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Bishkek: Old Lifts Need Replacement. New Ones are Even Worse

The city programme for modernisation of municipal lifts in multi-storeyed houses of Bishkek is being implemented with gross breaches of law and technical standards.

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New lifts did not solve old problems. They contributed to them even more. Photo: CABAR.asia

At the end of January 2012, a tragedy nearly happened at one of southern microdistricts of Bishkek. A lift caught fire at one of the apartment houses. Fortunately, no one was inside the cabin at that moment, but a few minutes passed between one passenger left the cabin and the second one pressed the arrow button. According to the head of the housing owners partnership, Roza Kakhanchuk, an elderly woman took the lift up to the 9th floor. At that moment, another house-dweller returned from work. When the lift arrived and the doors opened, it was burning.

“The woman that entered home just before that and learned later she survived by a miracle had a heart attack,” Kakhanchuk said. “They called the ambulance. Then I invited independent examination and they saw the lift had been repaired crudely. Technical inspection of compliance should have been carried out once in 3 years. It was never carried out. Full repair was not carried out in 27 years. There could have been more victims and more people could have died. I cannot imagine what would happen if there were any people inside.”

Approximately at the same time, the lift machine room caught fire at another entrance hall. All the tenants fought the fire before fire fighters arrived. After these cases, no one  ventured to use the lifts for 10 months, the tenants walked up and down the stairs. But they were lucky enough as by the end of October, Kakhanchuk managed to get assistance from the municipality: all three lifts in the house that cost more than 1 million 700 thousand som each (about 22,000 dollars) were replaced with new ones at the expense of the city budget. Liftkomplekt LLC carried out the maintenance of the previous lifts. However, when the household supervisor came to the company to take data reports of the lifts, they were said to have been lost. Back then, she could not make any claim regarding the quality of repairs of the lifts for this reason.

“The safest means of transport”

The probability of injury or even death due to a lift malfunction is several thousand times less than, for example, in a road traffic accident. This means of transport is deemed one of the safest. However, there are no guarantees as their wear and tear only increases every year, and there are no money for overhaul.

Right now, according to various sources, there are more than two and a half thousand lifts functioning in Bishkek. Bishkekgorlift maintains a little more than a thousand of them. The technical condition of the rest is monitored by eight private organisations. Almost 90 per cent of all lifts on the books of the municipal enterprise have long served their time, i.e. 25 years. Since mid 2000s, the head of Kyrgyzlift, and then their successor, Bishkekgorlift, from time to time reported the need for a stoppage of lifts that had reached a critical state.

As the message read, last year the number of lifts “not subject to reconstruction” reached 260. However, neither last time nor this time did officials dare to take this critical step because of fear of mass rallies of tenants of high-rise buildings. Over 100 million som (more than 1 million 270 thousand dollars) is needed for the overhaul of all lifts that need to be repaired this year, according to municipal officials. The city budget has no such funds.

Overhaul, as experts say, can extend the useful life of a lift for no more than 9 years. Meanwhile, several dozen of the oldest lifts in Bishkek are almost 40 years old. Moreover, their overhaul, according to residents, has never been carried out. Two lifts have been operating in the city for over 40 years.

A defect everyone ignores

A high-rise building on Shopokov Street, where new lifts have defects. Photo: CABAR.asia

Every year, the city budget allocates nearly 20 million som (about 255 thousand dollars) for the replacement and repair of lifts. Bids are invited for contractual works, according to the Kyrgyz law. In 2018, new lifts were purchased and installed in some high-rise buildings of Bishkek on Shopokov, Ibraimov Streets and in Vostok-5 microdistrict out of budgetary funds. All components, as reported, were manufactured in Turkey. According to the 2002 law, the lifts that were serviced by the municipality, may be transferred to joint ownership of the homeowners association after the overhaul or replacement. Lists of lifts that need to be repaired urgently are based, according to the mayor’s office, on the data of continuous monitoring and the waiting list of houses that have lifts that need repair for several years. However, the replacement of outdated lifts in 2018 revealed such a bundle of violations and inconsistencies between the data in the reports and the actual state of affairs that neither the mayor’s office, nor the deputies of the city kenesh, or law enforcement officers can figure it out. It all started with the statements of the tenants themselves, who simply refused to accept new lifts, which were new only at first glance, as was found out later.

According to Yusuf Nadirov, the chair of the homeowners association of house 29 on Shopokov Street, he has been on the waiting list for replacement of two lifts for about 10 years. In 2018, their house was included in the list. However, at the end of the installation works, it turned out that they installed not what they expected.

Household supervisor Yusuf Nadirov. Photo: CABAR.asia

“They didn’t even bother to invite us for acceptance. Everything here is prefabricated. Grounding is incorrect. When people are trapped inside, they cannot even call for help – the alarm button is not functioning. When people get stuck in the middle of the night, what should they do?” the chair of the homeowners association Nadirov wonders. “They wrote cool numbers of the contractor’s company, but none of them work, you cannot reach them. Allegedly, this is an organisation, but none of us has ever seen their office. I don’t know how the documents and the lifts were endorsed and received.”

For a year, Nadirov refused to sign an agreement with a subcontractor represented by ECO Lift LLC and to accept the lift on the homeowners association balance sheet, despite the threats and blackmailing from the contractor and even an official of the Capital Construction Department of the Bishkek Mayor’s Office, A. Ibragimov. He was threatened to turn off the lift, which was already in operation that time. The household supervisor gave up when the tenants, including many elderly people and people with disabilities began to put pressure on him. Just to be safe, he took a letter of guarantee from the representatives of the company binding them to eliminate all defects within two months. More than a year has passed since then, but the contractor, according to Nadirov, did not even try to fulfil his obligation. And Ibragimov, who was present at the conclusion of the agreement, was dazed and confused.

In the meantime, the residents of the neighbouring house, where the same lifts were installed, decided to fight to the end and in no way accept faulty lifts. According to Svetlana Lysenko, a 75-year-old resident of house No. 35 on Shopokov Street, lifts in the house are now used only in extreme cases. For the most part, residents move on foot for safety reasons.

“The lift accelerates downward so fast that it seems to really fall, and when it stops abruptly it is difficult to maintain balance not to fall down. I felt it falling, too. And besides, it got stuck,” Lysenko said. “It’s good that I carry all my medications with me – I have diabetes. I am a former athlete and I have good composure. Otherwise, I could die in the twinkling of an eye. Most often, the light turns off completely in the cabin after a sudden stop. People can sit for more than an hour, like me, waiting for help in this situation. Several times at night we took the trapped women out of it, there looked awful. After such situations, I stopped using the lift as I don’t want to die. I live on the 7th floor and my legs cramp as I walk up.”

Lysenko noted that the lift often stops not exactly on the floor, but just above or below the floor, which also leads to various injuries. In another house, according to the supervisor of the entrance hall, Raya, the lift fell down from the 4th floor with passengers inside. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but now everyone who was inside at that time stopped using the lift.

A tender with many unknowns 

A bidding for the procurement of Turkish lifts was carried out in 2017. For the first time in recent years of the established practice, as the employees of the Capital Construction Department (hereinafter UKS) said, the winner of the tender was not the specific company Bishkekgorlift. Rather, it won, as usual, but after the announcement of the expected result, the Ministry of Finance sent a letter unexpectedly to the tender board, where it said that, according to the results of 2016, Bishkekgorlift had an “unprofitable balance sheet”, which meant it did not comply with tender requirements. In addition, attention was drawn to the fact that according to the law of the Kyrgyz Republic “On public procurements”, governmental, municipal employees and employees of procuring organisations are prohibited from participating as suppliers (contractors) or being affiliated with them.” It further read “a procuring entity cannot enter into a procurement contract with a supplier (contractor) whose founder or participants are persons holding political, state or municipal posts.” Therefore, the results of the first tender were cancelled, although, according to UKS employees, Bishkekgorlift was the only winner of all previous similar tenders for a few years. Why the finance ministry remembered this statutory provision this time, one can only guess. Until the end of the year, UKS held a new tender, which was won by Beine-Stroy LLC. No one among the members of the tender board, which were all the employees of UKS, was confused with the winner’s total lack of experience in such activities. Moreover, as it turned out later, the head of the company submitted only a copy of contract with the lift equipment manufacturer’s representative to the mayor’s office in order to receive the funds allocated by the City Council for the installation of lifts. It turned to be sufficient.

According to experts, the lifts replaced only seem to be new and safe. Photo: CABAR.asia

The amount of up to 30 million som (over 380 thousand dollars) was provided for the procurement of works “Modernisation of lifts listed on the register of municipal property” for 25 lifts by “one-stage” method. Tenders in Kyrgyzstan are supposed to select a winner, within a designated amount, who offers the lowest price for services given other similar data, for example, quality of works. The goal is achieved at the lowest cost, and the money thus saved are returned to the budget. The system of tenders, which was criticised many times since the day of its creation, looks like budget savings. It happened the same this time: Beine Stroy LLC offered a price of 24.5 million som (more than 311,000 dollars). The savings amounted to 5.5 million som. The works under the contract were supposed to be completed by the end of 2019, however, by that time, Beine-Stroy had installed only 12 of 25 lifts.

The only information about Beine-Stroy available from open sources is that its specialisation is the construction of residential and non-residential buildings. It was registered with the Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic in 2012. Some Kutmanbek Nurdinov is listed as the general director on the agency’s website. It is one of two companies that won a tender in 2015 for the reconstruction of several buildings of the National Hospital, which took more than two years. Moreover, in summer 2019 some businessman in Bishkek was reportedly accused of a corporate raid of his company ECO-Lift LLC, which, after Beine-Stroy LLC won the tender, acted as a subcontractor.

There was another company in this story – Prolift Asia. This is the official representative of the lift equipment manufacturer based in Turkey. Somehow, local “entrepreneurs” managed to convince Turkish colleagues to supply equipment to the required locations without paying them some of the cost in advance. However, the lift shafts in residential high-rise buildings in the post-Soviet area turned to be narrower than in Turkey. The specialists hired by Beine-Stroy had to adjust Turkish lifts to the dimensions that were not designed for them. However, as local expert organisations said later, all these “specialists” were most likely hired at Bishkek labour markets – they did not have any appropriate qualifications to perform such works.

Knocking on heaven’s door

After the installation of the lifts, their quality and decent photos were published on the website of the mayor’s office, from which one may have an impression that the tenants of these houses were lucky. It was also said that the contractor undertakes to carry out warranty repair of the lifts during the 4-year period!

It is difficult to say whether the attempts of innocent tenants of the hapless houses to reach state authorities would have been successful before something irreparable happened. However, luckily for them, in 2019, the prosecutor’s investigation was held in the UKS regarding the compliance with legal requirements to government procurement for 2017. It is unknown whether it was a happenstance or just a semblance of it. The prosecutor’s office discovered a fake certificate drawn up by the UKS staff about the alleged performance of works for over 17 million som (more than 215,000 dollars) not supported by reports of completion and as-built quantity reports. According to the conclusion of the Bishkek prosecutor’s office, it was Beine-Stroy that did not fulfil the terms of the contract for over 10 million som (more than 127,000 dollars).

On December 27, 2019, the case was registered with the Unified Register of Crimes and Offences (ERPP) on suspicion of abuse of office and forgery by an official, and the materials were handed over to the State Service for Combating Economic Crimes (GSBEP) for pre-trial proceedings. The public became aware of it six months later – on June 18, 2020, the fiscal police announced the initiation of a criminal case on the fact of inappropriate use of budgetary funds during the tender in 2017.

The former head of UKS and two current employees of the agency, whose direct official duties, among others, were the implementation of work on modernisation of lifts in municipal residential buildings, were detained in pre-trial detention facility No. 1 on a suspicion of abuse of office. Moreover, their duties were to observe and protect the rights and legitimate interests of citizens, to ensure the timing of construction and installation works and to prevent conflict of interest among colleagues. Later on, the court softened the punitive measure for them and they were released under house arrest. A representative of Beine-Stroy, who turned out to be a well-known pop artist in Kyrgyzstan, Aibek Karymov, was also detained. According to some sources, it was him who was the General Director of the company and its founder. Also, Karymov is known to have been awarded the title of “Honoured Artist of the Kyrgyz Republic” on the occasion of the Independence Day in Kyrgyzstan in 2018. One year later, he was reported to have bought the socio-political newspaper Fabula from the deputy of the Zhogorku Kenesh of the Kyrgyz Republic, Ryskeldi Mombekov, and to have announced his plans to explore himself in politics in due time.

Meanwhile, the unreasonably low price proposed by the company that won the tender was actively discussed in the Bishkek City Kenesh (hereinafter, BGK) back in 2018. Back then, the head of Bishkekgorlift, Viktor Popov, was suspected of personal interest in the victory of this particular contractor, and he resigned amid the scandal.

Natalia Kulmatova. Photo courtesy of Kaktus.media

According to the former deputy of BGK from faction Kyrgyzstan, a member of the financial committee, Natalia Kulmatova, Beine Stroy made it possible to offer the lowest cost of services and to win the tender once they prepared initially incorrect estimate of expenses.

“They were able to do this because the estimate did not include a winch (a lifting mechanism that lifts and lowers lift cabins and counterweights). When we made an examination, we saw why it was the cheapest,” Kulmatova said. “Their price did not include about 20 per cent of the cost of necessary equipment. This again suggests that this was done deliberately. Or it is a level of the members of the board that made decisions on competitors. All they needed to do was just to read financial documents properly.”

According to Kulmatova’s colleague, a deputy from Onuguu-Progress faction, Asylbek Kadraliev, there are still a lot of suspicious questions regarding the 2017 tender that remained unanswered. For example, how did a company that had no experience of such works manage to win a tender for the replacement of lift equipment?

“It was also suspicious that after the short delivery of the lifts, this company won other tenders. This attracted our attention,” Kadraliev said. “There were rumours that it was clearly lobbied by someone, people said many different things. The price was very low. As if it was specially prepared to benefit from this money quickly. When all these issues began to be raised, the head of Bishkekgorlift resigned very quickly, and they remained unsolved.”

“According to the law, deputies have no right to interfere in the economic activities of the executive branch,” Kulmatova said. “The task of Bishkekgorlift was to lessen the burden on homeowners associations, for it were heavy expenses for them. They had to help them purchase and install new lifts and put them on the books. Popov resigned then. But when we asked for answers to specific questions, no one answered our letters. By virtue of law, they have their immediate supervisors represented by vice mayor, heads of departments and the mayor. All we can do is hear their report or discuss something at a meeting of the board on housing and public utilities. This is Salymbekov’s board, they have more authority and information. They do not answer our questions.”

However, neither Zhumabek Salymbekov, nor other members of this board of the BGK were open to provide comments via their personal assistants or via the press secretary of the BGK. Two months before the parliamentary election in Kyrgyzstan, where more than a third of the BGK deputies were running for, all unanimously referred to extreme busyness.

Kulmatova said the mayor was not accountable to the deputies as the head of the city executive branch. 

According to her, once a year he must report on the work done to the deputies of BGK, but this meeting turned into a formality a long time ago, which, according to her, the mayors stopped following, in fact.

“The management is rather complex,” Kulmatova said. “There is no succession between mayors. Everyone has his or her own programme. No one can give orders to them. In theory, the mayor is accountable to the city kenesh, whose deputies are elected by the citizens of the city. The deputies must annually hear his reports and evaluate his performance. I can be mistaken, but the current mayor has never reported to us before (she talks about Aziz Surakmatov, who resigned on October 20 – Editor’s note). He became the mayor back in 2018, I guess. But he did not report to us. Neither did he in 2019.”

Part-time detective

According to the current head of Bishkekgorlift, Bolotbek Odrakaev, the municipality instructed him to figure out what to do with new, but unsafe lifts. And that is what he found out. All 25 lifts that were planned to be replaced were assigned to specific addresses, which was recorded in protocols. As it turned out, however, new lifts were never installed at any of those locations!

“Of those 12 lifts that have already been supplied none has been replaced under the protocol! We wondered how it happened from the office for municipal property (UMI). They said: we do not know anything, the deputies of BGK gave the instruction, they gave totally different addresses,” Odrakaev said. “One of or both vice-mayors and the deputies gathered, took a letter saying that we were affiliated, that a municipal enterprise may not participate from the Ministry of Finance. However, Bishkekgorlift had won before, the contracts were already signed, do you understand? So, they used this letter to quickly cancel the contract, and they reduced the technical requirements they gave us by 80-90 per cent, all these requirements disappeared for Beyne Stroy. At first, the list was very long, and only a very abbreviated version remained. It’s as clear as day that it was a pre-agreed arrangement.”

Ex vice-mayor Mirlan Amanturov. Photo courtesy of akipress.org

Ex vice-mayor Mirlan Amanturov, who was in charge of housing and public utilities, also shared this point of view. According to him, a wide range of people such as members of the housing commission and other deputies of BGK took part in this shady deal. The most interesting question is who is behind all this, the official wondered.

“The mayor’s office has been at law for two years now, there are a lot of questions and a lot of people are involved,” Amanturov said. “They just don’t say, but it’s time to say openly who was lobbying this issue, the tender was cancelled in a snap. Gorlift won, they had a supplier – Mogilevliftmash, and they just cancelled it. Why? What were the reasons? I tell you openly, someone lobbied this issue. It was a clear violation, and I don’t know where the inspection authorities were looking at.”

Another gross violation of the law, according to some deputies of BGK, is the transfer of 70 per cent of the total amount to Beine Stroy as an advance payment – 15 million som (more than 190,000 dollars). This, according to the city deputies, has never happened before. And the company could get this advance payment, according to the head of Bishkekgorlift, only on the basis of a letter from Prolift Asia confirming their consent to supply lifts!

At one of the discussions of this issue at the BGK back in 2018, the vice-mayor for urban planning and architecture Ulanbek Azygaliev said that the transfer had to be done in stages. However, now the assistant to the official, head of the department of urban planning and architecture of the Bishkek mayor’s office, Nuraly Dosaliev, assures that no violations of the law were committed when transferring the funds.

“Qualification requirements contained only the total work experience,” Nuraly Dosaliev said in an interview to CABAR.asia. “The installation of lift equipment does not need to be licensed, so we could not indicate that this particular work experience was required. As for the amount of advance payment, the Civil Code of the Kyrgyz Republic, which regulates civil law relations, does not prohibit the transfer of 100 per cent of the agreed amount. It depends on the agreement of the parties. The requirement is that the transfer should be made against a bank guarantee. The contractor provided the bank guarantee for 70 per cent of the total amount.”

Meanwhile, according to the materials of the prosecutor’s check of 2019, the contractor had no bank guarantee.

In January 2020, UKS filed a claim to the Interdistrict Court of Bishkek against Beine-Stroy LLC demanding to eliminate the identified defects. In the statement of claim, UKS indicated that back then the contractor had installed 12 lifts, but only 6 of them were accepted. UKS estimated the cost of installed and accepted lifts at almost 6 million som (more than 74,500 dollars). The amount of unused, but already allocated funds by Beine-Stroy was a bit more than 9 million som (more than 15,500 dollars). UKS demanded to collect this money from the contractor plus penalty in the amount of 1 million 200 thousand som (more than 15,000 dollars). The Interdistrict Court satisfied the claim of UKS in full. In response to this, in summer 2019, Beine-Stroy disputed the decision in Bishkek City Court. Six months later, the second instance affirmed the decision of the first instance. Beine Stroy disagreed with the decision of the courts of both instances this March and filed a cassation appeal to the Supreme Court. But by that time, the activities of almost all government agencies in Kyrgyzstan, including courts, were paralysed by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the country. The case hearing was postponed for an indefinite period.

“None of the lifts passed the test”

According to the conclusion of two independent expert organisations specialising in lift equipment testing, none of the installed lifts passed the test.

According to Anatoly Antonov, Director of LiftStroyservice LLC, who was involved in the technical examination of the lifts installed by Beine-Stroy, none of them met the requirements for safe operation.

Experts do not recommend using poor quality lifts. Photo: CABAR.asia

“Our employees visited them about 5 times, but there were only young people, absolutely unskilled people. We prepared the estimate of defects they needed to fix for almost one and a half million som. But they didn’t fix anything,” Antonov said to CABAR.asia.

He said, “there were more than 30 defects on each lift. The safeties did not work, safety gears and electrical interlocks were welded recklessly.”

“In general, it was a modernisation. Everything should have been replaced there but the main rails: doors, cabin, electronics, wiring, counterweights. They, apparently, used old parts for welding when something was missing. They did everything clumsily and, to put it mildly, unprofessionally,” the director of Liftstroyservice said. “We did not issue the main opinion and we may not do it in such circumstances. In the past, it would have been a cognisable case. You cannot start up a lift that has not passed technical inspection and has not been put into operation by the inspection.”

The second independent expert organisation, Liftes LLC, was invited by the State Service for Combating Economic Crimes [GSBEP] in the framework of a criminal case. They replied to the official request of CABAR.asia as follows: “The lifts do not comply with the Rules for safe operation of lifts, the current Technical Regulations of the Customs Union. Operation of the inspected lifts is not safe currently. Installation and commissioning carried out by unqualified specialists who do not give any guarantees and are not responsible for the equipment put into operation and unqualified maintenance can easily lead to accidents, lethal ones at worst.”

As Bishkekgorlift explained, the EAEU states continue to apply technical regulations adopted in the Soviet Union. For example, the standard useful life of lifts in this area is at least 25 years. Manufacturers from other countries, such as Turkey, Korea or China, give only a 5-year warranty. After this period, lift are usually replaced in these countries.

State environmental and technical inspectorate has no questions about new lifts

The last opinion on the technical readiness for commissioning is the authority of the State Environmental and Technical Inspectorate. However, the department unexpectedly said that their inspectors did not find any defects in the lifts. At least, they had no questions about six of 12 lifts installed by Beine-Stroy, the main department for technical supervision said.

Rakhatbek Chodoshov, industrial safety inspector of the interregional department of the State Environmental and Technical Inspectorate of Bishkek, said this is a standard procedure; their inspectors impose the same requirements on all lifts.

Many lifts in Bishkek have become overaged and impose threat to health and even life of citizens. Photo: CABAR.asia

“The point was: modernisation of the lifts, their replacement without changing the design of the shaft, without changing the technical characteristics, roughly speaking, they removed the cabin and put another one,” Chodoshov said. “The contractor was requested to provide necessary documents, the main of which was the conformity certificate for the equipment. According to documents, conformity certificates issued by the Customs Union have been received, it was a necessity. Without them, inspection will not be held. The inspection was carried out by a commission. We have diagnostic and test results. No defects were found, the lift equipment was fully operational.”

According to the inspector, Beine-Story initiated to involve specialists of the Centre for Inspection and Certification of Hoisting and Transport Equipment LLP from Almaty as an additional endorsement. No remarks were made during the inspection by foreign experts, the department said. Guests from Kazakhstan issued EAEU standard certificates for the lifts.

It is unclear what to do with the opinions and warnings of local experts and complaints of residents. UKS claimed that on the basis of this opinion, 6 lifts were transferred to municipal ownership. But the head of Bishkekgorlift denies this statement blankly.

“Six lifts? We rejected all 12. Initially, Beine-Stroy did not even ask us for technical specifications of what the lifts should be, and now they ask us to come and take a look,” Odrakaev said. “They could have invited us to the tender commission, but we were absent during the tender and during lift installation. They just provided us with the fact. We were presented with a fact. They didn’t even ask for our opinion, and they started demanding documents after they did everything.”

At the end of August, according to him, the head of Prolift Asia LLC came to Odrakaev, who did not receive payment from Beine Stroy for the equipment supplied and threatened that he would dismantle and take away the lifts already installed and operating.

“The term of the contract with Beine-Stroy has expired. Now there can be one of two options: either a refund or dismantling plus a refund, Odrakaev said. “Nobody will do dismantling for free. If necessary, we will do it, submit the invoice and return it. Prolift Asia LLC can pick them up. The second option is a full refund. We’ll keep these lifts for ourselves, and install others. We have a contract with our partner Mogilevliftmash. If we transfer them 5 million, they will immediately supply 26 lifts to us. We will do it in 3 months. It’s real.”

Meanwhile, on June 29, 10 days after the initiation of a criminal case by GSBEP against Beine Stroy, residents of house No. 33 on Shopokov Street filed a complaint with the State Committee for National Security and the Prosecutor General’s Office regarding the then investigator of GSBEP. As was stated in the letter, “for criminal omission”. Both agencies confirmed the receipt of the claim and the purpose of the investigation to the claimants. As the tenants of the house said, the investigator complained that he could not objectively investigate the case due to the pressure exerted on him by some high-ranking officials, whose names he, of course, did not name. In an interview with CABAR.asia, the fiscal police investigator Aziz Asakeev spoke of an impartial approach to the case.

“The claim against me was written not by residents, but by one citizen – Kanybek Cholponkulov. He demanded that the lifts be turned off in his house and in every location where they were installed. It was impossible because other tenants, the elderly, children, also lived in his house,” investigator Asakeev said. “I explained to him that I could not do this on the basis of his statement, but he filed a claim and thus tried to achieve his goal. I don’t know whether they opened a case against me or not, no one informed me.”

According to them, the residents cannot take more active measures because of the tense epidemiological situation in the country. In this regard, they planned to record a video message with a request to resolve the issue to President Sooronbai Zheenbekov. However, the events of October 5-6 put their initiative into question.

An investigator or a lawyer?

During this time, UKS has already received several guarantee letters from Beine-Stroy, where they undertake to eliminate the deficiencies. The last of them read that this would be done before the beginning of October. Moreover, according to Asakeev, back in August, Beine-Stroy transferred 2.9 million som to the account of the Bishkek Mayor’s Office, which was recognised as an aggrieved party, to reimburse for 3 out of 15 lifts not installed by the company, advance payment for which was already made. The investigator does not know whether the private company paid the penalty for running past the deadline.

Old lifts have served their 25-year useful life a long time ago. Photo: CABAR.asia

“During the pre-trial proceedings, measures were taken to compensate for the damage, charges were brought against the relevant persons, the case is about to be settled now,” the investigator said. “2 million 900 thousand som – this is for 3 lifts they did not manage to install. According to the amount received, 12 out of 15 lifts were installed. Their dismantling and removal is a very long process; therefore, it was decided to correct them on site by estimating and eliminating the defects.”

Asakeev did not explain who made this decision. At the same time, UKS said that 2.9 million som were never received by their treasury account in August and they do not know anything about it. Like UKS employees, Asakeev said that the defects were almost eliminated, with only minor “flaws” remaining.

“The majority of deficiencies specified in deficiency acts by specially invited expert organisations have already been eliminated,” Asakeev said. “Only a shaft safety system remains to be adjusted, which is a time consuming work, and they are working on it.”

Moreover, Asakeev promised with confidence that not only the investigation would end in October and the case would be taken to court, but also that all deficiencies specified by experts would be eliminated for sure.

What gives him grounds for such an optimistic forecast is not very clear because, according to the tenants, despite the fact that some repair works are really taking place in the past few weeks, nothing was fixed at their request.

“We never received feedback,” Nadirov said. “I asked them for a mobile phone number in case of an accident, but I never got it. They tried to weld something there, they made noise, but the lift continues to make grinding noise during operation, and gives you a very bad feeling while using it. They did not earth the lift, I checked it in the basement on purpose.”

“In fact, this is just eyewash,” Lysenko said. “I watched them. When I told them about it, they told me that lifts in other houses operate normally and it’s only us who are discontented. “

In response to her remarks, one of the workers, according to Lysenko, even threatened her citing the words of some deputy of the city council.

“He told me,” Lysenko said, “that some deputy, whom he didn’t name, told him that if we would continue to behave like this, they would dismantle these lifts and install them in another house. ‘And we will leave you empty-handed!’ This is what he said,” the resident said.

In the meantime, unsafe lifts continue to be operated by tenants. According to Odrakaev, neither the mayor’s office, nor the municipal property office, or the State Environmental and Technical Inspectorate cannot stop them, despite their numerous promises to do so. None of the agencies can explain explicitly why the cannot do this. The discussion of this issue with the mayor of Bishkek, Aziz Surakmatov, who gave a task to sort out the situation, again is postponed for indefinite term. On October 20, Surakmatov resigned and Balbak Tulobaev was appointed acting mayor of Bishkek.

None lift in Bishkek is insured 

According to the law on industrial safety of the Kyrgyz Republic, lifting mechanisms are included in the category of hazardous production facilities subject to compulsory insurance. However, the law does not imply any measures for non-compliance. As a result, there are no insured lifts in Kyrgyzstan. Although all insurance amounts have been calculated and known a long time ago. The insurance of one lift for 1 million som is below 1.500 som (19.5 dollars) per year per person. If an insured event occurs – from injury to death – the amount of compensation can be up to 300 thousand soms (about 4,000 dollars).

In early August, the vice-mayor for housing and public utilities instructed the head of Bishkekgorlift to draft proposals on how to implement the law on compulsory insurance of residents of high-rise buildings in practice. A similar order was given by the deputies of BGK to the director of the municipal enterprise five years ago. Back then, no suggestions were made.

Tragic occurrences abroad 

In the evening of April 4, 2018, a local TV host, Aizat Abdisamat, died inside the lift of her house in Aktobe, Kazakhstan. The 27-year-old woman was entering the lift cabin with her little daughter. When the lift suddenly moved downward, it ripped the journalist’s leg off. She died because of pain shock and blood loss in front of her daughter, who was later on saved by rescuers. According to reports, the lift’s age was over 20 years. Before the tragedy occurred, house tenants often used to c0mplain about its malfunction.

In January of the same year, a 16-year-old teenager who tried to escape the stuck lift died in the town of Lisakovsk, Kazakhstan.

One month later, the lift cabin with five passengers inside fell down at high speed in Astana. Fortunately, the cable locked the lift between the first and second floors and people remained alive.

An awful tragedy took place in March in Simferopol. The lift fell down in a high-rise building. A 38-year-old mother with a six-months-old baby in her arms died on the spot. Just before death, the young woman managed to call her husband by the phone when the lift was falling down.

In January last year, a three-month-old baby was crushed to death in Ukraine just in front of his mother and grandfather who did not have time to move the pram out of the cabin. Two years before the tragedy, the family complained about the lift stopping between floors after the lift overhaul. They were said the lift was in good repair, just some parts were wearing in.

At the end of 2018, one of BGK deputies proposed to take a loan to replace all lifts that exceeded their useful life. However, it required, according to his estimates, about 12 million dollars. No one supported his proposal. No other initiatives on solving the faulty lift issue in Bishkek has been submitted so far. In the meantime, time plays against the tenants of high-rise buildings as long as the issue is being ignored.  If officials continue to ignore corruption schemes, while playing with people’s safety, and fail to take responsibility relevant to their posts, such tragic cases can soon become a reality in Bishkek. 

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project

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