Pensions and Benefits Delayed as Cash Shortage Bites in Turkmenistan

There is a lack of cash throughout Turkmenistan. For example, residents of the capital, Ashgabat, may stand for hours in line at the ATMs, but there will not be enough money for everyone. Delays in paying state benefits and pensions are exacerbating the situation. It’s the middle of July, but some city residents, including pensioners, have yet to receive their payments for May and June.

Ashgabat residents wait for ATMs to be refilled

The situation is even worse in the provinces. Residents of rural areas and small towns have to travel to the administrative centers of their districts but without any guarantee that they will access their money. Whoever is unable to travel to the city in the heat of summer — temperatures are constantly above 40 degrees throughout Turkmenistan now — hand their bank cards to taxi drivers of their acquaintance and give them a small payment to withdraw their money.

Residents complain that they cannot use their cards to make purchases in many places. The large supermarkets provide this service, but ordinary people don’t shop there as they are too expensive. Some smaller shops and private kiosks have payment terminals too but they don’t switch them on, claiming there is no internet connection.

“This is partly right — there isn’t always a connection, but in the majority of cases the shopkeepers switch off the terminals on purpose, as it’s not profitable for them to sell goods this way,” a source said in Ashgabat. “They have to get these funds somehow in order to pay for the next consignment of goods; cash is real money which often doesn’t go through the cash register either.”  

The majority of the population shop at the markets where it’s cheaper, but the market traders don’t have bank card payment machines.

Especially long lines form in Ashgabat at the ATMs near Teke Bazaar. It’s convenient for people to withdraw cash here, close to the popular market that sells absolutely everything. But not so convenient any more as many leave empty-handed, even though they’ve got to the front of the line—the cash has finished. People try other places, such as the Turkmenistan Bank, but it’s the same story there too — the money runs out really quickly.   

The west of the country has the same problems. In Balkanabat people get in line at night in order to have a chance of withdrawing the maximum sum when the ATM is filled up with notes. Today the maximum is 800 manats. But many who line up for hours still don’t get any money.

“People are angry and exasperated, as they cannot withdraw their own money,” the source said.

An old but not forgotten business is making a comeback: people sell their places in the ATM lines for money. This way of earning money was widespread not so long ago during the school year, when parents had to urgently transfer money abroad for their child’s education. And when people wanted to top up their Visa card accounts unemployed people would sell them their places in lines. For an additional payment they will stand for hours in the blazing sun and withdraw your cash.

What’s going on? Are there not enough ATMs in the city? Sources say there are plenty of cash machines in Balkanabat, the problem is a shortage of cash. Incidentally, the ATMs in the police and prosecutor’s office have no cash problem.

Turkmenistan’s parliament declared “Turkmenistan—Motherland of Prosperity” in 2019, and the Turkmen propaganda machine has disseminated this as a slogan through the local media. In Turkmen the slogan is “Türkmenistan—rowaçlygyň Watany,” but local wags have removed the first three letters of “rowaçlyk” (prosperity), shortening it to “açlyk” (hunger). So the slogan is now “2019: Turkmenistan—Home of Hunger.”

And no one can persuade the population otherwise.