Uzbek president says economic data was 'fiction' for years

TASHKENT (Reuters) - President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said on Friday Uzbekistan had reported inflated economic growth and employment figures for years, describing the amplified numbers as “fiction”, and promised more reforms in the Central Asian nation.

The former Soviet republic has reported gross domestic product growth of about eight to 10 percent for a decade, although foreign economists have often questioned the quality and veracity of its data.

Speaking to parliament, Mirziyoyev, elected president a year ago after the death of veteran leader Islam Karimov, said those figures were not real.

“Eight percent (GDP growth) was fiction,” he said, adding that this year’s growth was seen at 5.5 percent.

“To be frank, I ordered the 5.5 percent figure to be checked almost 10 times.”

Employment figures were also greatly inflated, he said.

“In 2017 we have created 336,000 new jobs and this is a real figure,” he said. “Before, we used to report creating nearly a million jobs annually. No country in the world can do it!”

Mirziyoyev, who had served as prime minister since 2003, blamed the misleading reports on former government economists without naming them.

Mirziyoyev has reshuffled the government during his first year in power and implemented some reforms such as the liberalization of the previously draconic foreign exchange regulations which had scared off foreign investors.

On Friday, he vowed to continue reforms and said Uzbekistan would resume talks on joining the World Trade Organisation next year.

Mirziyoyev also said the resource-rich nation of 32 million badly needed to upgrade its ageing infrastructure.

“In 2017 we have produced 56.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas,” he said. “But because the sector had not been modernized for many years we have great losses, up to 20-23 percent, during production and shipping.”

Mirziyoyev said Uzbekistan would boost gas output to 66 bcm next year.

Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov, Editing by William Maclean