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Local Budgets Forced to Pay for National Assembly

A presidential decision forcing provincial governments to pay for a meeting of the Halk Maslahati – a national congress that has more formal powers than the Turkmen parliament – is yet another drain on their limited resources.
The 2,500 delegates to the Halk Maslahaty – which counts as the supreme decision-making institution, standing above the government, parliament and judiciary – met in Ashgabat towards the end of October for one of their twice-yearly sessions.

On President Saparmurat Niazov’s orders, all the expenses of the delegates have to come out of regional governments. Transport, accommodation and food for the Halk Maslakhaty delegates has been costed at 200,000 US, but there will also be additional expenses such as cash prizes and gifts for participants.

Even though local budgets are already in deficit, the president’s orders cannot be questioned, so provincial governments will have to make further cuts, most likely to the wages of public-sector employees such as teachers, doctors and civil servants.

A resident of Lebap region who works in education says she already receives her salary irregularly, and now expects to go without it altogether.

Teachers are not the only category experiencing non-payment of salaries. Many textile industry workers have seen gaps of several months when they were not paid. After protests at several factories, workers were given their salaries – but sometimes this was in kind, for example in pillowcases, sheets, shawls and fabric made by their factories.

When they stopped being issued even with these items, the textile workers began a second wave of protests.

As one despairing worker said, he and his colleagues decided to come to work – but to do nothing. They have no political demands, and only want to be paid for their work.

The government’s apparent lack of funds is a source of some bewilderment, since Turkmenistan earns substantial revenues from exports of gas, oil and cotton. There is no transparent accounting, so it is hard to say where this money goes, but analysts believe most of it goes into the Presidential Fund.

The public has seen no improvement in economic conditions, and the only sign of wealth are the projects associated with Niazov’s personality cult – a giant golden statue of him in the centre of Ashgabat, lavish public buildings, enormous mosques, and theme parks which have few visitors.

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