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Heads Roll but Agricultural Crisis Just Gets Worse.

Heads Roll but Agricultural Crisis Just Gets Worse.

Every time Turkmenistan’s agricultural sector suffers some upset, officials get sacked. As NBCentralAsia commentators point out, these purges may serve the purpose of retribution, but they do little to improve matters on the ground.

The country’s official news agency reports that a special cabinet meeting chaired by President Saparmurat Niazov on November 24 is expected to discuss serious failings that were revealed when checks were carried out on the progress of the grain harvest.

This kind of event is traditionally the precursor to a round of dismissals of top officials responsible for the agrarian sector. For instance, Niazov recently sacked several heads of grain collection centres and jailed the governors of Balkan and Ahal regions for failing to organise the harvest properly, for inventing exaggerated figures, and for illegally raising funds to make it look as though the harvest was bringing in money.

Analysts interviewed by NBCentralAsia say the authorities are right to be concerned about the disastrous planting and harvesting seasons, and that this is an indication of major problems in the agricultural sector.

For example, faking agricultural production reports has become a universal practice. With no clear economicy strategy in place, the authorities continue to set farmers impossible tasks by raising production plans by a factor of several dozen. With no chance of these targets being met, people simply fabricate the harvest figures.

“Niazov is using the old method employed by the Soviet authorities, where they would demand that the harvest be produced at any cost,” said NBCentralAsia economist Annadurdy Hajaev. “He himself has taught agricultural officials and farmers alike to come up with invented figures. They’re scared to object, since they must hold firm to his ideology that there can be no poor harvests.”

NBCentralAsia analysts say one of the main causes of the crisis in agriculture if poor management, the result of excessive changes of personnel. Continual purges of officials who fail to “fulfil the plan” has led to a situation where farmers have not met their cotton production targets for the last five years. Each time, the blame falls on whichever officials happen to be in charge - they tend to last between three and six months in their jobs.

“No manager is going to be able to get to grips with the details of the agricultural cycle in such a short space of time,” an agriculture ministry source told NBCentralAsia. “Plus there’s the fact that the manager knows he’ll be put in jail in six months’ time, so he can hardly operate in a normal way.”

In such an environment, the police-state tactic of meting out harsh punishment to officials for the slightest misdemeanour leaves people reluctant to accept senior positions. As a result, the agricultural sector faces a shortage of skilled professionals.

As one commentator in Ashgabat put it, “It used to be that people would pay a big bribe to get a senior post. Now they’ll pay money not to be appointed.”

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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