Turkmenistan places public sector workers on unpaid leave amid economic crisis

Turkmenistan places public sector workers on unpaid leave amid economic crisis
Turkmenistan has seen happier days. Pictured is an independence day parade. / Kerri-Jo Stewart.
By bne IntelliNews April 6, 2018

Stretched government finances have prompted Turkmen public sector agencies and organisations to cut their workforces and send remaining employees on unpaid leave, the Chronicles of Turkmenistan has reported.

Those lucky enough to hold on to their jobs are being forced to sign applications for unpaid leave to run for as long as several months. Forcing employees to take leave without pay has become so rampant in the crisis-ridden Turkmen capital Ashgabat that some observers note that it amounts to unemployment. Many Turkmen budgetary issues have emerged from the country’s economic crisis stemming from low oil prices and partly also from a failure to develop gas export routes anything like fast enough. The budget revenues of the hydrocarbon-dependent country are being consumed at an unrealistic rate, it appears.

There have been reports of flour shortages in the Central Asian country in recent months. People have been queuing up hours before stores open in order to buy up enough flour before the stores run out of the vital foodstuff again. In a Mary Province location, it was recently reported that a group of women blocked a road, demanding flour. Dashoguz Province saw people protesting in front of administrative buildings.

The Chronicles of Turkmenistan opposition-run news website  claimed that the shortages in the remote, tightly controlled country are not limited to just flour, but apply to many other basic goods as well.

Turkmenistan’s budget woes lately led to Turkish construction company Polimeks deciding to halt the construction of a toll road from the Turkmen capital Ashgabat to the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi. Polimex and other subcontractors have reportedly not received payments for construction works already commissioned, including on a new $2.3bn international airport in Ashgabat.

On a more positive note, a recent visit of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) team to Turkmenistan concluded that its economy is “continuing to adjust” to “a challenging—although improving—external environment”. Officially reported 6.5% growth in 2017 was “supported by rising natural gas exports, import substitution, and expansionary credit policies”, according to the IMF.

The Turkmen government has adopted multiple desperate measures to rescue the country’s budget including completely suspending Visa cards; ending the era of discounted gas, water and electricity prices for citizens; making contributions to Turkmenistan’s Pension Fund by business owners mandatory from 1 January; and even imposing more fines on car owners and Turkmen fortune tellers, whose occult services are popular in the country.

The dubious spending habits of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov do not help address the economic difficulties. The Turkmen leader cleared the launch of the first golf course in Turkmenistan, which opened last October as a designer 18-hole attraction in a country where golf is virtually unheard of.

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