The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 06

--Tuesday 29 September 98--

Security Revisited
On my comment that I thought the door was made of steel, Ed said it probably was steel but that a steel door was no substitute for caution. He casually remarked that the last expat to be robbed had opened his door for a little beggar girl and two thieves rushed in with a gun. The expat lost his money, his computer and everything of value.

This evening when I got to my building, a small group of men and some children were lolling on a set of furniture placed under the walkway to my entrance. They were either taking up residence there or waiting for a vehicle to move the furniture, I wasn't sure which. They stared at me as I walked by, nearly bug-eyed, but that was not surprising as I draw stares most everywhere and even more so when out of the downtown area.

On the way out of my apartment for the first time, a young man that was part of the group asked me, "You English?" "American," I said. "Good. You live here?" "Apt 1." "If you need help I will assist." "Thank you." But I didn't have the presence of mind to introduce myself and he didn't give me his name although I assume he lives in the same block that I do.

As I walked to a nearby store, I was frequently stared at. Older people just stare, the young gawk, call out and wave (I wave back) and sometimes they say, "Hello" and I respond, "Hi." There is more grasp of English here than I would have expected until I found out that English is a required subject in all levels of school here -- since independence -- so the young know at least a few words.

There is a street night life here though there are no street lights and very few lights on buildings. People come and go and talk and walk in the dark. Given the extreme irregularity of the sidewalks, this is interesting.

My Work Here
I came here to work with the Government of Turkmenistan to help rationalize management decisions. Up to now, the limited resources available for capital spending has gone primarily to showcase projects that yield little benefit to the economy. I hope to be able to help officials locate the most beneficial projects and prioritize them. But beyond pure technique, this requires a will on the part of the government and it is not clear that the requisite will is present.

The government has withdrawn its application to the World Trade Organization (market reforms would be required), the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have backed out of involvement here because of lack of progress on privatization and other reforms. Some think that the government will be in serious trouble before long. It is all part of the guessing game that goes on constantly.

--Wednesday, 30 September 98--
Reports on government tax collections are exceedingly grim and further complicated by "product exchanges." Since 80 percent of economic activity is by the government and government-owned corporations (there is almost no private sector as we know it), a government-owned electric company might barter part of its appropriation to the government-owned gas company which might then barter it to pay for water to cool energy plants and that company might use it to pay government taxes. There is a financial problem in valuing these transactions. This deeply affects the meaning of financial reports, such as they are anyway.

The government official stopped in the office to ask to get together with Ed. He happened to remark that the minister had had a meeting on Monday and cancelled all capital spending plans. Only projects that are underway can continue. Reductions in the operating budget are also underway although the form they will take is not decided.

The Problem of Getting Data, Especially Accurate Data
One of the Western financial organization representatives came over to report a discussion he had had about a projection he had made. The figure for cotton sales was 80 billion manats but he had been given a figure by the a government official of 200 billion manats. The government official called someone and it appears that the real figure is more like 30 billion manats. This suggest that the government as a whole is not aware of what is going on financial. Kind of scary.

Turkmenistan is a country in a world of change but trying to avoid it: Whether this is possible remains to be seen.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley