The Uzbek government has ordered all private driving schools in the country to close in a stated bid to improve road safety, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.
As of April 1, all driver education in Uzbekistan will be conducted by the Defense Ministry department Vatanparvar (Patriot), as it was during the Soviet era.
With more than 130 private driving schools in the capital, Tashkent, the measure announced this week will leave thousands of people unemployed.
"If the decision is not revoked, 12 of my employees will lose their jobs and you may count yourself how many people out there working in such schools [will be jobless]," said Svetlana Aleksandrova, the owner of a driving school in Tashkent.
Driving school owners gathered in Tashkent on January 5 and filed a complaint about the government decision with the Union of Entrepreneurs of Uzbekistan. The owners noted that 2011 was proclaimed by President Islam Karimov as the "year of small businesses and private entrepreneurship."
The official reason for closing private driving schools is the poor skills of graduates and their role in road accidents. Many students do not regularly attend the driving lessons and often pay a bribe in order to receive their driver's licenses.
In order to secure the license, a person must pass a driving exam given by the Traffic Security Department of the Interior Ministry. But critics say this exam can also be passed by giving a bribe of up to $50.
Cases of people failing state driving exams on the first attempt are rare in Uzbekistan. Experts says that without eliminating corruption within the Traffic Security Department, the closure of private driving schools is meaningless as road accidents due to poor driving skills will continue to occur.
Another owner of a driving school in Tashkent who didn't want to be identified told RFE/RL that the government's new plan will only worsen corruption.
"If the government takes over all the schools as it used to during the Soviet period, then people will wait for months on waiting lists in order to begin receiving driving lessons," the owner said. "This means more bribery and no improvement in the quality."
The independent website uzmetronom.com claims that the government measure is the result of successful lobbying by the Defense Ministry, which wants to gain control over multimillion-dollar businesses, including the unaccounted millions of dollars in bribes that are given in driver education.
A rough estimation of the amount of bribes given for driving lessons in Tashkent alone is some $3 million a year, according to uzmetronom.com.
In 2010, the government closed down all private notary offices in favor of state notaries, leaving thousands of people unemployed and creating long lines at state notaries that are unable to cope with public demand.