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Turkmen Leader Lambastes Ministers for Reform Failure

President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov of Turkmenistan has criticised his government for failing to implement reforms properly. But NBCentralAsia experts say ministers are incapable of delivering fundamental change under the current inefficient administration.

At a cabinet meeting on October 14, President Berdymuhammedov rebuked Deputy Prime Minister Khydyr Saparaliev for “unsatisfactory reforms” in the educational system, and threatened to dismiss him. He also accused Finance Minister Annamuhammed Gochiev for poor performance, specifically of exercising inadequate supervision over the finances of government ministries and agencies.

As well as being president, Berdymuhammedov is also prime minister, and cabinet members answer directly to him.

Berdymuhammedov pledged to embark on economic reforms soon after he was elected last year, and this autumn saw the start of implementation, with the creation of a new Economics and Planning Institute attached to the presidential office, and preparations for the re-denomination of the Turkmen currency. The monetary reform, details of which were announced in September, will see the introduction of new manat banknotes from January with a face value of 1:5,000 relative to the current notes.

In the year-and-a-half since he was elected, President Berdymuhammedov has repeatedly criticised cabinet members for failing to incorporate reformist approaches in their work. To keep them on their toes, he has shifted them around and made new appointments subject to a six-month probationary period.

Despite these efforts, the cabinet has yet to make significant progress on implementing Berdymuhammedov’s reforms.

NBCentralAsia analysts say this inertness stems in part from the hierarchical structure of government. The president makes all major decisions of state personally, and ministers are discouraged from taking the initiative

As one local commentator put it, “Not a leaf on the trees moves in this country without the personal consent of the president.”

This fear of making decisions is deep-rooted, and leads to officials being unable to handle even the work they are instructed to do.

For instance, when the head of Turkmenistan’s Central Bank, Guvenchmurad Goklenov, told ministers that the international crisis had not affected domestic markets, he portrayed it as a victory for the Turkmen banking sector.

Yet Berdymuhammedov made it plain that Turkmenistan’s immunity from the world crisis was merely the result of the “abnormal” isolation of its financial systems from external influences.

“No one grasped this at all,” said a local observer.

Other commentators argue that the president’s criticism of Finance Minister Gochiev is unfair since there is no clear system by which the ministry can oversee the spending of other parts of government, and in any case its staff lack the powers to carry out inspections.

“How can the finance ministry investigate the many financial violations, say, in the oil and gas sector, when that is overseen by Deputy Prime Minister [Tachberdy] Tagiev? One phone call from Tagyev would be enough to stop any financial inspection,” commented a local media-watcher.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service is resuming, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)

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