Serdar Berdimuhamedov became the president of Turkmenistan in March 2022. A year ago Progres laid out and shared with our readers the short-term priorities for his presidency that are feasible and measurable. Progres looked at his first 100 days of presidency to understand if any reforms to improve the life of citizens had been undertaken in that period. A year later we are taking a look at what has been accomplished under Serdar Berdimuhamedov’s administration so far.
Data for governance
- COVID-19: The government has continued the narrative of zero cases of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Turkmenistan. It has not acknowledged the deaths, or the emotional and physical toll that COVID has inflicted on citizens of Turkmenistan. No epidemiological report has been shared with the public.
- Economic data: The World Bank continues to exclude Turkmenistan from its reports due to the absence of credible economic data. The International Monetary Fund started using its own forecasts for GDP growth in April 2020, which differs from the government data.
- No economic indicator (inflation, unemployment, poverty) has been made public by the government in 2022.
- Census data: 2012 census results have not been made public. The government and the United Nations conducted a new census on December 17-27, 2022. There are no commitments or announced plans to make the results public.
- State budget: The breakdown of government revenue, from different sources including the revenue from the exports of natural resources and taxes, is not available. Information on the government’s off-budget stabilization fund is not publicly available.
- The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The first National Voluntary Review (VNR) came out in 2019. However, limited and outdated information is available on the UN’s SDG Global Database under country profiles. This data is not available publicly on the websites of the ministries and government agencies.
Freedom of movement
- Travel: Although domestic and international travel has been restored since June 2022 to a certain degree, there were and continue to be major gaps and inconsistencies in the government’s public communications. The mismatch between the theory and practice of travel guidelines opens up opportunities for corruption schemes and discrimination that severely restrict and impact citizens’ freedom of movement.
- Visa to Turkiýe: At the request of the government of Turkmenistan, the government of Turkiýe abolished the visa-free regime to Turkiýe in September 2022. Officially, more than 115,143 citizens of Turkmenistan reside in Turkiýe as of February 2023. Now a citizen of Turkmenistan needs to submit 18 documents to qualify for a Turkish travel visa including a consent form that is not publicly available, which asks a relative to vouch for the traveling person’s return. This has made it difficult for Turkmen people to travel to and pursue employment and educational opportunities in Turkiýe.
- Travel to India: Turkmenistan Airlines operated three flights to New Delhi, and six to Amritsar a week, all of which have been suspended since March 2020. Before COVID-19 more than 10,000 patients a year from Turkmenistan went to India for lifesaving operations. Many of them went for cancer treatment. The extent to which these travel restrictions have impacted people’s health and life is unclear.
- Private cars from other welayats are still not allowed to enter Ashgabat.
Competitiveness of Turkmenistan
- The dual exchange rate of the manat continues to negatively impact the population and small businesses. There were no steps taken or plans announced towards unifying the official and black-market exchange rates of manat.
- Authorities do not publicly share the inflation rate in the country. However, based on the calculations of Palaw Index, the food inflation was down by 7.1% on average in 2022. This is a minor change compared to a large increase of 55.6% in food inflation in 2021. According to Progres’s policy brief on inflation, changes in the prices of goods in Turkmenistan are mostly driven by the changes in the value of the black-market exchange rate of manat.
- Havala, an informal system of cash transfers, which due to the closing of services such as Western Union and strict currency conversion limits and guidelines, is the only option for citizens of Turkmenistan to send and receive money from the country. Citizens cannot use their bank cards to make international transactions and financial payments. The government effectively sealed off the citizens from international trade by creating a domestic system to process financial transactions within the country. Cross border banking transactions are not available. Practically speaking, an average person in Turkmenistan cannot hold a bank account in foreign currency.
- The use of Propiska (a residency permit), which hinders the free movement of labor and internal migrants’ access to medical and social services, continues in Turkmenistan.
Although there were some Soviet style purges of mid-level bureaucrats accused of corruption and bribe taking, there are no systemic anti-corruption efforts based on the rule of law and access to justice. Turkmenistan’s public sector remains the most corrupt in the region. According to Transparency International, Turkmenistan ranked 167th out of 180 countries, making it one of the most corrupt countries in the world. There are no mechanisms for citizens to report endemic corruption in government agencies.
Infectious diseases: The government has not released any information or data concerning patients with HIV/AIDS and TB in Turkmenistan. No epidemiological reports have been made public by the Ministry of Health.
Domestic violence: The government acknowledged the endemic domestic violence in Turkmenistan with the support from the United Nations. The first report on the status of women in Turkmenistan was published with no follow up, public education or communication by the government and the UNFPA Turkmenistan. 2022 was also a year when a video with scenes of brutal domestic violence in Turkmenistan was widely shared and discussed by the public on social media. However, neither the government nor the official media has responded to or reported on the video.
Private medical practice: No private medical practice has been registered.
Cancer: The flights to India, where every year about 10,000 Turkmens went for lifesaving operations and treatments, have not been restored. The cancer survival rate in Turkmenistan was 30% in 2018.
Abortion: The government made public the vague guidelines to abortion care in April 2022 where it reduced the gestational age for abortion from 12 weeks to 5 weeks.
Systemic discrimination against women and girls
In April-June 2022 numerous international media and organizations reported on and highlighted the major campaign by the government to control women’s and girls’ choices in both private and public spheres. Unwritten edicts under the pretext “this was sent from above” have been used by the police to harass women and girls at an unprecedented level and restrict their access to beauty services, personal choice of clothing, driving and even sitting in the front seat of the car. The government has not responded to any media reporting. Although there are reports that these restrictions have eased, there are no mechanisms, guidelines and communication from the government showing that it will not be relaunched in the future. The only vague explanation by the government came from a member of the parliament at the UN meeting where he explained the ban on beauty services as a concern for sanitary conditions in beauty salons.
The only way for Turkmen citizens who work, study, and live abroad to renew their passports is by traveling to Turkmenistan and going to the immigration office in person. Turkmen embassies and consulates do not provide passport renewal services. Many citizens of Turkmenistan who have expired passports have an extension stamp in their passports, which is a source of great concern and uncertainty.
For some migrants in Turkiýe extending their passport by traveling to Turkmenistan might not be an option due to high costs associated with travel airfare and their current uncertain legal status in Turkiýe.
- The internet shutdowns and blockade by the government have intensified. There was a near complete Internet shutdown recorded at the start of Serdar Berdimuhammedov’s presidency in April 2022 with the public having access only to slow, expensive and aggressively censored Internet.
- The state-owned Turkmentelekom announced new internet tariffs at somewhat increased speed with 4 Mbps and 6 Mbps starting from 1 March 2023. Nevertheless, the speed is still significantly lower than those offered in the neighboring countries and the price remains unaffordable for average citizens.
- The government has shared plans to develop the National Digital Network (intranet), which might operate outside of the global internet. However, it is not yet clear if the proposed NDN is going to replace the global internet altogether. No details have been made public so far.
- The World Bank’s GovTech Maturity Index, which examines the degree of digitalization in the public sector, puts Turkmenistan behind Afghanistan.
Education, academic censorship, and research
- On average, 1 in 5 Turkmen youth have the chance to enroll at a national university in Turkmenistan. For instance, in 2022 a total of 72,426 students finished general secondary schools while only 15,326 got accepted to higher education institutions for the 2022-2023 academic year.
- Meanwhile, the government continues regulating the list of foreign universities whose diplomas are recognized in Turkmenistan and dictating what professions young people should pursue. It also sets a quota on how many students can be enrolled at different universities and degree programs. This creates scarcity and high competition among young people and promotes corruption.
- No research, scientific discovery or international collaborations between the Academy of Sciences and universities have been announced. It was even highlighted by the former president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov that the Academy of Sciences in Turkmenistan is failing to use the latest advances in science and technology to make scientific discoveries with commercial and economic potential.
Although it looks like some steps have been taken to start addressing the problem of child labor and forced labor practices in the cotton industry through FAO, the plan and negotiations have not been made public.
No reforms have been taken to remove annual state-mandated production quotas on cotton and wheat harvests, which lead to forced labor practices and low pay. The state remains the sole owner of the land.
- No new social service providers or citizen group initiatives that provide educational, social and economic programs and services in the country and especially in rural areas have been registered.
- Although several activists have been released from prisons by the government during the round of prison amnesty on December 22, this neither has been communicated in the state media nor has it been explained why the activists were jailed in the first place, then released. There is no institutional mechanism to prevent the state’s future brutal crackdown on the diversity of opinion in the society.
The national strategy of Turkmenistan on climate change is data-scarce with no targets and measurable commitments. The government updated the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) in 2022 and made them public. No research and data have been published on climate change, access to clean drinking water, soil erosion and desertification in this period.
Problems with water shortages intensified in 2022 and many residents in Turkmenistan were left without running water for weeks in May and June 2022. Reports prepared by Palaw Index argue that rice prices went up due to water shortages, which are necessary for irrigation.
The government admitted that methane emissions in 2021 were “about 5 million metric tons, which could be converted into 77 billion kilowatt hours (TWh) of electricity”.
The government has signed a joint agreement with Masdar to build a 100 MW solar PV plant in Turkmenistan. No further details have been shared besides the initial press release: no location, no cost estimates, no forecasts on possible start of commercial operations.
Progres.online is an online analytical journal that promotes nuanced understanding of the societal trends in Turkmenistan by providing quality research and policy analysis.