By Tavus Rejepova (09/03/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
During the first session of the Commission on Improvement of the Constitution of Turkmenistan on August 6, President Berdimuhamedov stated a need to amend and introduce new articles to the country’s constitution.
Speaking during the session, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan’s chairman Kasymguly Babayev noted that a constitutional reform is a “historical necessity” and assured that the members of his party will run a full scale public awareness campaign on the issue.
The last time Turkmenistan’s constitution was amended under the current administration was in September of 2008, when Turkmenistan’s 2,500 member legislative body, the Khalk Maslahaty (people’s council), was abolished and its powers were transferred to the president and the Mejlis (parliament). In addition, amendments were made to reflect the country’s commitment to market economic principles, various types of property ownership and principles of democratic development.
In May 2014, President Berdimuhamedov signed a decree “On establishment of the Constitutional Commission and its composition for improvement of the Constitution.” The Mejlis Speaker Akja Nurberdiyeva said the creation of this commission on constitutional reform has gained wide support among the population. Nurberdiyeva pledged that the Members of Parliament will hold meetings and seminars to solicit public opinion on the constitutional reform. “With the development of market economic relations and private entrepreneurship, there is a growing necessity to improve issues of ownership and property relations to bring them up to modern methods and standards,” Nurberdiyeva said.
President Berdimuhamedov noted that the Constitution, adopted in 1992, has successfully passed the test of time and that the deep socio-economic transformations or changes the Turkmen nation is undergoing over the course of the latest years need to be written down and regulated by law. “The new articles in the Constitution will not only reflect today’s political, economic and social issues, but also address the directions of the near and distant future,” said the president. He called for a need to bring the Constitution up to contemporary world standards and noted that the upcoming constitutional reforms are aimed at step-by-step development of socio-political relations and drawing clear lines among the legislative, judicial and executive branches of the government.
The Mejlis will be the main state body responsible for organizational issues and necessary documents in connection with the upcoming constitutional reform. The President suggested that the Parliament creates two inter-sector committees. The first committee, to be established by the Mejlis’ decree will receive, study and categorize the public recommendations to the Constitutional Reform Committee on improving the constitution. While the draft reforms are being prepared, the second committee or Mejlis Working Group will consist of scientists, representatives of ministries, public organizations, and experts and will do a political, legal evaluation on the draft project. The president mentioned that the deep meaning and purposes of the constitutional reform should be explained to the public.
Though the government has not released any timeline for the suggested constitutional reform, some sources claim it will be completed sometime close to the session of Yashulylar Maslahaty (Council of Elders) scheduled for October 20, 2014. Once the reforms are prepared, the draft constitution will be published in all state newspapers and internet websites for public discussion and input. Maysa Yazmuhamedova, Deputy Chairwoman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan covering culture, TV, and the press was tasked to raise the public awareness through mass media in ways easily understandable to the public.
President Berdimuhamedov also gave specific directives to various ministries in support of the upcoming constitutional reform. Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its International Relations Institute, and the Turkmen National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights under the President of Turkmenistan, were tasked to study whether the upcoming constitutional amendments meet the UN Human Rights Conventions to which Turkmenistan is a signatory, and also suggested that these agencies raise the public awareness of the constitutional reform abroad.
Deputy Chairmen in the oil and gas sector, trade and economy were told to create special working groups that will study the public input related to their respective portfolios. Deputy Chairman Annamuhammet Gochyev covering economy and finance will provide financial support for conducting the constitutional reform and also prepare a proposal for the President’s consideration on any possible additions to the constitutional amendments deriving from the economy, banking and finance sectors.
The president also recommended seeking the expert views of the local offices of international organizations on the new constitution draft. Satlyk Satlykov, the Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers who covers the transportation and communications sectors in the government, was tasked to make Internet communication widely accessible in receiving public opinion on the draft constitution and Deputy Chairman Sapardurdy Toylyev was tasked with seeking the input of the scholarly community.
By Oleg Salimov (05/21/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov visited Tajikistan on May 5-6 2014. During his visit, Berdimuhammedov met with Tajikistan’s president Emomali Rakhmon and the speaker of the lower chamber of Tajikistan’s parliament Shukurjon Shukurov. The transportation and energy sectors, and cooperation in the socioeconomic sphere dominated the bilateral dialogue.
The visit of Turkmenistan’s president to Tajikistan was preceded by a meeting of the Turkmen-Tajik intergovernmental committee on trade-economic and scientific-technological cooperation in Ashgabat and Tajikistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sirojiddin Aslov’s visit to Turkmenistan’s capital in April 2014. Both events were used to formulate and coordinate the points of interest to be discussed during the upcoming presidential visit.
The visit resulted in nine signed agreements out of a prospective ten, as reported by Tajikistan’s presidential administration. They included intergovernmental acts on cooperation in transportation, economics, tourism, culture, education, legislature, and foreign affairs. In a joint statement, both presidents emphasized the importance of expanding partnership in transportation, energy, industry, trade, and agriculture. As a separate item, the presidents mentioned socioeconomic development in Afghanistan as a prerequisite for mitigating regional threats including terrorism and trafficking in drugs and human beings.
In a separate statement, Rakhmon accentuated the closeness of both countries’ interests in a number of undertakings. At the same time, the evolving collaboration between Tajikistan and Turkmenistan is best described as intermediate cooperation with the final objective of reaching their principal economic partners – Russia for Tajikistan and China for Turkmenistan. Although the countries indicate their regional dependency and increased trade turnover, which reached US$ 119 million in 2013, they present insignificant political and economic value for each other.
The divergence of the countries’ interests can be seen in their distinct interpretations of the visit’s purpose. According to the official press release of Tajikistan’s presidential administration, the central theme and objective of the visit revolved around the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railroad. At the same time, Turkmenistan identified the expansion of its energy export capabilities as a substantial part of the dialogue. For Tajikistan, the railroad through Turkmenistan is a means for reaching Caspian seaways and reduced-tariff Russian oil reserves as a preference in return for stationing a Russian military base in the country. For Turkmenistan, Tajikistan’s territory is a shortcut for delivering its natural gas to China via a fourth pipeline and for diversifying its exports.
In September 2013, Turkmenistan and China reached agreement on a fourth natural gas pipeline which can potentially go through Tajikistan’s territory. According to China Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), Turkmenistan consented in a contract signed in 2007 to a yearly export of 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas to China in the next 30 years. In about 5 years, from 2009 to 2013, Turkmenistan delivered only 69 bcm, and thus lags behind in delivering another 81 bcm to China. The pipeline though Tajikistan can increase the amount of exported natural gas while reducing the price of delivery. Consequently, for Turkmenistan, which has already started the construction of its part of the railroad, questions regarding its energy export prevailed over other subjects in the agenda of the presidential visit.
For Tajikistan, the prospect of finalizing the three-country railroad is still murky. The project, which must be completed in 2015, was the object of a recent diplomatic mishap between Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In a statement on January 2014, Amonullo Khukumatullo, the head of Tajik Railroad, announced that an agreement had been reached between Tajikistan and Afghanistan on the final version of the Tajik part of the railroad. Khukumatullo’s announcement provoked immediate protests from Turkmenistan, and was seen as excluding Turkmenistan from the decision-making process and as damaging to the three-sided project. Besides the absence of a compromise version of the Tajik part of the railroad, the lack of funding further reduces the chances of accomplishing the project as planned.
Regardless of whether the railroad objective is achieved, Tajikistan’s cooperation with Turkmenistan presents viable means for resolving its energy crisis. The transit of Turkmen natural gas to China can result in a bargain or preferences for Tajikistan. The discussion between the two presidents also included the possibility of extending a Turkmen electric energy line from Afghanistan to Tajikistan. In 2013, Turkmenistan produced over 18 billion kilowatts of electric energy, 2.6 billion of which were exported. Currently, Turkmenistan exports around 50 megawatt of electricity to Afghanistan and plans to increase it by up to 250 megawatt by the end of 2014, according to official Turkmen media. However, the possible financial constrains after the U.S. and NATO withdrawal can limit Afghanistan’s purchasing capacity. In such case, Tajikistan’s market will appear highly attractive for Turkmen electric energy export.
By Tavus Rejepova (04/23/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On April 10, Turkmenistan’s President, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, chaired a special meeting with the leaders of the oil and gas sector of Turkmenistan. Following a report by the Chairman of the Supreme Control Chamber, Batyr Atdayev, on the results of his agency’s audit of the Ministry of Oil and Gas Industry & Mineral Resources, the State Concerns Turkmennebitgazgurlushyk (Turkmen oil and gas construction), Turkmengaz, Turkmennebit (Turkmen Oil), the State Corporation Turkmengeologiya (Turkmen Geology) and the Turkmenbashy complex of oil refineries, the president reshuffled high level oil sector officials and set a number of priority tasks before these energy sector agencies.
The audit of these state agencies was conducted on President Berdimuhamedov’s orders. Following the findings, the President severely reprimanded the long-serving Deputy Chairman for Oil and Gas Baymyrad Hojamuhamedov for poor performance of his official duties and warned that if he fails to correct the flaws promptly, he will be relieved of his duties. The president also issued a reprimand to Tachberdi Tagiyev, General Director of the Turkmenbashy complex of oil refineries, for poor performance of his duties and shortcomings in his work. The deputy Chairman of the State Concern TurkmenOil, Hydyrberdi Mammetnazarov was fired for what has been officially reported as serious shortcomings in his work. Berdimuhamedov also demoted the Chairman of the State Concern TurkmenOil, Rejepgeldi Ilamanov, to the position Head of the Oil and Gas Department within the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan. Since the government has not released any information to the public, it is unclear what might have caused such a big reshuffle and reprimands in the energy sector.
Going forward, the president laid out the key priority tasks for each state oil and gas sector agency and also emphasized Turkmenistan’s commitments to completing its international pipeline projects. For instance, the Ministry of Oil and Gas and Mineral Resources of Turkmenistan was given specific instructions to develop strategic plans for the production of petroleum products and other manufactured goods that are in great demand in world markets. The president said that the Ministry should take all necessary measures for the development of the onshore fields and make long-term plans for the development of deposits in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea. Certain foreign analysts claim that negotiations over the Southern Gas Corridor, which includes the Trans-Caspian project and remains a priority for Brussels, might soon be reactivated especially given the renewed Ashgabat-Baku relations and President Berdimuhamedov’s recent invitation to Ilham Aliev to pay an official visit to Turkmenistan.
The State Concern Turkmengas was tasked to fully complete by 2016 the 766 kilometer East-West gas pipeline that will have a capacity to carry 30bcm from the eastern to the western parts of the country. To meet international standards, it is necessary to build gas purification plants on the existing major gas deposits, said the president. Berdimuhamedov also noted that in 2014, Turkmengas needs to fully prepare all the documents associated with the project construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and undertake the necessary work to sign these documents and begin construction of the pipeline in 2015. The President also stressed the importance of continuing work on the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, completing the fourth line from Turkmenistan to China as scheduled until 2018, and moving forward with connections to Russia and Iran, as per earlier intergovernmental agreements.
To implement the framework agreements reached in September 2013 in Japan, the President instructed the Turkmengas chairman to sign the relevant contracts with Japanese companies before July 1, 2014, and begin construction of two plants for the production of gasoline from natural gas, each with a capacity of 600,000 tons per year. The signing of contracts will also include the construction of a plant for the production of diesel and jet fuel from natural gas with a capacity of 2.6 million tons, and a plant for the production of synthetic crude oil from the associated gas. Turkmengaz was also tasked to ensure the timely construction of a major facility to produce 381 tons of polyethylene and 81,000 tons of polypropylene per year. In addition, the president said, it is necessary to develop an integrated project for the development of the Galkynysh gas field and to ensure the timely completion of the second phase jointly with China’s CNPC for producing 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas by 2018.
The head of state also tasked the State Concern Turkmengaz to work effectively with scientists from the Institute of Oil and Gas under Turkmengaz and their colleagues from leading institutions in the region and other countries in the world. He noted that Turkmenistan’s scientists and experts should also participate in the annual Oil and Gas of Turkmenistan (OGT) conference. Speaking to the chairman of the Turkmen oil and gas construction concern, President Berdimuhamedov ordered the development of capacity for producing fiber out of quartz sand and basalt and supplying the manufacturing enterprises with high quality pipes, the arrangement of export to foreign markets, and setting up production of coating materials for ongoing construction facilities from mining solid materials.
By Tavus Rejepova (03/19/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
During a Cabinet meeting on January 17, President Berdimuhamedov tasked the Deputy Chairman for Oil & Gas, Baymurad Hojamuhamedov, and Deputy Chairwoman for Culture, Byagul Nurmyradova, to prepare a series of TV programs and newspaper articles on the efficient use of natural gas, provided free of charge for the population since 1993. In addition, the President signed a decree on January 31 raising the cost of natural gas from 2 (US$ 0.70) to 20 manat (US$ 7), including the VAT, for the thousand cubic meters of gas used over the free allowed limit of 600 cubic meters per person and year.
According to the presidential decree, the new price for gas over the free limit came into effect on February 1, 2014. The government will calculate the consumption of formerly unlimited natural gas through the gas meters currently being installed in households across the country. President Berdimuhamedov said that the installation of gas meters will allow people to economically use natural gas and that the payment for using the gas will not create difficulties for the families. The president further stressed that the government will always continue the current policy of social support to the population of Turkmenistan.
Meanwhile, the State Concern Turkmengas purchased over 124,000 units of gas meters and has so far installed 61,000 in households, and has also announced an international tender for the purchase of more gas meters. The government has not given any timeframe for completing the installation of gas meters and the State Concern Turkmengas is calling on all households and organizations to support this initiative and install gas meters. The households who already purchased these gas meters several months ago from Turkmengas say the meters cost up to 800 manat (US$ 280) a piece.
As per the late president Niyazov’s decrees from September 1992 and August 2003, the consumption of natural gas, electricity, cooking salt, drinking water and a limited amount of gasoline is free for the population of Turkmenistan until 2030. The current administration’s recent measures to introduce new fees for over-the-free-limit gas and install gas meters for efficient and rational use of natural gas are aimed at reducing the possible waste of gas and determine the real amount of gas consumed for domestic purposes. According to the president, “nobody monitors the consumption of natural gas in the country. The amount of free gas consumed domestically is increasing year by year and the government loses its earnings.” According to state newspaper reports, Turkmenistan consumes one and a half times more gas than the free limit of 600 cubic meters per person per year.
In this connection, President Berdimuhamedov also dismissed Kakageldi Abdyllayev, the former chairman of the State Concern Turkmengas who was transferred to another position, and said that the agency failed to take effective measures to boost the export potential to replenish the state earnings in foreign currencies and no measures were taken to improve the status quo. “For example, one can make lots of earnings by increasing the volume of production and sale of liquefied natural gas, which is in high demand in global markets” said the president. He said Turkmenistan’s other state agencies, on the contrary, managed to accumulate earnings in foreign currencies as opposed to Turkmengas.
This series of new measures intend to ensure the efficient use of natural gas by the population and regulate the payments for gas. In August 2013, Turkmen parliament passed the first ever bill “On hydrocarbon gas and gas supply,” which aims to create the conditions for a functioning gas market and regulate the procedure of gas supply systems in the country. In addition, the President asked Akja Nurberdieva, the speaker of Turkmenistan’s Parliament, to look into drafting additional laws or regulations that control the efficient and economical consumption of natural gas.
It is expected that rural areas, where gas is used for heating greenhouses, barns for livestock, cottages and garages, might feel the rise in cost of gas more significantly than the urban residents. This might also have an impact on the cost of products like tomatoes, cucumbers, lemons, potatoes and other food products produced in greenhouses across the country.
The government’s measures to regulate the efficient use of free natural gas for the population also follow the latest increase in the level of gasification of homes, increased use of natural gas for industrial enterprises and electricity generation across the country. In addition, the government made it clear that the domestic subsidies are costly for Turkmenistan’s economy. Turkmenistan currently sells its gas to China, Russia, and Iran, and is in the process of forming a consortium for the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.