Ashgabat, 16 January 2013 (nCa) — When taken together, the speech of President Berdymuhamedov at the expanded cabinet meeting on 11 January and his address to the joint session of the parliament on 14 January give a fairly clear picture of where Turkmenistan plans to go in 2013.
What is somewhat fuzzy is the path that must be followed to go there.
The speech of the president at the cabinet meeting summed up the goals achieved in 2012 and carried specific instructions to the deputy prime ministers and other top officials for the work that is expected of them in 2013.
The parliament speech drew the attention of the MPs to the areas where legislative work needs to be done quickly and meticulously.
Before looking at some of the main points in these speeches, it should be registered that some slowdown is inevitable in the national economy this year.
Russia has indicated that it will buy nearly the same volumes of gas from Turkmenistan as it did in 2010 i.e. around 11 bcm. Gas supplies to Iran may or may not increase depending on several factors that are not in control of either Iran or Turkmenistan. Exports to China will increase but it is not clear how much of revenues will reach the exchequer after the settlements.
Projects worth about US $ 17 billion would be nearing completion this year and payments would be due to the contractors.
Some essential food items for which Turkmenistan is net importer, such as cooking oil, meat, rice and pulses are likely to face some pockets of supply constraints because of the global uncertainty. The country may need to spend more on import of these items.
About 200 new automobiles are being registered in the capital alone. With each new car there is the monthly quota of 120 liters of free petrol. It adds up.
The results of the national census are some months away but it is likely that the total population of Turkmenistan is in the vicinity of 10 million. Free supply of natural gas and nearly free supply of electricity for the entire population is a burden that insists to be felt.
Oil swaps with Iran are going sour.
The revenues from NDN and the sale of fuel to US-NATO forces will decrease this year in proportion to drawdown of occupying forces there.
The major foreign currencies, especially the Euro, are in line for some jolts. This may impact the national economy of Turkmenistan.
With these impediments in mind, let’s look briefly at the speeches of Berdymuhamedov at the cabinet session and the parliament.
The first point in Berdymuhamedov’s speech before the parliament was the need to fill the gaps in laws related to education. He underlined that the current laws on education were ‘behind the times.’
His assertion is right on dot. The entire education sector is in urgent of overhaul, not just the laws related to education.
Assuming that some private educational establishments materialize this year, what would be the mechanism to ensure that they deliver quality education? Would the ability to pay fees be the only criteria to enter such establishments? If rich people’s kids with questionable talent and attitude dominate the classrooms, can they be expected to do justice to the degree they acquire at the end of their education?
These are just some of the questions facing the legislators and the educators.
The president mentioned TAPI in both of his speeches. It is a great project, with high potential to hold down peace in the region and promote prosperity and stability.
However there is the need for caution. The next Road Show would be held in February 2013 in the UAE. The previous three Road Shows failed to assemble the participants to build and run the pipeline. The main reason was that the IOCs resorted to open blackmail. They demand a stake in the Galkynysh field.
Two IOCs, both American – Chevron and ExxonMobil – are leading the charge. They have presumably lobbied others for keeping mum unless Turkmenistan yields to their coercion for opening up its mainland fields for their exploitation.
These two, Chevron and ExxonMobil, are the prime example of revolving door arrangement between the American government and the big oil. Someone if chief executive of one of these corporations one day and the next day the same person is the secretary of state. Someone is the vice president of the USA and the next day the same person is sitting atop one of these corporations.
Consequently, they have the ability to bring the pressure of the American government on any government including Turkmenistan. In turn, they are known to run errands for the American government. You scratch my back, I scratch yours.
While pushing for implementation of TAPI, Turkmenistan needs to be wary. What if TAPI ends up being the lever for American manipulation in the region rather than the harbinger of stability and peace?
The new media law has come into force and Turkmenistan expects to launch several new print and electronic publications this year. The law guarantees freedom to journalists in their work. This is very well but there is the need to define not only the extent but also the size of freedom. Freedom, understandably, cannot be structure-less but in the absence of any clear cut boundaries, the journalists may not ventures into even those areas where they could be free to venture. If this is a boat with an outboard engine, someone needs to snap-start it. —– The media law describes the outer edges of freedom but it is vague on the distance between the starting point and the edge.
The president stressed the need to encourage non-hydrocarbon exports, particularly textiles and carpets.
Export of textiles is a big challenge. Suppliers of cheap and good textiles such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and others are deeply entrenched in all the major markets. In order to find a breakthrough, Turkmenistan will be well advised to invite some major buying houses to open their offices here. High end garments and apparel cannot be marketed without firm backing of big-name fashion houses. No matter how crowded the market, there is always room at the top.
Also, there is the need to fill the gaps.
Sarja (Sarjenski) sheep is a great source of fine filament wool. It is ideally suited for making the finest of woolen fabric. Woolen suiting is a niche that Turkmenistan can capture with some planning and investment.
The skin of the Turkmen goat is best for quality, expensive shoes. The Bali Shoes of London uses some of this type of goatskin for its top of the line shoes. Instead of making shoes, Turkmenistan would benefit more by exporting readymade shoe upper for use by top label manufacturers.
The most populous sheep in Turkmenistan – Karakul – has the kind of skin from which one can make leather garments, purses and gloves of superior quality. Here, as in the case of goatskin, the initial steps can be taken by exporting finished leather instead of readymade items. One can always go into stitching if ready buyers are available.
The deputy prime minister for transport and communications, a railway engineer by profession, was fired from his job during the cabinet meeting on 11 January 2013. The president expressed regret that despite vast experience in the field, he failed to deliver on the state targets.
His downfall was caused by the failure to complete the north-south railway line in time. There were many reasons for this failure and he could probably have done better. Nevertheless, there is a related issue.
Turkmenistan ordered last year several thousand railway wagons and carriages from the UK. It was apparently in the hope that the north-south railway line will come into service by the start 2013 and with it there would be tremendous demand for freight cars. Now that the new deadline for north-south line is December 2014, someone needs to look at the fate of this order, which totals to a few billion dollars.
If the delivery is taken this year, the wagons may start gathering rust before they can be used. If the order is delayed, the prices may go up in two years. Meanwhile, if some advance payment has been made, it will remain tied down.