The collapse of a scurrying official at an international conference in Tashkent this month has reportedly reinforced a widespread perception that public servants in Uzbekistan are particularly prone to fatigue-related incidents after three years of working 15-hour days with no weekends under reform-minded President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
Foreign executives and officials flocking to the Central Asian nation as it flings open the doors to its economy face an unusual extra task during meetings with local bureaucrats, according to Reuters—making sure their counterpart is awake.
“He fell asleep twice during an afternoon meeting,” a Western financier was cited as saying after meeting a mid-level Uzbek official.
Government workers in the former Soviet republic have a longstanding tradition of not leaving the office until after their boss does. And that means life became even more demanding when Mirziyoyev succeeded conservative President Islam Karimov, whose suspicion of free markets considerably slowed down the wheels of investment and commerce, following the latter’s death in 2016.
“When President [Mirziyoyev] came to power he declared an emergency for the public sector and said that officials would not rest until we please the people,” an Uzbek official was cited as saying by the news agency.
Leading by example, Mirziyoyev usually works longer hours than his predecessor, prompting everyone down the chain of command to do the same.
Perhaps sensing the growing fatigue in the system, reportedly Mirziyoyev last month explicitly ordered officials to leave their offices at 5 pm on Saturdays and spend Sundays with their families.
“But in reality nothing has changed,” the same Uzbek official was also quoted as saying.
“I still go to work 8 a.m. and come back at midnight, often at around 1 or 2 a.m. Sometimes I don’t see my children for several days in a row, they are already asleep when I come home and leave for school earlier in the morning.”
The hive of activity in central government quickly spreads to the provinces as neverending demands are sent through to local administrations. A bne IntelliNews journalist who recently toured Uzbekistan spoke to a mayor who said he was receiving around 300 orders a week from officials in Tashkent but only had the resources to implement half a dozen of them.