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Turkmenistan - Corruption

The non-government organization, Transparency International, ranked Turkmenistan 170 among 174 countries in the world in its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2012. Although Turkmenistan has legislation to combat corruption, laws are not generally enforced, and corruption remains a problem. Formally, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of National Security, and the General Prosecutorís Office are responsible for combating corruption. President Berdimuhamedov has publicly stated that corruption will not be tolerated. Turkmenistan joined the UN Convention against Corruption in March 2005. Still, the non-transparency of Turkmenistanís economic, financial, and banking systems provides fertile soil for corruption. U.S. firms have identified widespread government corruption, usually in the form of bribe requests, as an obstacle to investment and business throughout all economic sectors and regions. It is most pervasive in the areas of government procurement and performance requirements.

The government does not use transparent policies to foster competition and foreign investment. Laws have frequent references to by-laws that are often not publicly available. Most by-laws are passed in the form of presidential decrees. Such decrees are not categorized by subject, which makes it difficult to find relevant cross references. Personal relations with government officials can play a decisive role in determining how and when government regulations are applied. Bureaucratic procedures are confusing and cumbersome.

Despite local media coverage of Berdimuhamedov's "reforms" to the local healthcare system, the situation on the ground shows that very little has changed since former President Niyazov's rule. Corruption is system-wide, and persists, in part, because healthcare officials are required by law to fulfill tasks, but are not given the means to do so. Despite the Turkmen healthcare system's glamorous fagade of gleaming white marble medical facilities, family doctors and nurses struggle to provide services to the local population. In the early 1990s, the Ministry of Healthcare introduced a system in which each family doctor was made responsible for a district with 1,000 people. Initially, this practice was introduced with the purpose of forcing doctors and nurses to visit people's homes and encourage those with serious health conditions, as well as pregnant women, to undergo regular medical check-ups.

A system of bribery has developed at the district health care level. Family doctors and nurses have to pay a 50-manat ($18) penalty to the deputy head of their polyclinic for every incident of an undocumented health problem that surfaces among the population of the district that they are responsible for. The penalty fees collected from the doctors and nurses are used by the administration of the polyclinic to bribe health inspectors from the city health department to make sure that the inspection report looks good and does not reflect any failures in their work. Laboratory workers of district polyclinics and hospitals also pay bribes to inspectors from the city Sanitary and Epidemiological Department to ensure positive reports about their work.

Owning and driving a car necessarily involves citizen contact with government officials, often tainted by corruption. In 2009, traffic police, who administer the driving tests, introduced a computerized testing system intended to prevent fraud in the testing process. The new system was meant to address the worsening congestion and increased number of accidents by insuring more qualified drivers. Rather than eliminating corruption, the new system increased the cost of bribes to between $500-1500, thereby reducing the number of unqualified drivers who could afford to buy a license.

Traffic stops are also bribery-ridden. Drivers themselves are often complicit, paying bribes in order to avoid official fines and possible legal consequences. Running a red light can lead to a fine of $100, or even to a loss of one's license. Many drivers pay up to $50 on the spot to avoid the hassle of court proceedings. To avoid a charge of drunk driving, drivers pay a bribe of $150-200. To avoid a speeding ticket, drivers pay from $5-30. The installation of traffic cameras that detect speeding and process fines automatically have decreased people's interactions with traffic police, reducing the number of opportunities for bribery. However, traffic police still set up traps for drivers, frequently at confusing intersections, where they can cite them for not yielding to another car or other hard to refute alleged violations.

Even though Turkmen citizens are supposed to receive free education, many believe they will only get a good education if they pay bribes. Turkmen parents usually pay the $500-1,000 bribes that public school principals demand for admission. The prestigious schools, such as the Pushkin Russian-Turkmen School and Ashgabat's School Number 7, which specializes in English language, demand $6,000-15,000 for admission.

Private companies also pay bribes to various government agencies for a range of services from registration to obtaining certificates for import. For instance, it takes $6,000-10,000 to register a business. An import certificate may cost $100-150 per truckload of goods. Entrepreneurs often pay $1,000-5,000 in bribes to obtain the certificate need to operate industrial equipment.

The leaders of law enforcement and other government agencies do little to combat corruption. President Berdimuhamedov has never publicly talked about anti-corruption measures. Addressing rampant corruption would require political will, independent inspectors, and accountability for violators, as well as an end to the public's complicity in the problem. At present, however, the Turkmen government does not appear to recognize the burden that corruption places upon its population, instead being satisfied with maintaining the status quo.

Corruption appears to be almost impossible to root out of this system, and that individuals can always find a way to make illicit profits. Turkmenistan's tendency is to maintain the status quo and resist change, stemming from isolation, lack of knowledge, and lack of will to allow massive technical assistance that would bring the kind of information to Turkmenistan that donors have offered to the government for years. As long as the country holds onto outdated and inefficient habits, substantial reform will come very slowly.

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Page last modified: 10-03-2013 19:18:10 ZULU