Tuesday, September 27, 2011

tuesdays in turkmenistan: rules?

As an expatriate, it is always difficult to figure out the rules and laws of a nation. I am an outsider who has managed to get in, but the linguistic and cultural barriers will remain high. I did not grow up within these borders and while I can acknowledge the situation for what it is, my understanding of how it came to be this way will always be lacking. Sometimes, rather often times, I must simply accept that things are the way they are. This has been especially true here where both Soviet-era influences and post-Soviet isolation has led to a difficult-to-parse mix of acceptable norms and cultural expectations. My own attitude about my purpose here undoubtedly adds to this difficulty since I do view myself as someone who is here to work, not to culturally assimilate. Both can happen, but the latter is not a priority.

While I am an outsider, I am hardly the only one who has difficulty understanding the rules here and I do not just mean the other expats. Even locals have a hard time comprehending some of the rules and regulations. I often ask about something and people will just shake their heads, either to express their own lack of certainty or to convey a mild bewilderment as if to say, "Hey, I just live here, I don't make the rules." Some days, the rules and changes to them might actually prompt more than just mere bewilderment. I'm just waiting for someone to take the badges line from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (which also appeared in a film of the same name, then spoofed by Blazing Saddles and spoofed again by UHF) and make it about all the rules and laws.

But things are what they are. When I was in Ashgabat walking around several weeks ago, I was forced into a few detours since the police were closing off streets since the President was going to be driving through. How soon? About an hour apparently. Why not let adoring supporters wave at his motorcade? I'm not sure, though I suppose some value security more than adulation. Regardless, my walk was meant to be rather circuitous so this just made it slightly more so. There's also a curfew and not just for expats, though its enforcement seems to fall into one of those gray zones of resources better applied elsewhere. So how late can I be out and where can I go? I'm not sure anyone can give me a definitive answer, especially one that will be supported by authorities, so erring on the side of caution is what's fashionable at work.

Tenders for work are another source of both mystery and awe. Since royalties collected by the government do not kick in until producers have recovered their drilling costs, it makes sense that the government desires drilling prices to be as low as possible. However, how that desire manifests itself into policy and subsequent state review of tenders is less clear. What is clear is that tides go in and tides go out, but tenders go in and don't always come out. You can't explain that.

Another example is that there is talk of dramatically changing the way explosives (used by one of the business segments) can be imported into the country. It is a change that could potentially centralize all importation to a government entity which would then distribute the products as it sees fit. If implemented, it would introduce many questions about ownership of the product and who pays for it when. Also, these are not commodity products. One cannot simply take charges built for a very specific tool and allocate them to another company. Well, one can, but it won't make the charges work so actual implementation of such a policy could use some clarification. Anyway, there is only talk of this, so perhaps action on it will be different.

1 comment:

corrupted said...

Grease the palms to facilitate all transactions.