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Turkmenistan to restrict free power, gas and water
Overly generous social benefits have bred a wasteful attitude, according to economists.
By Dzhumaguly Annayev
ASHGABAT – Turkmenistan has long offered an array of state-subsidised benefits to its citizens.
"We have extremely low housing costs, utility and telephone rates, transit fares and free power, gas, water, salt and gasoline," Ashgabat resident Amanmyrat Sopyyev told Central Asia Online.
But such a system can have drawbacks, Sopyyev, a financial professional who works at the Ministry of Economic Development, said.
"When everything is free, … [it] deals a severe blow to the economy," he said. Since becoming independent 20 years ago, the government has supported such subsidies, Sopyyev said, noting that the state pours billions of manats into supporting social benefits.
But all of this is about to change as the government is introducing restrictions to the subsidy programme.
The subsidies started in 1993, when Turkmenistan's first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, introduced free quotas of electricity, gas, water and salt for households.
It was supposed to be a temporary plan to help the country get on its feet, and the subsidies were due to expire in 2015. But in 2004, the government extended them until 2030.
Mandates to monitor consumption of resources
At an October 4 cabinet meeting highlighting the need to conserve natural resources, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov instructed Supreme Oversight Chamber Chairman Batyr Atdayev to develop a system for monitoring resource consumption.
As one conservation measure, for example, the government will install devices that will track how much gas/water/electricity Turkmens are using on average.
Sopyyev said that besides the residents wasting extra resources, there were also problems and leaks because of the old gas/water pipes and electricity systems.
Until December the government is going to install all these devices in Turkmens' houses and monitor the pipes for possible leaks. Based on these results there will be a final meeting with the president in the end of December, Sopyyevsaid. After that each family will be assigned a free limit (based on an average how much a family can spend, calculated by specialists).
Anybody who exceeds that limit will have to pay. Prices will be calculated in December.
This is not the first time the government had tried to rein in usage of subsidised resources. In 2007, Berdymukhamedov established a monthly limit of 120 free litres of gasoline per passenger car.
The president's latest move has created some anxiety, but consumers understand the need for reform.
"It makes sense restricting the use of resources, because this 'life for free' has hopelessly spoiled some of us already," Byashim Khankishiyev, a pensioner from Garadamak village near Ashgabat, told Central Asia Online.
Khankishiyev cited his own observations of resource squandering.
"A loaf of bread in a state-owned shop costs 0.3 TMT (US 11 cents), cheaper than a kilogramme of wheat bran," he said. "Some people ... have started feeding bread to sheep and cows."
Some farmers squander electricity by lighting cowsheds and chicken coops at night, he added. Kerven S., a village chief in Mary Oblast, agreed there is wastefulness that the government must address.
"In some homes, gas burns day and night: some see this as a way to economise on matches, and others – just think of it – say they 'can't be bothered' to ... turn the gas dial on and off," he said.
The government in September reduced monthly quotas of free power per family member by 10kW to 25kW, but power consumption nationwide did not budge, Sopyyev said as he explained the reason for metering how much people use.
Meters will also cut into waste and abuses that the inspection cited by Khankishiyev revealed, he said.