24.03.12 15:20

Our tasks remain the same

Newly elected President of Turkmenistan in an interview with "Turkmenistan" magazine

Five years ago, immediately after his election to the highest state post, "Turkmenistan" magazine was the first periodical to interview President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. Following this good tradition, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who has been re-elected for the second term, kindly agreed to answer questions from "Turkmenistan" magazine.   - Dear Mr. President! Let me congratulate you on your re-election as the head of state and wish you a lot of energy and robust health in your tireless work. 

Thank you for your congratulations. Let me, in turn, taking advantage of this interview, convey through this Russian periodical, which is very popular in our country too, my sincere gratitude to all those who sent me words of congratulations and support. I am very proud of trust our people placed on me, and I will do my best to justify the hopes that people pin on me.  

However, leaving celebrations and festivities behind, let us move to the priority tasks. I think there is no need in traditional enumeration of all the achievements made by the country over the past five years. You are well aware of our achievements. On the other hand, we still have many challenges to address. I suggest that we should focus exactly on these issues.  

- Nevertheless, Mr. President, given such a landmark moment, it is impossible not to ask questions that bridge past and present. We all have been witness to the rapid and dramatic changes that happened in the country over the past five years. Please tell us what do you feel? How have you changed personally over these years?  

I expected tough questions, but I had no idea that you would ask them right in the beginning... Apart from the fact that I grew older and more experienced, I looked anew at the immense responsibility placed on the head of state. On the one hand, in my soul there is no room for compromise on the fundamental issues related to the life in the country. On the other hand, especially when it comes to international relations, it is clear that there are no ready recipes. Every time one needs to cover the long road to an acceptable solution. It has taught me patience and flexibility. 

The position I got five years ago demanded a new level of world outlook, new knowledge. That is why those years could be compared with years in higher education establishment when you get fundamental knowledge. When it comes to presidential duties, the saying "live and learn" fits closely my style. 

I am happy that despite my official duties I can still find some time for creative activities. Sometimes this is the best way to abstract from the current issues. I hope I will keep using this "outlet" for creative activities. I think that this position has not changed me as a person in my relations with the beloved ones, family and parents.  

- It's no secret that in international relations much depends on the degree of confidence between the heads of state. Five years ago, you were a newcomer in the international "club" of heads of states. How quickly did you manage to establish rapport with them?  

It was easy, mainly because of our foreign policy of neutrality, internal stability and a reasonable degree of transparency. Turkmenistan views strategic stability and peace, as well as full compliance with the UN Charter as the main condition for effective international contacts.  

Our country consciously pursues a policy of good neighborliness, peacemaking, active promotion of harmony and sustainable development of the international community. We strongly oppose the use of military force as an instrument of foreign policy and interstate relations, and we have launched several regional and international initiatives to maintain peace and stability in Central Asia and in the Caspian basin. These initiatives have been supported by the international community. When a country pursues a clear and predictable policy, it wins trust for itself and its leader. That is why I am happy that I have established sincere and friendly relations with many leaders of the world and heads of international organizations over these years.  

This is not merely on my own merit. Above all, this is due to the fact that the prestige of our country has grown tremendously in the international community. I think that a stream of congratulations and telegrams that I received in these days is a very clear illustration of the high level of trust and mutual respect established with the leaders of many foreign countries. 

- Dear Mr. President! How do you build relations with members of the Cabinet of Ministers? What are the basic principles for selecting people to serve in the top executive posts?  

As you have noticed, I have already taken advantage of the Constitutional provisions to form a new Cabinet of Ministers and made some changes in the higher echelons of power. If you followed closely the activities of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan in recent years, you may have observed the coherence and clarity of its work. Radical changes in the government have never been a goal in itself. It is normal rotation. Those who cannot cope are replaced, those who do well are retained, and this practice will continue. 

Looking at the age of members of the Cabinet, they are rather young. I hope that this close-knit team of likeminded people is aware of the monumental tasks that the time posed before them. Of course, the government will have to tackle far more serious tasks today than previously, so no one should count on indulgence for earlier wins. The credibility and authority belongs to those who fully meet the requirements of the time. 

In the past five years alone, a lot of qualified and experienced specialists returned from the prestigious universities of Europe, Asia and CIS. I can confirm that we will create the most favorable career prospects in public service for the most talented and diligent. At the same time, I would like to note that, as before, the degree of integrity and honesty of employees of the state apparatus will be rigorously monitored.  

- Dear Mr. President! Which of the most important task facing the government you would identify as priority?  

The priorities for the coming years have been adequately reflected in my election program. Nevertheless, I will use this opportunity to dwell on some critical issues.  

First of all, this is the policy of further industrialization of the economy. We are to accomplish enormous work to create new and modern industries with the full processing cycle. We talk about all spheres of the national economy - fuel and energy complex, chemicals industry, agriculture, construction materials industry and other areas.  

It was just recently that we were proud of the fact that during the years of independence we have been able to bring the level of domestic raw cotton processing to 50 percent per year. Now, this is in the past. So is the scale hydrocarbon processing. We can't put up with the fact that we are still importing many building materials, given our ambitious construction plans.  

We also aim to improve the macroeconomic indicators. This course will allow us to provide more jobs for the growing population, and thus improve the standards of living. It is clear that in this complex, multifaceted process we can't do without the experience of the world's best manufacturers. And that is why we need to ensure a favorable investment climate in the country. Other than providing investment incentives to the relevant sectors of the national economy, we are now ready to follow the example of many of the advanced Asian countries, inviting the world's largest hi-tech brands to establish production facilities in our territory. This is a global trend, and our natural resources and skilled manpower reserves allow us to offer favorable conditions for potential partners. We have already received proposals from some well- known manufacturers, and we will pick the most profitable and promising proposals in the near future.  

A qualitative leap in the high-tech field is impossible without widespread introduction of innovations and latest achievements of science. We still have to work hard in this area to match the country's scientific base with the growing needs of the national economy.  

We should not forget that our course for boosting the national economy ultimately aims at increasing the welfare of people. Our state will be further increasing the level of social protection of the population and ensuring their high standards of living, as well as high level of medical care, continuous improvement of the educational system, accessibility and broader opportunities for satisfaction of the cultural and spiritual needs. 

- Dear Mr. President! In your election program you pay particular attention to the prospects of supporting private business. Could you elaborate on this? Does it mean that you are trying to create the so-called "middle class" in the country? 

Support for entrepreneurship, small and medium businesses is not simply policy statements but the constitutional requirement set forth in the Constitution of the country. Unlike most developing countries, we have opted for our own path to market economy, avoiding the shock therapy, crises and social instability. Of course, this path is longer, but it is more reliable and, I would say, more honest. We already have a fairly big group of experienced private business pioneers who can compete with many public sector enterprises in the market of goods and services. Enterprises in agricultural production and processing of agro-technical products, trade, catering, a wide range of services, production of furniture and building materials, textile and garment enterprises, companies specializing in capital construction - this is far from a full list of areas where Turkmen private businesses operate.  

And this is just the beginning. In the coming years we can expect a greater increase in the share of private business in the national economy. This will be stimulated by measures aimed at establishing legal and tax breaks for businesses, improvement of crediting of private business, introduction of market mechanisms in many areas of the current administration and governance, creation of a free housing market. We must create all necessary conditions so that hardworking people could exercise their entrepreneurial skills without costs associated with clumsy legislation and the whim of bureaucrats. And our legislative and regulatory bodies and economists have something to work on.  

As regards "middle class", in my opinion this term is more relevant for countries with a much more pronounced social stratification. After all, what is "middle class" in conventional terms? These people are not oligarchs or owners of large private businesses, and they are not exactly lumpen elements or poor. Am I right?  

As you know, there are practically neither lumpen elements nor people living only on social security benefits in Turkmenistan. The amount of pensions can ensure a desired standard of living for elderly people. So our task is not to create an artificial "middle class" but to provide conditions where "middle class" standard of life would be accessible to each family. Regardless of the form of ownership of the enterprises - be it a public organization or a private company or a foreign investor's company - the amount of people's earnings, coupled with solid social benefits, should ideally conform to the standards of living of a conventional representative of the "middle class".  

That is the goal that we aspire to achieve. By the way, we have partly achieved this goal. Look at the social composition of inhabitants living in the apartments that residents of Ashgabat call "elite" housing. Given the existing mechanisms of social support, modern housing is affordable not only to wealthy businessmen, but also to doctors, teachers, road workers and drivers of motor vehicles - the type of the population that is not normally associated with the notorious "middle class".  

Of course, the state would like to see further improvement in the standards of living. We are interested in the emergence of a significant number of wealthy people, as this would ultimately strengthen the economy. The average family income should be several times higher than the prevailing cost of living. 

Of course, our desire to ensure the high standards of living of the population as a whole does not exclude the possibility of a considerable income growth for an increasing number of private businessmen. Our state is interested in the emergence of more wealthy people, who over time could invest funds not only in improvement of quality of their lives and expansion of their own business but also act as major investors in the domestic economy. However, I repeat that a standard average family income in Turkmenistan should be several times higher than the standard cost of living. 

- Dear Mr. President! How soon should we expect changes in the political life in the country after the recent introduction of the law on political parties? 

To answer this question let me draw your attention to the most important event in the political life that occurred in the recent past, namely the adoption of the new Constitution of Turkmenistan. In comparison with the previous version the new Constitution has more than fifty fundamentally new provisions developed on the basis of best achievements of modern theory and practice of government and law. It made it possible to reflect the provisions of international instruments signed and ratified by Turkmenistan to support the progressive trends of social development, strengthen the strategic task of building a democratic state with market economy and high living standards of people.  

In the new Constitution, we have tried to make the most of world experience in building democratic institutions of the legislative and executive branches. And the administrative model envisaged in the new Constitution, in my opinion, most fully corresponds to the prospects for economic and social development of our country. As a result, we have got a versatile tool for development of the modern Turkmen society, providing for the further development of democratic principles.  

Thus, the adoption of the Law on Political Parties that guarantees the possibility of transition to a multiparty political system was a logical step in efficient application of the constitutional tools at a certain stage of democratic development of society. Let me underscore the naturalness and harmony of this process in Turkmenistan, yet the ongoing democratization processes in the modern world are often far from clear. There are a lot of examples of how destructive or openly reactionary forces make their way to the political limelight under democratic slogans. These forces sow discord and intolerance in society that lead to disunity and chaos. 

During all the years of independence Turkmenistan has been able to maintain conflict-free social development, and we are proud of this fact. I am sure the country will continue to pursue this course. In this regard, I believe that the gradual introduction of a multiparty system is advisable as another tool for evolutionary maintenance of harmony in civil society as well as unity of aspirations on the road to prosperity.  

- Dear Mr. President! Since we are talking about politics, it is impossible not to touch on the foreign policy doctrine of Turkmenistan, which has been clearly manifested in your first term in office. What is the secret of such striking success of Turkmenistan's policy of neutrality?  

The historical path of development of the Turkmen statehood largely determined the emergence of a new neutral model of political consciousness in relations with the international community. We formulate the fundamental position of our neutrality as follows - pacifism, non-interference in the affairs of other states, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states, non-participation in international military organizations and treaties. 

Turkmenistan's legal status of neutrality does not confine its political potential to our military security. It is rather an important tool for ensuring peace processes in the region as a whole. There is no doubt that the evolution of our neutral status and the world community's recognition of neutrality as a reliable way to achieve security has significantly increased the level of international political trust in Turkmenistan. We are proud of the level and stability of trustful relations established between Turkmenistan and the leading world powers, open partnership relations with neighboring countries and other neighbors in the region.  

The country is purposefully moving in several areas with the view to ensure Turkmenistan's maximum involvement in international relations to use our geopolitical, economic, resource and human potential and to accelerate Turkmenistan's joining the ranks of states with the highest quality of life, robust economy, stable and effective relations with the outside world. This is the meaning of Turkmenistan's policy of international cooperation, revealing new opportunities for development of each of its major areas such as foreign policy, economic, cultural, humanitarian, scientific and educational spheres. 

As a neutral state, we can build our long-term foreign economic strategy, based on the clear and distinct principles inherent in our international status. We never politicize economic cooperation. This fact is properly understood and appreciated by our partners. It enables us to develop equal and mutually beneficial relations with various countries and companies.  

Modern Turkmenistan follows a unique course in international affairs with its independent position on crucial issues on the global agenda such as maintenance and strengthening of international peace and security, disarmament, countering the new and emerging threats and challenges, promoting and protecting human rights, environmental and food security, neutralization of the negative effect of the global financial crisis, development of science, culture and education. We have laid a solid foreign policy basis for further development and implementation of the fundamental principles of neutrality in our future foreign relations. Other than this, close and multifaceted cooperation with the United Nations remains the absolute strategic priority of Turkmenistan. We regard the UN as the main tool for the entire modern system of global cooperation, guarantor of preservation and maintenance of peace and balance of interests on the world stage, stability of the existing system of global security.  

- Dear Mr. President! What are your plans for the near future? What would be the fundamental steps or decisions to start the countdown for your activities in the second term in office?  

I will not deny that I entered the campaign hoping for a positive outcome. Therefore, I did not allow the election process slow down the day-to-day working of the government. This means that all our previous plans and projects for the current year and for future are in place. We will live and we will work, because our workload will increase in proportion to the level of growth of welfare of the country and its people. Thank you for your interesting questions and informative discussion!  

Interviewed by Mikhail PEREPLESNIN 

Chief Editor of "Turkmenistan" magazine


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