ASHGABAT -- Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has tasked the State Security Council and parliament with drafting a new anti-corruption programme for civil servants.
The shortcomings of the previous anti-corruption policy became apparent on October 1 after incidents of bribery among employees of the Interior Ministry (MVD) came to light during a joint session of the State Security Council and the cabinet.
Corrupt officials working in the ministry have been arrested, according to Prosecutor General Batyr Atdayev.
During his report, a large monitor displayed an image of rogue police officers repenting for acts committed and tearfully begging for mercy.
As a result of the investigation, Berdymukhamedov fired Interior Minister Lt. Gen. Isgender Mulikov, demoting him to major and depriving him of all his state decorations.
Mulikov had received 12 reprimands during 10 years of service, including the most recent, the TV news programme "Vatan" reported on October 1.
"I will never allow anyone to steal the people's money and enrich themselves at our citizens' expense," Berdymukhamedov said.
Speaking to cabinet ministers and directors of other government agencies, Berdymukhamedov said that bribery and corruption violate state and social structure, slow down economic growth and create major obstacles to national development.
Institutional credibility and ethical behaviour within the Turkmen MVD are a regional security matter, since the country is one of three Central Asian "front line states" that border Afghanistan.
In addition, like all the other Central Asian countries, it saw hundreds of radicalised citizens join "Islamic State" (IS) in Syria and Iraq, posing a challenge to the authorities if they try to return to Turkmenistan.
Observers also see corruption and manipulation by the Kremlin as the reasons why Russian oligarchs have further entrenched themselves into Turkmenistan's oil and gas industries, diverting profits away from the local economy and putting the country's sovereignty at greater risk.
Corruption 'corrodes everything'
Fighting corruption would be a priority of his government, Berdymukhamedov announced during his third inaugural address in 2017.
In 2018 Turkmenistan was the worst-ranked country in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region on the Corruption Perceptions Index, tying with three other countries for 161st out of 180 worldwide, according to the NGO Transparency International.
"Developing and adopting a new government anti-corruption programme are essential for the state, because corruption, like rust, corrodes everything; it impedes economic development and degrades our society," said Maksat Charyyev, an Ashgabat-based lawyer.
"Everyone demands bribes; you need to give a kickback for everything, even to get the muftiate to include you on the list of pilgrims allowed on the Hajj," he added.
In July 2017, when authorities found bribe-takers among prosecutors and judges, Berdymukhamedov said, "There will never be a place for corruption in Turkmenistan."
"However, corruption, like cancerous lesions, is evident in the entire organism of the state machinery," Charyyev said.
'More open and transparent'
Observers are confident that the new government programme will help to reduce bribery and corruption.
"We were able to eradicate drugs from the country, and we'll be able to conquer corruption," said Aman Atabayev, a veteran of the MVD's uniformed ranks, from Mary.
Drug addiction fell sharply after the practice of annually granting amnesty to drug pushers ceased, said Atabayev.
"In fighting corruption, you need to enact tougher penalties and mandate that bribe-takers who haven't completed their full sentences ... don't go free," said Atabayev.
However, the stiffening and inevitability of punishment for offering and receiving bribes are no panacea, he said.
"We need to re-examine the system for training and mentoring personnel... require civil servants to report their sources of income every year and make the activities of government agencies more open and transparent," Atabayev said.