Turkmenistan Cracks Down on Free Fuel Abuse

Turkmenistan is introducing increased checks to ensure motorists do not abuse of a state program that gives them free gasoline, government media reported Tuesday.

The economy of this isolated former Soviet Central Asian nation is heavily subsidized and many basic household requirements are provided free of charge by the government.

The authorities have in recent years been looking at making more cautious use of subsidies, however, and have explored ways of scaling back the state's overwhelming involvement in the economy.

Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper, which acts as a mouthpiece for the government, reported Tuesday that the Interior Ministry is investigating misuse of the monthly gas allocations.

Every motorist in the former Soviet state receives 120 liters of free gasoline monthly. Car-owners are only eligible to claim the gas for one vehicle.

"Unfortunately, despite this, there are cases of people trying to take advantage of benefits granted by the government," the Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper report said. "Some people register several dozen members of their families as car-owners and then use them to make selfish use of the fuel given by the state."

The newspaper cited an example of alleged subsidy abuse that saw one motorist securing almost 9,000 liters of free fuel this year.

A free-fuel allowance for tractors, buses and trucks was withdrawn in 2012 in response to rising fraud.

Under the country's first post-independence leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, the government provided free electricity, water and salt.

Gas during Niyazov's rule cost around $0.02 per liter.

Prices for fuel have since gone up, but current President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has introduced monthly rations of free gasoline since coming to power in late 2006. Turkmenistan is a deeply authoritarian nation and criticism of the authorities is not tolerated. Unemployment is reportedly rife and salaries are typically low, but subsidies have gone a long way to mitigating public discontent.