Turkmenbashi, newly opened hospital closes over kickbacks
Rampant corruption in the country overshadows the first outing since the official inauguration of President Serdar Berdymuhamedov, son of his predecessor. A journalistic investigation revealed that the state-of-the-art health care facility ran on bribes for everything: treatment, operations, bed places and hiring.
Ashgabat (AsiaNews) - The new president of Turkmenistan, Serdar Berdymuhamedov, had gone in person on April 15 to inaugurate a state-of-the-art multi-purpose hospital in Turkmenbaši, the city of the "father of all Turkmen," named after the first president Saparmirat Nyyazov.
All it took was a Radio Azatlyk investigation into bribes distributed among Turkmen health officials for the occasion to shut it all down while an audit by a special anti-corruption investigative team arrived from the capital Ašgabat, with members of the General Prosecutor's Office and the Court of Accounts.
Reports filtering in speak of a series of arrests among hospital staff and others, starting with chief-director-general Takhir Annataganov, who was overseeing the haggling over jobs, which were awarded through rounds of bribes. There was panic in the khjakimlyk (municipality) of Turkmenbaši when word of the young president's wrath over newspaper inquiries got out, in what was his first outing for an inauguration of a major social facility. The management staff had been chosen after careful selection by the Ministry of Health, and Annataganov had been appointed as early as February, two months before the opening, transferring from the old city hospital. He had received several honors in the past, up to that of "doctor of the people" in 2020.
According to confidences gathered by Azatlyk, about 20 young doctors from the Balkan region, who had recently finished their studies at the "Murad Garryev" state university, paid 200,000 manat (over 100,000 euros) in bribes to get jobs at the new hospital. Thirty-four nurses were also forced to pay a sum of 100 thousand manat, while ordinary employees had to shell out at least 40 thousand manat. These are remarkable figures even for a country like Turkmenistan, with an entrenched tradition of corruption, and especially unprecedented in a regional-level medical institution.
The system governed by Annataganov involves off-the-books payments for everything: treatment, operations, bed places, and-indeed-hiring. "Without money, they won't even give you a checkup," one of the sources tells reporters at Turkmen.news, an official agency that itself took action after Azatlyk's independent investigation. Several public health officials confirm the allegations against the chief physician, who seems to be singled out as the scapegoat for all corruption in the medical field, and now remains awaiting the conclusion of the investigation in a cell in Ašgabat.
In reality, corruption in Turkmenistan has been prevalent for many years in all work and social spheres, and citizens have to give bribes even just to get a job as a street sweeper, and for any public administration-related position. According to the Transparency International organization's Corruption Perception Index, in 2021 the country ranked 169th in this field out of 180 countries in the world.