Turkmenistan: Car Fuel Price Surge Causes Rush to the Pumps
There is now a spreading sense of unease about the anticipated knock-on effect one the price of basic staples.
As of February 1, prices for automobile gas at the pump in Turkmenistan increased by 50 percent, signaling another turn in the country’s ongoing economic crisis.
The price of the higher grade A-95 gas is now $0.42 per liter, while A-92 sells at $0.38.
Rumors about the price rise had been in the air at the end of January, precipitating a rush to gas stations on the last day of the month by motorists eager to fill up at the lower price. Even people with relatively full tanks flocked to gas stations with with jerrycans to stock up.
It was particularly tough luck for people with almost empty tanks, since they had to wait for hours to get a top-up to make sure they did not get stranded on the way home.
Moods had cooled by the following day, but there is a spreading sense of unease about the anticipated knock-on effect. Fuel price rises typically translate in short order into higher prices for basic staples as the cost of transporting groceries rises.
The prices charged for fuel may seem low to Western eyes, but the low price of such commodities is one of the few consolations remaining to a country where unemployment is rife and salaries low, despite the nation’s immense natural gas reserves. Back in the days of the late President Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in 2006, a liter of fuel cost just $0.02.
Sporadic price increases are only the tip of the iceberg as the economy shows no sign of improving. Since January 2016, banks in Turkmenistan have halted the free sale of foreign currencies, a restriction that remains in force to this day. Last year, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov ordered an end to the wide-ranging system of subsidies guaranteeing Turkmen households significant amounts of free gas, water and electricity.
Berdymukhamedov has tried to describe such measures as attempts to embrace a more market-based economic system. But it is clear that the hard choices have been made because the government has failed to diversify its economy away from reliance on the export of natural gas.