The president of Turkmenistan has in candid remarks admitted to the pervasive corruption hobbling the country’s energy sector, but his solutions appear so far limited mainly to the usual threats and targeted dismissals.
Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said during a Cabinet meeting broadcast on television on March 5 that state auditors and prosecutors have recently been running checks on energy enterprises and uncovered irregularities “causing the government serious losses.”
Corruption has become a recurring theme in Turkmenistan as authorities seek to explain away the economic malaise gripping the country.
Berdymukhamedov said that former deputy prime minister Baymyrat Hojamuhammedov, who was dismissed from his role overseeing the energy sector for health reasons in November 2015, was directly involved in the corruption.
“After the investigations, he returned $1.5 million that he received in bribes from various people,” Berdymukhamedov said.
Also on March 5, the president fired the head of the State Statistics Committee, Akmyrat Mamedov, who stands accused of fiddling the figures to enable graft.
Anybody who has ever in good conscience scrutinised the sparse statistical information made available online by Turkmenistan’s authorities will have questioned their reliability years ago. And yet those are the same figures that international financial organisation invariably rely upon when formulating their rosy economic forecasts, which should probably raise some questions about their practices.
Mamedov has been in his job since March 2010.
Dismissals among senior economic officials have been coming fast and furious of late.
In February, Berdymukhamedov removed one of his key aides, Palvan Taganov, from his post, again for suspected wrongdoings in the oil and gas sector.
Regional news portal CA-News reported some days later that Taganov had been arrested on unspecified charges.
That development was particularly notable considering Taganov’s influential role within government. His control extended over the foreign economic relations, the chamber of industry and trade, and the union of industrialists and entrepreneurs.
Turkmenistan is something of regional leader in the corruption stakes, not least as it has steadfastly eschewed involvement in any international initiatives to tackle graft. It is ranked in 154th place out of 167 countries on Transparency International's most recent corruption index.
In another grotesquely comic firing over inaccurate data, the president has also sacked the chairman of the national meteorological committee, Batyr Halliyev, for failing to properly forecast the weather.
“In order to upgrade the operations of the national meteorological committee, we built modern administrative headquarters. We gave the committee financial help and bought a large amount of equipment, and Halliyev gave his word that his predictions would after that become more accurate,” moaned Berdymukhamedov during the Cabinet meeting. “And yet, despite all that, the number of inaccurate forecasts has increased of late.”
The poor predictions are having a negative effect on farming, creating difficulties in the transportation system and hindering the organisation of major cultural events, Berdymukhamedov said.
Halliyev has been the country’s top weatherman since January 2010.