Interview with the President of Turkmenistan for "Turkmenistan" international magazine, 26 September 2008
Question: Let me welcome you, Mr. President, and congratulate on the important event in life of the country - adoption of the new Constitution of Turkmenistan.
Answer: It is indeed a remarkable date in the life of the state. Just a few hours ago the draft of the new version of the Constitution was unanimously passed as the Main Law at the extraordinary session of the Khalk Maslakhaty (People's Council).
Q: Why was it necessary to amend the Main Law at this moment? Was the previous Constitution bad? Many international experts recognized its conformity to the standards of legal democratic documents...
A: Who says the previous Main Law was useless? The previous Constitution served the country faithfully for 16 years and gave no ground to doubt its main provisions. However, our current society, figuratively speaking, can be compared to rapidly growing young organism, which doesn't fit anymore in old clothes and shoes. The paragraphs and rules of the former political structure didn't go side by side with the present-day intensive development of the national economy and social-economic life. Obvious forthcoming changes required applying new legal instruments.
Q: Can I clarify what radical transformations in the society you are speaking of when you say about the emerged need for changes in legislation?
A: I'll set you a simple and at the same time very illustrative example. A couple of weeks ago we marked the birth of the newly built regional center, Esenguly. Formerly, it was one of the most backward regions of the country. In the town on the Caspian coast people fed on, mostly, fish. The social infrastructure there had fallen into decay, there were no jobs, and even potable water was obtained by collecting rainwater from the roofs of houses. And these houses were the huts on piles!
In a more than a year the town has changed its appearance having become the modern district center. A new hospital, school, trade center, communication central and powerful water distiller have emerged. The housing fund has been almost fully renovated, and the fishermen have got a fleet of modern high-speed vessels...
In accordance with the nationwide program of transformations of social and living conditions of the rural population, similar step-by-step changes will take place practically all over the country. Till the end of 2012, the equivalent of $ 4 billion will be spent for these purposes.
Generally speaking, in the recent years the priorities of the domestic state policy have received a noticeable social orientation. The country is successfully reforming the education system. Its main goal is to achieve the world standards in education. Nowadays, no school is commissioned without built-in access of computer classrooms to Internet and possibilities of interactive training. We have sharply increased the opportunities of getting higher education overseas. Every year, thousands of Turkmen boys and girls enter Russian, Turkish, Chinese, European and US universities. The system of state educational grants has been envisaged for them. If they wish to study in universities that require payment, they can get lax loans. The present-day investment in the reform of school education, training of students in higher educational establishments promises to return with abundant inflow of highly qualified specialists in few years.
As a medical doctor by education, I can't help touching upon the reforms in the national healthcare system. In two years, a network of new clinics, multi-direction hospitals, narrow profile medical centers and sanatoriums has emerged in the country. We strive to strengthen health of the young generation through opening of numerous sport schools and clubs, and introduction of physical culture classes in schools not practiced before. Stadiums, hippodromes and sport complexes being built all over the country will serve this purpose. A new Olympic center in Ashgabat only will cost $ 1.5 billion. We consider the fierce struggle against spread of drug addiction and illegal drug trafficking as a decisive measure aimed at protecting the gene pool of the nation.
Q: Realization of such large-scale social tasks requires huge state subsidies. Turkmenistan can afford this due to stable growth of natural gas exports...
A: No doubt, the fuel and energy complex plays the most important role in ensuring the country's economic prosperity. Achieving the stable annual growth of 12-15% is not the result of hydrocarbons exports only. Moreover, a clear-cut trend towards reduction of the oil and gas sector's share in the overall volume of nationwide economic indices is preserved. Nowadays, the GDP growth is also achieved due to successful development of the textile industry, increased manufacturing of the construction materials, growth of construction, expansion of services in transport and communication. The reform of agriculture launched one year and a half ago started to produce fruits. Increasing of the state purchase prices for the agricultural production, radical modernization of the fleet of agricultural machines, providing farmers with big preferences and larger independence enabled us to considerably increase the returns from the crop sector and animal husbandry.
The strengthening of the financial system at the expense of introduction of the single exchange rate, preparation to the redenomination of Manat, Turkmen national currency, have added additional guarantees to the stability of the national economy.
At the background of all these large-scale and rapid economic and social transformations, it became more evident that the existing system of state administration and procedures of introducing new laws was imperfect.
Thus, drafting of the new version of the Constitution has become a fundamental step in the general strategy of the comprehensive modernization of the country. The new version of the Constitution of Turkmenistan, in which, as compared to the previous Main Law, over 50 absolutely new provisions were introduced, is based on the best samples of achievements of the contemporary theory and practice of state structure and law. It reflects the provisions of international documents, signed and ratified by Turkmenistan, supports the progressive trends of the development of the society, fixes the strategic task of building a democratic and legal state with the market economy, high living standards for people.
Q: As is known, such a decisive step as changing of the Main Law can turn out ineffective if it doesn't find understanding among public at large. How much did your expectations of the popular support come true?
A: Truly saying, I am sincerely proud of the spiritual enthusiasm, with which our people accepted the need for change of the legislative foundation of the life of society. In the course of the nationwide discussion of the draft Constitution the specially established Commission received about 50 thousand feedbacks, proposals and comments from all layers of the society. Letters came even from schoolchildren, who, due to their age, have no voting right, but already nowadays demonstrate the ability to ponder about the fate of the country. The majority of proposals and comments stroke with the depth of comprehension of the situation, sincere support of innovations.
Most state, scientific and public structures, in which special working groups were created to analyze corresponding laws and develop proposals on introduction of amendments to the Constitution, were involved in drafting the new version of the Constitution.
The experience of implemented enormous work has vividly confirmed that the aspiration for positive changes has become the deliberate need for the society.
Q: When reading the text of the new Turkmen Constitution, one pays attention, first of all, to the radical reform of the supreme bodies of power and state administration...
A: I would use a more precise term - "streamlining" instead of "reform". When building a house, the constructive peculiarities of the ground floor cannot be replicated in construction of the upper floors. Applying the situation to Turkmenistan, it meant the necessity to apply new, more flexible system of administration.
I personally believe that in order to develop such new approaches necessary to address the most important domestic political and social-economic tasks we need to develop political and legal thinking and on this basis take a number of practical measures to improve the whole system of state administration, first of all, supreme bodies of power in Turkmenistan. It was evident that more clear-cut definition of the legal status of these bodies will help improve the state administration system and law passing mechanism that must pursue a preemptive tactic paving the way for progressive reforms.
In accordance with the provisions of the new Constitution, the former supreme representative body of the country, the Khalk Maslakhaty (People's Council) ceased to exist. To comment this change in details, it is important to remember that the Khalk Maslakhaty itself had not appeared by chance. The tradition to convene gathering of people's representatives to make vital decisions goes deep into the history. This method of consultations with the people's representatives enjoying most of reputation among people was in high demand in the first years of existence of independent Turkmenistan. It served as an effective way of reaching the civil accord.
In the recent years of rapid economic development, the need for prompter decision making and law passing emerged. However, the supreme representative body that could be convened more than once a year only in extraordinary situations still possessed all necessary authorities. It became evident that the country needed the new algorithm of making responsible decisions.
According to the new Constitution, the former Khalk Maslakhaty functions are divided among the President, Mejlis (parliament) and Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan. Making vital decisions, endorsement of crucial laws can be handled in a more efficient way. A more progressive political technology has replaced the bulky and slow mechanism. Now, the state power is clearly based on the principle of division of power. The legislative, executive and judicial powers operate independently balancing each other.
It doesn't cancel the popular tradition to discuss vital issues of the country among the authoritative people's representatives. The Council of Elders, as a public organization, will carry on its annual meetings to be attended by the President of the country, Cabinet of Ministers and parliament members.
It would be absurd to say that Turkmenistan, having changed the system of existing supreme bodies of power and state administration, has made an unprecedented step in the world theory and practice of state structure and law. Many countries (including Russia), depending on the concrete political, economic and social conditions, use nowadays various democratic models of presidential republic with small modifications.
We have tried to use as much as possible the world democratic experience of building legislative and executive power structures. To my mind, the administrative model envisaged by the new Constitution of Turkmenistan most completely conforms to the prospects of economic and social development of our country.
Building of the clear vertical of power doesn't contradict the broad people's representation in state management. According to the new Constitution, the number of parliament members has been increased to 125 deputies elected for five years from electoral districts with approximately equal number of voters. Now it will be fully professional parliament with considerably increased powers.
The Mejlis has inherited from the Khalk Maslakhaty the powers of passing the Constitution, introduction of amendments, consideration and approval of programs of political, economic and social development of the country, making decisions on holding of nationwide referenda, setting of presidential elections, parliamentary elections, elections to the local representative bodies, ratification and denouncement of international agreements, changing of the state border, consideration of issues of peace and security.
The representative bodies of power in all big points of administrative division of the country and bodies of self-governance in small settlements have also received additional powers. Thus, the norms and opportunities of people's representation in power structures have been significantly increased.
Q: Article 10 of the new Constitution says that the state develops its economy striving to its market form. In other words, a transition phase has been constitutionally fixed. You will agree that such phase cannot last forever. How long, in your opinion, this version of the Article can stay intact?
A: The objective economic indicators show that present-day Turkmenistan, in fact, is still at the threshold of real market economy. The very fact of transition to the market is not an end in itself for us. I strongly believe that gradual and well thought-out introduction of market mechanisms may ensure a reliable social protection of all layers of the society.
I think, many countries still remember the examples of shock market therapy accompanied by deep social stratification of the society, instances of civic confrontation, economic and political constraints.
The nature has bestowed on Turkmenistan huge countless reserves of natural resources that allow the state to avoid putting the population under the dependence on the external economic conditions. The permanent state subsidies enable the population to use natural gas, gasoline, water and electricity free of charge. Owing to the state regulation, prices for bread and utilities are maintained at the lowest level.
Certainly, these specific peculiarities cannot be considered signs of the market economy. However, we will never refuse from the priorities of social protection of the population in our internal policy. Making purposeful steps toward the market we don't reject the strict state control over the main strategic resources and backbone sectors of the national economy (extraction of hydrocarbons, power engineering, and transportation routes).
By the way, in many countries with formally recognized market economy, the role of state in controlling the backbone sectors is preserved. If the market is not regulated then economic collapse is inevitable. The current world financial crisis is the most vivid confirmation of it.
Does it mean that the system with elements of administrative regulation will remain in Turkmenistan? No, it doesn't. The new version of the Constitution fixes the provision that "the state encourages and supports entrepreneurship, facilitates development of small and medium-sized business".
In the years of independence, a circle of active businessmen has emerged and gained strength in Turkmenistan. They have demonstrated their abilities and have become an efficient force of the country's economic development. The exhibition of small and medium business production held recently in Ashgabat has demonstrated their capacity. The private business is intensively developing in such areas as agriculture and processing, construction and construction materials manufacturing, trade and various types of services and in many other production spheres. Nowadays, 60 percent of the total number of enterprises of the economic sector is in the private ownership.
However, the private business may go beyond the achieved level of participation in the national economy. In the nearest time, the constitutional responsibility of the state to support entrepreneurship, small and medium business will be realized to the full extent. New bills envisaging preferences for private business and broadening of opportunities for its application are being considered and drafted at the present time. The clear concept of private business development has been worked out. I don't exclude that the wide complex of measures on the support of entrepreneurship will require serious transformations and reforms in the whole economic system of the country. And, perhaps, soon we will have a reason to speak about not only "small" and "medium", but "big" businesses.
I want to reiterate that this process will always be insured by the state against situations leading to serious social shocks.
Q: The world lawmaking practice knows a lot of examples when the noblest intentions declared in the adopted documents did not find adequate implementation. How great is your confidence that the country will not repeat such mistakes?
A: The world practice is as follows: first, a law is written, then, it is implemented. I won't be mistaken if I say that the new Constitution of Turkmenistan is a document, which fixes to a greater extent existing rules than declares yet unimplemented intentions.
In fact, all those guarantees of social protection and support for population fixed in the new version of the Constitution are actively applied in Turkmenistan.
I have already set obvious examples speaking about existing norms of social protection, systems of free of charge healthcare and education. The guarantees of the state support in purchasing or construction of housing for the first time introduced to the Constitution are implemented in the country. For instance, the new rules of providing mortgages to improve living conditions adopted in Turkmenistan have no match in the world. We provide such loans for 30 years at annual 1% interest rate. The new Constitution fixes existing guarantees of wide access of the population to the achievements of science and culture, education, and responsibilities of the state on the effective use of natural resources and environment protection.
Any law, first of all, must serve people. Today, the main slogan of our internal policy is "A state for the people". Let me assure you, it is not just beautiful words. Walk in the streets of our capital, go to the country, drop into schools, hospitals and clinics, visit the newest enterprises, talk to people and you will feel the dynamics of the country's renovation. The transformed streets of cities and villages, developing network of motor roads and railways, development of new oil and gas deposits have only one orientation - to satisfy the material and spiritual needs of the country's citizens. The new Constitution is not an instrument of gaining benefits by the society but a legally fixed guarantee of their preservation.
Q: Turkmenistan is the only country in the world the Constitution of which mentions the UN General Assembly Resolution recognizing the country's permanent international neutral status. Refusal to participate in military blocs and alliances has also been fixed in the new version of the Main Law of Turkmenistan in accordance with the neutral status. Does the neutral status limit the capabilities of Turkmenistan in the international political and economic partnership?
A: No it doesn't. On the contrary, it multiplies them. The Turkmen neutrality is not only the active model of the country's existence in the world community, but the instrument of gaining international confidence and recognition. In addition, the principles of neutrality, good neighborly relations and peacefulness fully conform to our historical national mentality. And if, for instance, a couple of centuries ago the Constitution of the Turkmen state simply did not exist, Turkmens, already in those times, valued the sincere aspiration to friendship and good neighborly relations.
Today, the constitutionally fixed guarantee of non-alignment to military blocs and alliances is the best evidence of the true peacefulness of the state's foreign political aspiration. This circumstance makes us understandable, predictable and open for any potential international partner and at the same time makes us free of the shadow of any politically motivated condition whatsoever.
The very fact of the existence of such model of aspirations in the foreign policy has become a novelty for the world community and has undergone the firmness test many times. However, the steadiness and consistency of the policy of Turkmen neutrality allowed us to prove the sincerity and openness of our intentions.
Nowadays, we have established reliable and trustworthy relations with the nearest neighbors in the region - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Azerbaijan. We find understanding and support for our stance in interaction with the CIS countries.
The cooperation that can be referred to the strategic partnership strongly links us with the UN, Russia, China, European Union, United States of America and other counties.
I think all this played a crucial role in the UN's decision to choose Ashgabat as headquarters for the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy. This Center has been operating in the Turkmen capital for almost a year, carrying out activities on prevention of regional conflicts, developing methods of the peaceful settlement of potential conflicts.
The potential of the permanent neutrality is wonderfully realized in the international economic partnership. Lack of external suspicions in the political commitments enable Turkmenistan feel itself a reliable partner for Turkey, as a NATO member, Russia, as a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and Iran, as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Being at the stage of unprecedented economic growth, Turkmenistan strives to expand international economic cooperation on the mutually beneficial basis with all interested partners. For instance, large scale international projects on building Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan-Russia gas pipeline along the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea and creation of the diversified North-South transport system with the railway and highway on the same route are under realization nowadays. Jointly with China we carry out development of the biggest hydrocarbon deposits on the Amudarya River's right bank on the territory of Turkmenistan and construction of the gas pipeline from Eastern Turkmenistan to the territory of China. Companies from twenty countries take part in implementation of Avaza national project aimed at creating the biggest international tourist and recreational zone on the Caspian Sea coast. Almost the same number of countries is ready to join them in the nearest future.
I am speaking of only the biggest investment projects. A couple of hours will not be enough to enumerate all existing agreements and contracts on international economic cooperation that our country is a side to. I am confident the international status of neutral Turkmenistan will find understanding in the global arena both in the political and economic sphere.
Q: Does it mean that with adoption of the new Constitution Turkmenistan has finished an important stage in implementing legal reforms?
A: Real work is only starting. You can't imagine how much we have to accomplish in terms of improvement of the legal framework, intensification of the country's economic development. Our goal is the harmonious development of the state, society and individual, combination of their interests and observance of democratic traditions of the Turkmen people, perfection of our way of life. To achieve this is possible only with modernization of the national economy, increasing effective use of natural resources and industrial potential, revival of agriculture. The real positive changes in the economic sphere are inseparable from the processes of spiritual renovation of the nation, developing science, education, healthcare and culture to the level of developed countries of the world and activating the enormous intellectual potential of the people. Promoting the ideas of creation and good neighborly relations, Turkmenistan strives to the full-scale integration into the world community, all possible elevation of its role, reputation and influence in international affairs with compulsory observance of national state interests.
On the way to these long-term and noble goals the new Constitution becomes an open door for further reforms and innovations toward the genuine prosperity of the country.
Q; With this, on behalf of all readers of the "Turkmenistan" international magazine let me congratulate you and the people of the country on the forthcoming XVII anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence and wish you, Mr. President, every success in your undertakings!
A: In turn, I wish your magazine all possible expansion of the number of readers. The more people in the world get to know about the sincerity and openness of Turkmenistan's aspirations, the more loyal and reliable friends we will have.
Interviewed by Mikhail PEREPLESNIN
Editor-in-Chief of "Turkmenistan" magazine.
Ashgabat, September 26, 2008
The interview will be published in the forthcoming issue of "Turkmenistan" magazine.