Tajikistan in the coming years.
Source : Радио Озоди