Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Turkmen Pension Blow
Turkmen pensioner Mariya Pavlovna had an unwelcome shock when she went to pick up her small state pension this month. Instead of the 65 US dollars the frail 72-year-old has come to rely on since she retired, she was given less than a third of that sum and told that her allowance was being “recalculated”.
“The social services department only gave me 20 dollars,” the bewildered old lady told IWPR. “When I asked why my payment was so small, they told me to go to the regional administration offices with documents confirming my length of service, past salary and other pension forms.
“Until such times as my pension is recalculated, I will receive only this minimum amount,” she said sadly. “I live alone and my children are in Russia – how can I be expected to live on such a tiny sum?”
Marya Pavlovna is not the only pensioner to have her sole source of income slashed to the minimum level of 20 dollars a month, whether they live in tiny rural areas or in the capital Ashgabat. Over the past 18 months, an increasingly number of the elderly have been told that their cases are being “recalculated” in this manner.
Analysts believe that the Turkmen authorities, who have been grappling with a large hole in the state budget in recent years, are now trying to save money by grabbing it back from the most socially vulnerable section of the population.
Official statistics suggest that Turkmenistan has had a very high level of GDP growth – around 21 per cent year on year since 2000 – but in spite of this, and the former Soviet republic’s enormous natural gas reserves which bring in untold wealth in export sales, the state budget is in deficit.
A variety of controversial measures have been implemented in an attempt to reverse this trend – including sacking 15,000 nurses and medical workers and replacing them with conscript soldiers, effectively free labour.
It’s estimated that as many as 550,000 Turkmen citizens are of pensionable age, although official figures put that number as low as 356,000. Their allowances are calculated according to length of service, continuity of employment, the sort of work they did and academic qualifications.
Over half of the country’s pensioners worked in the oil and gas industry where conditions of work were tough and wages high. They have been receiving a pension higher than the average level of 40 dollars a month – and it’s mostly their allowances that are being “recalculated”.
The process of recalculation is a long and stressful one, and few people have been allowed to keep their previously high pension at the end of it.
Former teacher Nurjemal Artykovna told IWPR, “When I was told that I had to present a number of documents to the regional administration for my pension to be recalculated, I went to the education ministry archive and asked to see my records from 1963 to 1969, as I was given a pension for these years.
“But the archive clerks told me that all records from 1963 to 1978 had caught fire. As I couldn’t provide these documents, my pension was reduced to the minimum 20 dollars a months.
“I’m one of the lucky ones – I have three adult children who will provide for me – but what can other people my age do if they do not have any relatives living nearby?”
Observers have cast doubt over the alleged fire that destroyed the education ministry archive, noting that the affected years were those when teachers were at their highest pay level. They also note that similar mysterious fires have destroyed the archives of health, buildings, oil and gas and many other ministries.
Even those who are able to present copies of all the necessary documents often find that they run into other difficulties.
One elderly man, who gave his name as Mikhail Nikolaevich, told IWPR that he was asked to pay a bribe of around 100 dollars to the social services department to ensure that his pension was reinstated at its previous high level.
“But where would I get that amount of money from? They’re already making a profit from old people,” he said bitterly.
One social service employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “Of course what we are doing is against the law.
“We must carry out any recalculation within three months, and pay pensioners any backdated pension we owe, but unfortunately this does not happen.
“Since ancient times, it has been customary in Turkmenistan to honour and respect the elderly.
“I think what our government is doing to our mothers and fathers - veterans of war, people who worked all their lives for the good of this land – is [terrible].”
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