Billions Splashed on Grandiose Building Projects in Turkmenistan Despite President’s Call to Scale Back
While Turkmen officials travel the world in search of investments, six weeks before he left office President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov allocated 214.7 million dollars from the state budget to erect a new building in place of the government tribune near the presidential palace in Ashgabat.
Turkmen.news has obtained a copy of a decree by then President Berdimuhamedov, dated February 2, 2022. According to the document, the Department for Presidential Affairs was to conclude a contract worth $214.7 million with the French company Bouygues Bâtiment International. The company would fully demolish the government tribune, and design, build, and equip a new building in its place. The work was to start in May 2022 and finish two years later, in May 2024.
The construction site is now surrounded by a fence and banners, according to turkmen.news sources.
State news agency TDH reported the government’s plans in February, but without giving the cost of the project. “The general director of Bouygues Turkmenistan, Alexis Rechov, reported to the head of state on projects and scheduled work to modernize buildings in the center of Ashgabat, in particular the former Government Tribune,” the agency said.
The report continued: “As for the old Government Tribune, the leader of the nation gave instructions for its reconstruction as a center for business meetings, equipped with all the facilities for business negotiations and a hall for the presentation of projects.”
Berdimuhamedov had around one month left as president when he signed the decree. In March, his son Serdar was declared the winner of the presidential elections. The head of state had, therefore, begun a costly project that would be completed when someone else would formally be running the country.
It is worth noting that recently, at the end of June 2022, a Turkmen government delegation led by the deputy foreign minister, Berdiniyaz Myatiev, visited Bahrain in order to attract foreign investment in Turkmenistan’s industry. The diplomats were hoping that foreign businesses would invest in plans for two plants to produce nitrogen and methanol. The outcome of the negotiations is not known. In June 2021, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development allocated a loan of $75 million towards construction of an airport in Jebel, Balkan region.
“They take loans for an airport and ask for money for factories,” an observer in Turkmenistan commented. “Then they easily find a quarter of a billion dollars in the budget for some nonsense in the center of the capital that no one will ever need. Business meetings can be held equally well in the palace or the coffee shop round the corner. It’s more or less blatant theft from the budget.”
Spending state funds on numerous ambitious construction projects is the norm in Turkmenistan. In 2020, according to turkmen.news sources, Bouygues acquired more than $1.3 billion from the state budget, and this is the unofficial, probably not full, sum. The company’s projects included the new government tribune (with the largest LED screen in Central Asia!) on Kopetdag Avenue. This cost the state almost $110 million. Once there was a new tribune, the decision was taken to modernize the old one (and to spend twice as much money on it).
Meanwhile, Turkmenistan is experiencing its worst food crisis since independence. A ration system for foodstuffs at subsidized prices has been introduced throughout the country. Five kilograms of flour are now issued to one family per month! Some of this flour is of lower grade and impossible to use.
In early 2021, President Berdimuhamedov himself acknowledged that against the backdrop of the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic state budget expenditure on construction would have to be reduced. However, a year later this clearly does not prevent the replacement of the government tribune with a building designed for business meetings.
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