Turkmenistan: Ashgabat Closing Door on Foreign Donors?
Turkmenistan has long sought to limit outside cultural influences, going so far as to ban opera and ballet for a few years. Now, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov wants to choke off the influx of foreign money into the Central Asian state.
Under a presidential decree issued in January, the text of which was recently obtained by EurasiaNet.org, Berdymukhamedov ordered the creation of a state commission to supervise all foreign-funded “projects and programs,” as well as place strict controls on outside money granted to “legal and physical entities” in Turkmenistan. The decree covers all forms of non-governmental organizations, including religious groups.
If implemented in its entirety, the decree would enable the government effectively to take financial control of all forms of non-profit activities in the Central Asian state. It also provides the state with a legal instrument that it could use to starve non-governmental organizations of funding.
Berdymukhamedov’s decree -- awkwardly titled “On State Registration of Foreign Projects and Programs of Gratuitous Technical, Financial and Humanitarian Assistance and Grants” -- promises to create a nightmarish experience for “foreign states, international organizations, financial institutions, foreign companies and foundations, public associations … religious groups and religious organizations” that seek to fund projects in Turkmenistan, or give grants to local individuals or entities.
In addition to the creation of a state commission for the “coordination and control of activities for state registration of projects and programs,” Berdymukhamedov ordered the creation of a state registry of all types of foreign donors. Those foreign entities wishing to be officially listed in the registry will have to go through a confusing process involving the ministries of foreign affairs, justice, finance and economy and development. A plethora of state agencies, including the Central Bank and State Customs Service, will also have roles in supervising bank accounts and wire transfers.
The decree does not specify a date for full implementation of the measures specified in it. Nor is there publicly available information about whether the state commission, as well as procedures outlined in the decree, is already operational. Those charged with implementing the decree included Deputy Prime Minister Annamukhammet Gochyev, Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov and State Security Minister Yaylym Berdiyev.
An addendum to the presidential decree makes it clear that Berdymukhamedov worries that foreign money could be used to weaken his authoritarian grip on Turkmenistan. A provision in the addendum effectively prohibits outside funding for any type of activity deemed political.
“All types of foreign assistance, as well as goods, property, cash and other funds received for its implementation, cannot be used to prepare and conduct elections, referenda, recall of a deputy, organizing and conducting assemblies, street marches, demonstrations, protests, sabotage (the cessation of work), training, dissemination of propaganda, for the purpose of political parties, as well as for conducting training sessions for the public and other types of political and advocacy activities,” an English translation of the Turkmen text states.