Serdar Berdimuhamedov will in all likelihood take office in March 2022, and as of now, has stated no policy agenda. Based on our monitoring of the government policies, research, observations, and conversations with fellow citizens, we are laying out short-term priorities for his presidency, which are feasible, targeted, and measurable.
The first 100 days will be a crucial time for Serdar Berdimuhamedov to gain the public’s trust and support to start addressing country’s unprecedented socio-economic hardships.
- Admit that the pandemic has claimed Turkmen lives and has taken an emotional, physical, and eсonomic toll on the population. This should be his very first action.
- Release the statistics concerning deaths, infections, and recoveries in Turkmenistan.
- Task the Ministry of Health with starting a committee that will include medical experts, epidemiologists, and the civil society to develop a sсience-based approach to COVID-19 and future pandemics.
- Allow doctors, nurses, and all medical personnel to access up-to-date information in medicine, safety, and treatment protocols.
- Remove mandatory quarantine in designated quarantine zones for Turkmen citizens traveling from abroad if they have been fully vaccinated or have a negative PCR test.
- Communicate with the public by tasking the Ministry of Health and media to work together to provide the public with regular epidemiological reporting and communicating current, real risks instead of overly restricting economic activity.
- Lift all COVID-based travel restrictions inside the country since the majority of the population has been vaccinated.
- Lift travel restrictions for international travel by removing arbitrary application of travel rules that have created opportunities for corruption schemes. All international flights stopped in March 2020. Allow Turkmen citizens to travel abroad freely and to those trapped abroad to safely return home.
- Lift all restrictions concerning propiska (residency permit)that will allow free movement of people and labor in the country.
- Put together a committee with Turkmen and international experts to address the rising inflation and dual exchange rate in the country.
- Work towards unifying the official and black-market exchange rates of manat.
- Simplify and remove restrictions to register and operate small and medium size businesses.
- Open up the banking system, and financial services such as Western Union so the Turkmen public can move away from system of making informal cash transfers (hawala system).
- Allocate national and international funding for a COVID relief fund to support small businesses in Turkmenistan. Small business has been hit hard by COVID-19 quarantine and restrictions.
- Allow all citizens to use bank cards with no limits and restrictions for financial transactions and economic activities.
- Publish the state budget. There is a generation of Turkmens who grew up without knowing anything about or seeing the state budget.
- Start collecting and releasing statistics and information that can help move from the top down, secretive Soviet style management of the sector to modern, science-based best practices.
- Release information and data concerning the patients with HIV/AIDS, TB in Turkmenistan. These data can help curb the spread of these diseases.
- Simplify and allow licensing of private medical services in Turkmenistan.
- Remove restrictions on bringing medicine from abroad, especially if they are not available in Turkmenistan. A lot of sick people depend on lifesaving medicine sent by their relatives abroad.
- Simplify and remove restrictions on medical tourism to Iran, India, Turkey, and other countries where Turkmen citizens receive lifesaving treatment and care.
- Equip the embassies and consulates of Turkmenistan with passport printers so they can renew and address the urgent passport needs of Turkmen citizens abroad without making them travel to Turkmenistan where there have been no scheduled flights since March 2020.
- Issue passports for children under 18 of Turkmen citizens who are born overseas and who live outside of Turkmenistan.
- Extend the validity of Turkmen international travel passports from 5 years to 10 years (as it used to be before 2016).
- Introduce reciprocal visa-free travel for tourism and business to neighboring countries in Central Asia, Russia, and Turkey.
- Start publishing news in the state media that concerns the social and economic life of ordinary citizens in the country.
- Remove censorship at state media institutions where they discourage and disable citizens’ comments and participation both offline and online.
- Open up and remove censorship of the Turkmen Internet to promote scientific knowledge and intellectual freedom. It will help the social sciences and economy that are stuck in the 20th century in Turkmenistan. Internet in Turkmenistan is the slowest and among the most expensive in the world.
- Remove the policy that bans all the websites. This contributes to Turkmenistan’s lowest health and educational outcomes (in the region), and profoundly impacts human capital.
- Allow telecommunication services that help people to stay in touch and connected. At the moment people outside of the country have difficulty connecting and talking to their families.
Education, academic censorship, research
- Start addressing corruption practices in university entrance exams, which disproportionately harm students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
- Allow licensing and operation of private educational establishments including universities.
- Remove restrictions on foreign diplomas and rules that restrict access to educational opportunities outside of the country.
- Abolish the approved list of universities abroad where students are allowed to study. This limits the choice of universities for Turkmen students.
- Reform district-based and propiska based school system. Allow parents to send their kids to any school in Turkmenistan regardless of the district they live and propiska they have.
- Modernize the Academy of Sciences by simply removing censorship in research and allowing free flow of scientific knowledge. Currently Turkmenistan produces almost no research.
- Allow registration and operation of independent publishing houses. Currently for the population of 6 million people only about 350 titles get published yearly in the Turkmen language.
- Attract and recruit Turkmen citizens who have studied and worked abroad to work in Turkmenistan, including conducting research and teaching at Turkmen schools and universities.
Security services & police
- Stop security services and polices’ interference and surveillance of economic activities and social life of Turkmen citizens.
- Stop the practice of interrogations and harassing people who express their views on social and economic issues in the country.
- Stop the practice of harassing traveling citizens by migration services upon exit of the country.
- Stop the practice of secret lists banning the travel of citizens when a citizen never learns why and on which grounds she or he is prohibited to leave the country.
- Remove police checkpoints throughout large cities.
- Set up an independent hotline where citizens can report the abuses of power by security services and police.
- Start the reform of the two-year mandatory military conscription for men. Make it voluntary to attract skilled military personnel by offering them professional training and good salaries.
- Set up an independent hotline to report corruption at all government agencies.
- Establish two-way communication between the government and public. Task every government agency to accept, record and respond to public’s concerns, needs, recommendations via phone and email so citizens are heard. Allow the public’s needs, concerns and aspiration to be shared on state media. At the moment government agencies are not hearing about and responding to the public’s daily struggles. And the public has no real way to contact government agencies, whether through email, phone, or website.
- Modernize the public sector by allowing public servants to take responsibility for policies and respond to the pubic directly.
- Task each government agency to make a list of sprawka digitallyaccessible (on their websites) to all citizens so they do not spend time figuring out what paper work they need and paying bribes to government officials.
- Open up employment opportunities in all government ministries for young people who have been educated overseas including in the EU and US. Make the hiring process open, merit based, and competitive.
Public’s access to vital and basic information:
- Release the results of 2012 census.
- Release the COVID-19 statistics and provide the public with regular epidemiological reporting.
- Publish important and key economic indicators such as inflation rate, unemployment rate, and the percentage of people living in poverty.
- Provide data and statistics to the World Bank and IMF so they can renew their engagement with the country. Since 2018 the World Bank and the IMF have stopped including Turkmenistan in their reports due to lack of credible data.
- Provide vulnerable, low-income segments of the population with monthly benefits to purchase food (i.e. food stamps).
- Incentivize Turkmen farmers to grow essential food products to ensure the country’s food security by providing greater freedom in deciding what to grow and fairer compensation for their work.
- Set up an independent commission to look whether people whose property have been cleared for construction have been heard and compensated fairly.
- Allow citizens to buy and own property anywhere in the country without the requirement for propiska.
- Invest into roads and public infrastructure in rural areas of the country.
- Allow people to start articulating and addressing their economic and social needs in rural areas by forming citizen groups and citizens’ initiatives.
- Make it easy to start, operate, and run a business as well as access to credit for rural households and youth. This can help families sustain themselves and create jobs for their local community.
- Remove annual state quotas on cotton and wheat harvests, which lead to forced labor practices and low pay.
- Allow private ownership of the land so it will be easier for farmers to operate more efficiently.
- Give farmers more freedom where, how, and what to grow, whom to sell and for how much to sell their products.
- Engage constructively with the International Labor Organization to address the problem of the child labor and forced labor practices in the cotton industry to remove the boycott of Turkmen cotton by major companies and the Unites State’s ban on the import of Turkmen cotton.
- Simplify and allow the registration of social service providers, citizen groups initiatives that would like to provide educational, social and economic programs and services in the country and especially in rural areas.
- Reassess the urgent water problems the country is facing and redesign the approaches in solving them.
- Ensure clean, drinkable water throughout the country.
- Create a committee to study and address soil erosion and desertification.
- Task the relevant ministries to develop a committee comprised of Turkmen and international experts to study and rapidly reduce the large emissions of methane in Turkmenistan.
- Put together a committee comprised of Turkmen and international scientists, experts and civil society to measure, evaluate and propose transition from fossil fuel-based economy and society to a sustainable and low carbon economy.
Progres.online is an online analytical journal that promotes better, nuanced understanding of the societal trends in Turkmenistan by providing quality research and policy analysis.