An exiled opposition leader says cuts to basic utilities signal that Turkmenistan's economy needs drastic reforms.
In a letter to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Vyacheslav Mamedov, chairman of the Netherlands-based Democratic Civic Union of Turkmenistan, says that water shortages in the Caspian port town of Turkmenbashi and other areas of western Turkmenistan have become "critical."
"The situation is worsening," Mamedov wrote in the message, which was published by the Vienna-based Chronicles of Turkmenistan website on October 9.
"No less acute is the situation with heating in towns and settlements in western Turkmenistan. In Turkmenbashi, 14 of 15 schools have no heating at all," Mamedov wrote. "Not only private houses but also 15 nurseries and hospitals have been cut off from centralized heating."
Mamedov blamed Berdymukhamedov and his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, for the problems, noting that the first president's draconian control over political and economic life had led many professionals to flee. Niyazov compounded the problem when he closed vocational colleges, creating a pressing shortage of qualified specialists.
Though Berdymukhamedov has expanded education, the quality still leaves much to be desired. And the dictator has continued Niyazov's policy of relying on foreign laborers.
"The widespread use of foreign, particularly Turkish, companies � has destroyed the national construction industry and service sector," Mamedov said. "Colossal spending on prestige projects like hotels, palaces, the Avaza tourist resort, and expensive government buildings has led to the chronic, years-long and acute underfunding of entire industries and utilities on whose work our citizens' wellbeing depends."
Berdymukhamedov doesn't appear entirely unaware of the shortages.
At a government meeting on October 5, he ordered Batyr Atdayev, chairman of the Supreme Audit Chamber, to devise an "efficient system of control over the use of electricity, gas and water in the country," the opposition Gundogar website reported on October 6, citing the state-run TDH news agency.
"Throughout the country, especially in rural areas, there are cases when the consumption of electricity is not tracked and gas and water meters are not installed," Gundogar declared. In theory, Turkmen households receive unlimited gas and water for free. A limited supply of free electricity is also distributed to each household.
"Our natural resources should be used more rationally and economically so that they are left for future generations," Gundogar quoted Berdymukhamedov as saying.