Villagers in the rural district of Boz in Uzbekistan's east have noticed a lot of strange things going on recently -- roads being repaired, people getting natural gas on discount, the establishment of a new hotline to connect them to the district administration office.
Strangely enough, all of the developments took place ahead of a weeklong visit by so-called presidential inspectors who are going door to door in Boz to hear from ordinary people and report back to President Shavkat Mirziyoev.
Authorities in Boz, apparently wary of the messages that could be sent, have seemingly gone into damage-control mode.
Several local residents who spoke to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on April 3 on condition of anonymity said they had been ordered not to complain to inspectors about such issues as energy supplies, healthcare, and roads.
According to the residents, those considered by the authorities to be "usual complainers" were suddenly offered urgent and free medical check-ups and treatment in good hospitals and were taken away in ambulances, the villagers say.
One neighborhood committee chief in Boz said the inspectors' visit from Tashkent was initially expected in the nearby Markhamat district. However, it was announced on March 30 that they were coming to Boz instead. They arrived on April 2.
"The local governor called a meeting in panic, and I attended it, too," the official said. "We were instructed to talk to people and tell them not to complain about everything to the visitors from Tashkent, to explain to people that the visitors won't solve their problems anyway."
The governor ordered officials to immediately start distributing discounted gas supplies to people, he added.
The neighborhood committee head said that the governor specifically ordered them to warn "usual complainers" against taking their complaints to the inspectors.
Known Complainers Get Special Treatment
The so-called usual complainers are those who are known to frequently send letters to authorities and media, or for making multiple visits to government offices.
"The district head advised us to tell the complainers that 'the inspectors will leave, but we will stay here, so think twice before opening your mouths,'" the neighborhood committee head said.
In another Boz neighborhood, local officials were said to have taken a softer approach to buy the complainers' silence.
"The district administration offered special favors to several people with disabilities and elderly who usually write complaint letters," said another neighborhood committee head in Boz.
"They were taken in ambulances to hospitals to have free medical check-ups," the official said, adding that "the aim" was to keep them there for several days to prevent them from talking to the visiting officials.
"There is one such elderly man in our neighborhood who relentlessly writes complaint letters to every possible place. He was offered a few days of treatment at a good medical facility," the official said. "The man wasn't aware of the inspectors' visit, so he happily boarded the ambulance and left for the hospital."
A pro-government activist told RFE/RL that officials have already spoken to residents in the district's villages of Pillakor, Soyboyi, Khalqobod, and Bobur.
The Boz district administration office rejected the suggestion that residents were being warned against complaining to the visitors.
"Nobody is shutting anybody's mouth," one unnamed official told RFE/RL on April 3. "The visitors are meeting with people right now."
The group consists of some 80 lawmakers, ministry officials, and representatives of the president's office. The delegation is led by President Mirziyoev's adviser on state affairs, Umar Islmoilov.
Mirziyoev, who came to power in 2016, has made efforts to make it easier for ordinary citizens to discuss their issues with government officials.
Mirziyoev has opened a so-called virtual office where people can write about their problems to the president or ask questions.
The president has criticized government officials of being arrogant and out of touch with issues that ordinary Uzbeks care about.
Presidential inspectors randomly visit provinces and spend several days talking to people.
Boz residents say they saw some improvements made to their villages ahead of the visit by the delegation from Tashkent.
One man from the village of Gholib told RFE/RL that the district head had set up a telephone hot-line and distributed leaflets urging people to contact his office to voice any issues that concern them.
“Perhaps the district head is trying to convince the inspectors that he cares about people,” the villager suggested. “I don’t think he would even bother to talk to any caller on this hot line.”
A teacher from a school in Boz said that “trucks are moving back and forth bringing gravel to fill potholes in roads.”
“Local government is also disturbing gas cylinders at much cheaper prices,” the teacher said. Like many other rural areas that don’t have centralized natural-gas distribution networks, Boz residents use bottled gas.
The teachers said the villagers are happy with the sudden improvements in their lives. They don’t know, however, if it will last once the inspectors are gone.