As Turkmenistan’s People go Hungry, President’s Nephew Profits off Food Imports
New norms for the provision of foodstuffs at state prices have been set in the western city of Turkmenbashi. The size of the ration now depends on the number of people in a family. Every month one person is allocated 250 grams of four foodstuffs – chicken quarters, flour, sugar, and vegetable oil.
Divide 250 grams over 30 days and it means that the average resident of Turkmenbashi should consume slightly over 8 grams of each of the listed products every day, i.e. approximately 33 grams of food a day. But not even these limited quantities are always available. For example, a shop may have chicken and sugar but no vegetable oil.
The new norms are beneficial for some people, though. For example, if a family has 10 members, it can obtain 2.5 kilograms of all four products per month. For comparison, in other towns in Balkan region every family, regardless of the number of people registered in the household, can buy at state prices only one or two chicken quarters, one liter of vegetable oil, and between 250 grams and one kilo of sugar every month.
Officially, this is the Epoch of Might and Happiness in Turkmenistan. But the “mighty, happy” people spare no effort to acquire low-priced groceries with a calorific value scarcely one-tenth of the minimum daily intake. They find out when groceries are delivered to stores, stand in line for hours, and quite often get into scuffles.
Sources in one town in Balkan region say that a few days ago there was a fight in a bread line. Bread isn’t part of the monthly ration but its sale is restricted too. Recently it’s been possible to buy bread in the town only in the mornings.
“A quarrel started in the line and people began fighting – it was unbelievable,” one local resident says. “One woman fell down and fainted. Lots of people were hitting each other.”
While the people of Turkmenistan go hungry, the president’s nephew is making money on food imports.
On May 13, turkmen.news, Gundogar and the OCCRP published an investigation showing that the president’s nephew Hajymyrat Rejepov had imported foodstuffs to Turkmenistan at least once since 2016. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov personally signed the decree on allocating almost 26 million dollars to Rejepov’s British firm. Hajymyrat himself isn’t doing too badly either: three years ago his family moved into a new three-story mansion with luxurious interiors – marble walls, bronze accessories, and expensive Italian furniture.
The authorities do not acknowledge the problem of shortages. At the start of May President Berdimuhamedov once more reported that the market was fully supplied with Turkmen-produced foodstuffs. Private stores really do have everything, but the majority of the people cannot afford those prices. Since the start of 2021 the prices of many foodstuffs, which were already out of reach of most people, have shot up. This is linked to the growth in the black-market dollar rate to 39 manats (the official rate is 3.5 manats). Recently the rate fell to 35 manats, but this did not result in any drop in food prices. Today in Dashoguz a bottle of Russian vegetable oil costs 50 manats, and a kilogram of chicken quarters 45 manats.
The global COVID-19 epidemic has deepened the economic crisis, which has gripped Turkmenistan for longer than a year. Until 2020 foodstuffs were sold at state prices in limited quantities but no one monitored how many groceries a family bought per month. A card distribution system has now been introduced in the country. The new scheme was trialed in spring 2020 in Balkan region, including Turkmenbashi. Then it was gradually introduced in other regions. Deliveries of food rations to the courtyards of elite apartment blocks began in Ashgabat in May, since there are no state shops in the new districts.
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