* Turkmenistan pins hopes of prosperity on gas
* Strongman leader angry about slow development of fields
* Says development of giant Galkynys deposit a priority
By Marat Gurt
ASHGABAT, ASHGABAT, April 14 (Reuters) - Turkmenistan’s gas-fuelled economy grew 10.4 percent year-on-year in January-March, President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was quoted as saying, but he also reprimanded a senior official for not doing enough to develop the key energy sector.
First quarter growth was lower than the 14.4 percent year on year rise in GDP in first quarter 2011. Turkmenistan, which has the world’s fourth largest natural gas reserves, had GDP growth of 14.7 percent in 2011, up from 9.2 percent in 2010.
Berdymukhamedov, who has virtually unlimited powers, is the main source of rarely published macroeconomic statistics in the secretive Central Asian nation of 5.5 million.
He presided over a government meeting late on Friday, and official mass media quoted excerpts from his speech on Saturday.
“The results of the first quarter of this year in general inspire hope,” Berdymukhamedov told his ministers. “The rate of the national manat currency stays stable, and inflation is kept within a targeted range,” he added without elaborating.
Official data show that Turkmenistan’s natural gas reserves equal those of Saudi Arabia and are the world’s fourth biggest.
The country has output capacity of 75 billion cubic metres of natural gas a year, but industry analysts estimate actual production at 40-42 bcm or slightly higher, mainly due to a fall in exports to its traditional market, Russia.
Berdymukhamedov said natural gas output had risen 19.1 percent year-on-year in first quarter 2012 but gave no output figure.
Turkmenistan, whose hopes of economic growth rely largely on expanding gas exports, has in recent years started selling natural gas to China and expanded exports to neighbouring Iran.
The planned Nabucco gas pipeline, which is backed by the European Union and the United States and would run under the Caspian Sea to oil-rich Azerbaijan and on to Europe, is a pet project of Berdymukhamedov, who has taken steps to improve ties with the West.
Berdymukhamedov also chastised Deputy Prime Minister Baymurad Hojamuhamedov, who is responsible for the energy sector, “strongly reprimanding him ... for the slow tempo of developing oil and gas deposits”, state media reported.
Auditor Gaffney, Cline & Associates ranked Turkmenistan’s South Iolotan gas field as the world’s second largest after South Pars in Iran, saying in October 2011 that it could contain between 13.1 trillion and 21.2 trillion cubic metres.
Buoyed by the estimate, Berdymukhamedov issued a decree ordering his people to call the South Iolotan field and infrastructure “Galkynys” - the Turkmen word for “Renaissance”.
“A special stress should be made now on works of the first stage of developing the Galkynys natural gas reservoir,” Berdymukhamedov was quoted as telling his cabinet.