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 emer