DUSHANBE -- A Tajik official says a controversial toll road in the country is now operating illegally, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
Amonulloh Ashur, the head of Tajikistan's Antimonopoly Committee, said today that the Innovative Road Solutions (IRS) company was permitted to operate the toll at previously agreed prices on the Dushanbe-Chanak highway for one month, in April, and that the toll road operation since May 1 is illegal.
Ashur said the company's agreement with the government states that after April the IRS was required to coordinate its pricing policy with his committee and to make all its activities transparent. He said those things have not happened.
Ashur said the Antimonopoly Committee has sent a letter to IRS, the Communication and Transport Ministry, and the administration of the Varzob district north of Dushanbe to request that drivers not be charged for using any part of the 350-kilometer-long highway that connects the capital with the northern Sughd Province and Uzbekistan.
The highway was recently upgraded by Chinese companies and paid for with a $280 million loan from China. The Tajik government announced that in order to repay the loan the highway would become a toll road.
People living in the Varzob district who study or work in Dushanbe protested strongly against the toll road and sent a petition signed by some 10,000 people to President Emomali Rahmon urging the elimination of the toll.
In April, small cars and microbuses paid 30 dirams (7 cents) for every kilometer driven on the highway. Vehicles up to seven tons had to pay 60 dirams and bigger cars 1.5 somoni (35 cents) for every kilometer traveled.
Since May 1, small cars and microbuses have paid 10 dirams for every kilometer traveled on the highway. But drivers have continued to call for the abolition of the toll.
Tajik economist Hojimuhammad Umarov told RFE/RL the IRS is registered in the British Virgin islands, which makes it difficult to control its activities. Umarov said he does not understand why the Tajik parliament exempted IRS from paying more than a dozen different taxes.
Other analysts have suggested that the company was given such good conditions with which to operate because of close relations between IRS's owners and high-level Tajik officials.
Last month, Tajik Communication and Transport Minister Olim Boboev rejected such criticism and said the company had fairly won a tender for the work. But IRS Technical Director Rustam Abdulloev recently said no tender was held to gain the contract to operate the toll road.
Abdulloev added that the government gave the concession to IRS and that after several years control of the highway is to return to the government.