It is something of a myth that state media in closed countries with ever-active domestic propaganda machines, such as Turkmenistan, project only optimism and radiance.
The president of Turkmenistan is rarely even remotely happy with his government’s work, and it is the state of agriculture that has raised his hackles this time around.
Speaking at his weekly Monday videoconference with regional leaders, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on October 12 tore strips off various provincial chiefs.
First up with a report on winter wheat sowing and cotton harvesting was Akhal provincial governor Annageldi Yazmyradov, who was one of the puppet presidential candidates in the 2012 election. The Akhal province is where the bulk of the current elite are drawn from and the region inside which the capital, Ashgabat, is located.
Berdymukhamedov complained that Yazmyradov, who has a background in agriculture and served as water resources minister between 2008 and 2012, is not doing enough. Wheat-sowing is behind schedule in several districts and cotton harvesting going slowly in others, the president said, demanding answers for why this might be happening.
The situation appears similarly unsatisfactory in the western Balkan province, but the message was a little mixed there.
While exhorting Balkan governor Durdy Durdyev to make better use of resources at his disposal to ensure wheat-sowing goes according to plan, Berdymukhamedov also demanded no expense be spared in preparing for the opening of a museum and monument to national poet Magtymguly, who is revered as the founder of the modern Turkmen language.
Dashoguz provincial governor Orazmyrat Gurbannazarov wasn’t spared criticism either. He was ordered to “mobilize all available reserves” to hit cotton and wheat output targets.
All five provinces get bad scorecards, in fact.
The president’s remarks on Lebap, an arid province on Afghanistan’s border that is 90 percent desert, betray disappointment at the lack of return on investment.
“Despite the fact that the government is always concerned about the development of agriculture, the pace of seasonal field work indicates the omissions in the management of resources,” Berdymukhamedov is paraphrased as having stated by the state news agency.
Worries about wheat, and bread by extension, are commonplace in Turkmenistan. Reports of bread shortages were an annual occurrence during the rule of former President Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in late 2006, and in the early years of the Berdymukhamedov era.
But where complaints about the lack of bread may have lessened, worries about its cost are mounting instead, and the slightest indication of wheat sowing woes augurs poor prospects ahead.
The basic cost of bread spiked sharply in 2012, for the first time since 1997.
And there are ever-growing clues that the government intends to proceed further in weaning the population off the generous state subsidies that have made the stagnant state of average salaries bearable. That will only make matters worse for the poorest.
The Council of Elders – which is ostensibly an advisory body, but takes all its cues from the authorities – in September heard proposals to abolish the free supply of electricity, cooking gas and water to the country’s households.