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Study trip brings Dutch students to learn about Kazakhstan, people, EXPO 2017

Sat, 2017-04-15 12:05

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Fifty geography students from the Netherlands’ Utrecht University visited Kazakhstan for their annual study trip. The Astana Times learned how they were enjoying the good old hospitality, friendliness and kind-heartedness of the Kazakh people.   

Students at Kazakhstan’s National Museum in Astana

“We are geography students from the Netherlands on our study trip here. We do this every year, chose a country to visit and go. We have a day programme, visit museums and the university. In the evening, we can go out and dance a little bit,” said Chiara Fakkel of the group during the visit to a national museum in the capital.   

“We see a country we have never seen before. Kazakhstan is very big; we cannot relate to it, our country is very small. People are very nice, open, very welcoming and everyone is willing to help us. We met a girl who was helping us with everything when we were here in February,” she added.  

The study group was invited April 13 to the capital’s KazGUU University, where Dutch Ambassador in Kazakhstan Dirk Jan Kop and Kazakh Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Roman Vassilenko gave a lecture.  

The group at a lecture in KazGUU  

They made friends with other students at KazGUU who helped them when they needed a taxi or translating when they went out together. The Dutch students also met people in Almaty who want to visit the Netherlands. Fakkel noted she felt good about meeting new people and making new friends.

“I think it is really good for your country to have an expo exhibition. Sustainability is really important. I think it [the exhibition] will attract a lot of people. At first, one may not want to visit because he or she doesn’t know Kazakhstan, but now people may consider having a look and find it nice,” she added.  

While in the capital, many students went to Khan Shatyr; others walked across the city eating local food. All have different interests, so they made a small book with highlights where students can choose places they want to visit. Some would like to have a seat somewhere, while others like to explore the city and walk around, according to Fakkel.         

Student Dionne Melskens, a board member of a Dutch study association, organised the trip.

“Every year we organise a study trip. This year we wanted to do a really big one and we thought Kazakhstan may be nice, because you don’t know a lot about it and it’s a big and a fascinating country. This is why we chose Kazakhstan,” she said.  

She noted the students heard a lot about the expo and are being advised to visit it. Melskens believes coordinating such an event is good for Kazakhstan, because people will know more about the country and its activities.

“People here are very sweet. Most don’t speak English a lot and as good, but they try to help us with phones and other things anyway. They are very nice and helpful,” she said.  

The students met two people during their winter reconnaissance visit who helped them find a good place to go out and eat.

“They helped us when we had language troubles, sharing their phone numbers with us. Everybody is really friendly and we have made a lot of friends; it is very easy to make friends over here,” she added.

Melskens does not have a lot of free time during the busy moments of the programme because of preparations, but she enjoys going for a walk on the streets, looking at buildings and observing how people live when she is in cities she has never visited before.            

The group has already been to Borovoe and was preparing to leave for Shymkent, Turkestan. They will then have a five-day stay in Almaty, where they plan to spend some time at Medeu Skating Rink and hiking in the mountains.

“The weather in January was very cold and freezing, -20 degrees or something… The snow was all over in Borovoe. It is funny to see the temperature change rapidly within months,” she noted.

“We are here to see the country because we don’t know much about Kazakhstan and know we are learning a lot now. It is really nice; I like it. The buildings and architecture are amazing and a little futuristic here. I have never seen such buildings before. It is very different from what I am used to,” said student Ruben Scholtes.

“People are super friendly, sharing and curious about things. I talked to students at KazGUU University about football; we went out together, it was great. I have their phone numbers now, so they will call me when they are in the Netherlands,” he said, smiling.    

  

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EAEU defines macroeconomic policy, establishes temporary free trade zone with Iran; CSTO marks 25 years

Sat, 2017-04-15 11:28

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Two regional organisations in the economic and security spheres, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), held their top-level meetings April 14 in Bishkek, where key priorities of development and expansion were defined.

Photo credit: akorda.kz

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev attended the meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (SEEC) and the informal meeting of the heads of CSTO member states.

The SEEC was also attended by the presidents of Armenia – Serzh Sargsyan, Belarus – Alexander Lukashenko, Kyrgyzstan – Almazbek Atambayev, Russia – Vladimir Putin, as well as Chairperson of the Collegium of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) Tigran Sargsyan.

A report on the implementation of the main directions of international activities of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in 2015-2016 was presented.

The parties discussed economic cooperation within the EAEU as well as international cooperation and integration within the Eurasian space.

At the meeting of the council, in which Moldovan President Igor Dodon also took part as an invitee, Nazarbayev dwelt on the key aspects of the implementation of the treaty on the EAEU signed three years ago in Astana.

“Contractual and legal frameworks have been established and are regularly being expanded, long- and medium-term priorities of the organisation have been defined. Free movement of goods, services, capital and labour is carried out in practice. Together, we work in the economic sphere, we conduct a coordinated policy in most important sectors of the economy. Contacts are being established with various countries and international organisations,” the Kazakh President said.

At the same time, Nazarbayev noted that during its formation, the EAEU had to overcome crisis situations of the global economy and the challenges of a difficult geopolitical situation.

“All of this has affected our organisation’s performance, which has significantly decreased in recent years. However, crises are not eternal and recessions are followed by growth,” Nazarbayev said.

The Kazakh President stressed that, despite the difficult conditions, most EAEU member states showed an increase in economic indicators last year.

“Particular optimism is prompted by the statistics of the beginning of 2017. The first months of this year showed the volume of EAEU foreign trade has increased by 37 percent and mutual trade by 38 percent,” Nazarbayev concluded.

Also, noting the need to consolidate this positive trend, the head of state singled out priority steps in this direction.

“First, it is important to remove all existing obstacles for EAEU development. Secondly, new trade and economic agreements should be established with international partners to expand sales markets and increase investment. Thirdly, in this difficult period for our economies it is necessary to provide mutual support. Fourthly, the Anti-Crisis Council can become a good tool for overcoming crises,” Nazarbayev noted.

He especially noted Kazakhstan’s proposals on creating the Council of Ministers of Economy and Finance, as well as the composition of the heads of central banks of EAEU countries.

“The council will advise the EAEU authorities on financial and economic policies of member states and development of concerted measures to prevent crises. Its work will be aimed at implementing joint activities to ensure economic growth and financial stability. The work of this council will be similar to the activity of the Council for Financial Stability under the G20 and ECOFIN of the European Commission,” Nazarbayev said.

The parties also considered the issue of granting EAEU observer status as there is great interest from third countries.

During the meeting, the main guidelines of macroeconomic policy of the EAEU states for 2017-2018 were approved. The document provides for significant measures to improve the macroeconomic situation, stimulate the corporate sector to increase investment, promote non-primary exports.

The meeting also adopted a document on a temporary agreement on the formation of a free trade zone between the EAEU and its member states and Iran.

In addition, the heads of state considered the appeal of the Republic of Moldova to grant it the status of observer state under the EAEU.

The informal meeting of CSTO member states on the same day was attended by Sargsyan, Lukashenko, Nazarbayev, Atambayev, Putin, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, as well as acting CSTO Secretary General Valery Semirikov.

Development of the organisation and deepening of cooperation in the security sphere were discussed.

Nazarbayev noted that this year is a jubilee for CSTO member countries. Congratulating the meeting participants on the 25th anniversary of the signing of the treaty, he particularly emphasised its importance in ensuring national and regional security, as well as in strengthening the integrity of participating states.

He also drew attention to expanding the zone of cooperation between the CSTO and other international institutions and organisations in the field of security.

In addition, the members of the organisation considered the possibility of consolidating efforts in the address regional and global challenges.

At the end of the meeting, the heads of participating states appointed Yuri Khachaturov the Secretary General of the CSTO.

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Caspi Bitum plant increases efficiency with innovative storage, transport method

Sat, 2017-04-15 11:07

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Aktau bitumen plant has developed an innovative way of storing and transporting bitumen, kazinform.kz reports.

Photo credit: inform.kz

“Viscous road bitumen is packaged in Big Bag disposable transport containers and plastic bags with a capacity of 1,000 and 40 kilogrammes respectively. New technology implies the packing of cold bitumen allowing not only to preserve the quality of material, but also to save on logistics while delivering and storing bitumen. In addition, thanks to the Big Bags, asphalt plants reduce the costs of maintaining bitumen in the molten state in bitumen stores, thus solving energy efficiency issues,” said Konstantin Drobyshev, Deputy General Director for Commercial Issues of Caspi Bitum during April 12 visit to the plant by representatives of the Kazakh Ministry of Energy, Roads Committee, KazAutoZhol National Company, local executive agencies and road construction organisations.

According to Drobyshev, the plant produced 111,000 tonnes of road bitumen last year for 400 kilometres of roads (a two-lane highway in the second category.) The plant fully covered the country’s demand in road bitumen, taking into account the output of other domestic producers.

Today the plant’s products are supplied for the construction of the Western Europe-Western China international highway, as well as Shymkent-Kyzylorda, Astana-Pavlodar, Astana-Temirtau and Atyrau-Aktau highways of national significance.

Photo credit: inform.kz

Products of the Aktau bitumen plant meet national and international standards.

Caspi Bitum plant was built as part of the state programme on accelerated industrial and innovative development for 2010-2014 to meet the needs of the road industry in high-quality road bitumen. It was put into operation in 2013. Bitumen production capacity is 400,000 tonnes of oxidised and about 120,000 tonnes of modified road bitumen.

The first batch of polymer-modified bitumen was produced in October 2015. This kind of road bitumen is obtained by introducing a polymeric component (modifier) into the composition of petroleum road bitumen. Due to the improved characteristics of heat, frost and wear resistance, this bitumen extends the service life of asphalt-concrete coatings by almost two times.

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Astana to host SCO Interbank Association, Business Council meeting

Sat, 2017-04-15 10:33

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The joint meeting of the Interbank Association and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Business Council will be held on the eve of EXPO 2017 in Astana. This was announced April 12 at the meeting at the SCO Secretariat in Beijing between SCO Business Council and Kazakhstan Entrepreneurs’ Forum Chairman Raimbek Batalov and SCO Secretary-General Rashid Alimov, according to the organisation’s press release.

(L) Raimbek Batalov and Rashid Alimov. Photo credit: sectsco.org

 “I believe the joining of efforts of the Interbank Association, the Business Council and the SCO Secretariat will produce an essential result along with the activities of our governments. Most importantly, these results will influence positively our businesses. We have already identified issues related to the activation of exports, the financing of infrastructure projects and other topics. I believe the upcoming meeting in Astana will give a new impetus to the development of economic projects in the SCO countries,” Batalov said.  

The parties also exchanged views on the activities of the SCO Business Council as one of the active public platforms of the organisation. The council contributed to the expansion of economic cooperation, the implementation of multilateral projects and the establishment of closer ties between the business communities of SCO member states.

The SCO Secretary-General said the business community should realise the tasks set to promote economic cooperation to a higher level in the context of the upcoming summit in Astana and the expansion of the organisation to also include India and Pakistan.

The interaction with the SCO Business Council on a wide range of issues and the activities of the SCO Secretariat is important, said Batalov. He said he hopes to increase cooperation during his chairmanship of the SCO Business Council.

“We discussed social projects. The SCO marathon with the participation of about 1,000 people will be held August 27 in Astana. Such events are important and useful for us. The issues concerning small and medium-sized businesses related to removing barriers to trade were also on the agenda. The Kazakh government has been working to ensure that local companies have opportunities to sell products on the Chinese market,” said Batalov.

The SCO Business Council was established June 14, 2006 in Shanghai. It is a non-governmental structure that brings together prominent representatives of business communities to promote economic cooperation within the organisation, forge direct relationships and facilitate implementation of multilateral projects of SCO member states.

The National Business Council chairs at the SCO Business Council Board Jan. 1 – Dec. 31.

The Forum of Entrepreneurs, one of the largest and most active public associations in the country, works to develop private finance initiatives and entrepreneurship.

 

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Crowdfunding in Kazakhstan – finally a reality?

Sat, 2017-04-15 10:10

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Crowdfunding has become a usual thing to people in developed countries. Kickstarter was launched in 2009 and today is one of the most famous crowdfunding platforms in the world, along with Indiegogo and GoFundMe. Russian analogue Boomstarter began in 2012 and has managed to reach IPO level. Kazakhstan is just starting to show interest in crowdsourcing, with two platforms founded last year.

Several companies attempted to conquer the country’s crowdfunding pedestal prior to 2016, but their attempts failed. The nation’s users received Startuper.kz, Startticket.kz, i6.kz, Gostart.kz, Asar.ainvest.kz without much enthusiasm.

While the situation with the platforms was quiet uncertain, local start-ups and talented people were able to collect funds through foreign platforms. For example, the funds for Kanat Beisekeyev’s documentary “Bala,” about Kazakh adoptees in the United States, were raised on a foreign platform. Would he have been able to raise the money in Kazakhstan? Maybe, but it would have taken far longer.

The biggest challenge for Kazakh crowdfunding platforms is a lack of awareness and small audience. The attempts continue, however, and this time seem to be more successful.

Baribirge.kz

“Baribirge.kz began its work on Aug. 1, 2016 and in this short time we have already managed to attract more than 4 million tenge (US$12,000) for various social and creative projects,” said Anna Tadzhimuratova, general director of El-Mirador, the company that founded the website.

The platform’s first successful project was raising funds to record an album of the Lampy (Lamps) Orchestra. It collected the biggest amount – 1.211 million tenge (US$3,570) and 70 people pledged. Another big project was printing a book of Kazakh tales by author Yury Serebryansky, which received the President’s Diploma from the Association of Publishers, Printers and Booksellers of Kazakhstan and was nominated for “The best publication for children and youth in two languages” by the Director of the National Library of Kazakhstan. The project was supported by 69 participants.

“At the moment, there are eight ongoing projects on our site and we have successfully implemented six projects already, including two commercial projects and four socially-oriented ones,” said Tadzhimuratova.

“As for our platform baribirge.kz, we have no special secret. Before our launch, we thought through the strategy and worked through all stages of launch and development. Now step by step, we realise what we have planned; we accumulate experience,” she added.

Many still do not understand the concept of crowdfunding.

“And statistics confirm this. Despite the fact that we have registered more than 1,200 users, only part of them regularly participate in the projects. A lot of people are interested in what it is and how it works, but they just observe,” she noted.

The reason, perhaps, is that users still feel some kind of fear about something new and incomprehensible.

“Most likely, this is due to the fact that the history of crowdfunding in Kazakhstan is very short and people do not fully understand what it is that is interesting for project participants,” said Tadzhimuratova.

She stressed users get much more than money from the projects they support.

Anna Tadzhimuratova

 

“The idea is that by participating in various projects, a user can receive something unique as a reward. For example, in the project to raise funds for the recording of the album of Lampy Orchestra, as a reward it was possible to visit the group’s rehearsal. We attended this rehearsal together with those users who chose this reward and it was unforgettable! The rehearsal turned into the live performance with casual communication and a huge number of positive emotions,” said Tadzhimuratova.

Users who supported the ASAR project received gifts of wool products made by grandmothers with love and gratitude to those who supported them.

“These are the emotions that you cannot just go and buy in the store. And most importantly, all the participants receive not only great gratitude from the authors of the projects, but also a sense of their involvement in interesting, important and good deeds,” she added.

“Crowdfunding gave a start to a lot of interesting projects around the world and helped to realise a large number of important and useful ideas. We believe that crowdfunding will develop in Kazakhstan and the result that we have seen in such a short period of our work is a confirmation of that. As they say, the best way to predict the future is to create it,” said Tadzhimuratova.

Start-time.kz

“The platform was launched in November 2016. At the moment, 10 projects are registered on the website and three of them completed the fundraising,” said start-time.kz project director Aziza Utegenova.

The largest amount collected was 1,141,363 tenge (US$3,360) for a Kazakh brand of knitted clothes.

“In my opinion, that was a very interesting and patriotic project. The author, Diana Utemisova, came to us and said she wanted to create clothes in Nomad style for the European concept store. Earlier, she showed her line in Moscow and attracted lots of attention from the European public. So, she thought why not popularise Kazakhstan through clothes? So, we decided to add her project on the platform,” said Utegenova.

Recently, the website launched fundraising for the informational poster “Snakes of Kazakhstan.” The goal is to collect 460,000 tenge (US$1,475).

“Many people have no idea what kind of snakes we have in our country and which of them are poisonous. In Almaty near the mountains there are lots of snakes and when people see them, they take rocks or a stick and exterminate them. With that money, the author wants to print posters and distribute them to all of Kazakhstan’s schools. Famous Russian scientist Nikolai Drozdov wrote a letter to the authors and invited them to the Kremlin,” she added.

She shared her opinion on why previous platforms were unsuccessful.

“We work with start-ups. We have to be professionals in our field. I think the main reason previous attempts to create crowdfunding websites failed was because they were start-ups, too. They faced a lack of knowledge in legislation, marketing, promotion and funding. A lot of such factors affected them, I think. It is not just about creating the website. To manage a crowdfunding platform, there should be a group of specialists,” she said.

The team behind start-time.kz was engaged in charity projects before crowdfunding.

“So, we kind of digitalised our work. We had our base of specialists and we were ready. We are also managed by an investor who can invest in some of the projects. We are not a start-up,” said Utegenova.

The number of people who know about crowdfunding is small and the nation needs to create an environment where start-ups can develop, she added.

“Well, there are people who know what the crowdfunding is, but ordinary people, they have no idea. We say it is similar to the ancient Kazakh tradition called Asar. In the past, friends, neighbours and relatives built yurts together and the recipient should cook a tasty lunch and make a good atmosphere. So, crowdfunding is pretty much the same. If we awake this Asar tradition in people, crowdfunding will find its place under the sun. Moreover, it helps avoid bureaucracy. If a person has an idea and dreams about it and if people help him, who knows, maybe he will be a major businessman in the future and raise the economy,” noted Utegenova.

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Celebrating 25 years of friendly and warm relations between Kazakhstan and New Zealand

Sat, 2017-04-15 07:01

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

This spring Kazakhstan and New Zealand mark 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations. Ahead of the symbolic date, The Astana Times talked to both Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to Singapore and New Zealand Usen Suleimen and New Zealand’s Ambassador to Russia (cross accredited to Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) Ian Hill to discuss the state of bilateral relations.

Ambassador Suleimen, Ambassador Hill, how would you describe the dynamics of relations between the two countries during this period?

Kazakhstan and New Zealand will mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations on May 12. Despite the geographic distance between Kazakhstan and New Zealand, our two nations enjoy a warm relationship.

Astana attaches great importance to the development of comprehensive relations with Wellington, especially given New Zealand’s strong relationships with the Pacific region. Similarly, New Zealand values its relationship with Kazakhstan, not least given Astana’s extensive engagement with other countries in Central Asia.

What do Kazakhstan and New Zealand have in common?

Both Kazakhstan and New Zealand are active members of the international community, with a shared commitment to a strong rules-based international system and the importance of ensuring that the voices of small states are heard.

Both countries are active members of respective regional communities. We work together in the United Nations and its subsidiary bodies in pursuit of many common interests, including nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament, renewable energy and addressing the impacts of climate change.

Both countries also share an interest in the economic development of the Asia-Pacific region, through our common membership in the World Bank Group, the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

One particular common experience is membership in the United Nations Security Council. Kazakhstan’s current position as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, for the 2017-2018 term, immediately follows New Zealand’s own 2015-2016 term on the council. Both countries see membership of the council as an opportunity to play an effective and independent role in contributing to maintenance of international security.

In your opinion, what are the main prospects for development of bilateral relations between Astana and Wellington?

Both countries are considering ways of enhancing their relations for mutual benefit. In light of Kazakhstan’s ambitious goal to become one of the top 30 developed countries by 2050, establishing close cooperation with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is one of the main priorities of Kazakhstan’s foreign economic policy. New Zealand’s experience in promoting its economic development is therefore of keen interest to Kazakhstan.

In the trade and economic sphere, we both see the agricultural sector as an area of particular opportunity, especially given the considerable agricultural potential of both countries. In his recent address to the nation on global competitiveness, President Nursultan Nazarbayev outlined five key priorities for Kazakhstan’s economic development, including the digitisation of the economy, and the importance of developing a strong agricultural sector. New Zealand’s success in developing a competitive export-oriented economy, with a strong agricultural industry and a growing IT services sector, is therefore of great interest to Kazakhstan.

There is also scope for cooperation in the education and tourism spheres. Many students from Kazakhstan have benefited from the experience of studying in New Zealand under the Bolashak international scholarship programme. On Jan. 1, 2017, Kazakhstan introduced new visa regulations, allowing New Zealand citizens to visit Kazakhstan visa-free for up to 30 days. This is a tremendous opportunity for New Zealanders to pursue business opportunities and enjoy the beautiful landscape and hospitality of Kazakhstan. In addition, the Kazakh science magazine OYLA has been published in both Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand companies are also increasingly interested in the business opportunities that exist in Kazakhstan, especially in the services sector. Kazakhstan’s accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2015 puts such opportunities into even greater focus. We hope that the appointment of Nurlan Smagulov as New Zealand’s first Honorary Consul in Kazakhstan will enable our two countries to make the most of these possibilities.

Finally, both Kazakhstan and New Zealand enjoy close relations with China. In light of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s One Belt, One Road initiative to connect Eurasia and the Asia-Pacific via the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road, we see increased opportunity to strengthen economic ties and expand our connectivity within the wider Asia-Pacific region.

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PwC director explains new Kazakh work permit rules for foreign citizens

Fri, 2017-04-14 07:50

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Last year, the Kazakh government issued more than 36,000 work permits for foreign nationals, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) legal services director in Kazakhstan Aliya Aralbayeva. Around one-third, or slightly more than 12,500, were issued to specialists from China and 3,500 to Turkish nationals, while Uzbekistan, the United Kingdom and India were also among the top inquirers.

PwC legal services director in Kazakhstan Aliya Aralbayeva

Some of the changes to the work permit rules, however, have been labelled as controversial.

“The government introduced new work permit rules in June of last year,” said Aralbayeva in an exclusive interview with The Astana Times. “The rules were criticised by the business communities because they removed freedoms for some categories of foreign nationals. For example, foreign executives of branches and representative offices of international companies were exempt in the past from the requirement to apply for work permits, but the June 2016 rules removed such exemptions, meaning that starting Jan. 1, executives were under obligation to have a valid work permit.”

Another controversy, she added, was the new requirement for foreign specialists coming under the inter-corporate transfer scheme to pass a Kazakh language test.

“We supported the views of business communities that the language requirement, if introduced, would be viewed as discriminatory and against the Kazakh Constitution’s core principles,” she said.

In November, a number of business associations and the Kazakhstan Foreign Investors’ Council Association started a campaign against the new changes, whereas the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Protection initiated a dialogue with business circles. As a result, the proposals to change rules were introduced and approved the following month.

“Under the new work permit rules which came into effect on Jan. 1 this year, expatriates coming to Kazakhstan for a term exceeding 120 days every calendar year to perform work activities are usually required to apply for work permits and work visas. Foreign employees travelling to Kazakhstan for the purpose of engaging in productive activities will require a work permit even if they come for short periods of time,” said Aralbayeva.

“Expatriates travelling to Kazakhstan to work on the basis of a work permit will need a work visa to enter the country. Visa validity will be linked to the work permit. Citizens of Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Belarus and member states of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) are exempt from the requirement to apply for work permits,” she added.

One should keep in mind, however, that the government has its own quotas for the number of foreign employees each year.

“The number of foreign employees attracted to Kazakhstan every year should not exceed quotas announced by the government for attracting foreign labour. Companies sponsoring work permit applications should send applications for quotas for the required number of expatriate employees by August 1 each year. Work permits are issued if there are no suitable candidates for the jobs on the local labour market,” she said.

State fees and application process

The state fee is payable in the national currency – tenge – every 12 months and depends on the industry sector and employee category.

“The state fee for work permits will vary from approximately $950 (137 Monthly Calculated Indices (MCIs)) for a specialist role application to approximately $1,730 (250 MCIs) for executives,” said Aralbayeva.

In general, she noted the work permit application is a “time-consuming process and should be planned by the sponsoring company well in advance.” The overall process could take up to one and a-half to two months or sometimes even longer, she stressed.

“Work permits will be valid in one region of Kazakhstan. Business trips to other regions will be possible if the total number of days on such trips does not exceed 90 calendar days collectively in one calendar year,” she said.

PwC opened an office in Kazakhstan in 1993 and currently has more than 400 staff in two fully operating offices in Almaty and Astana. In the past, the company established offices in Baku (Azerbaijan), Tbilisi (Georgia), Yerevan (Armenia), Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) and Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia).

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Regional internal migration launched, more than 630,000 jobs to be created this year

Fri, 2017-04-14 06:02

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The government has identified seven regions to stimulate voluntary migration, said Labour and Social Protection Minister Tamara Duissenova at the April 5 Increasing Labour Market Mobility business forum in Shymkent.

Labour migrants from the Almaty, Mangistau, South Kazakhstan and Zhambyl regions will receive subsidies for relocation and housing rent for one year to move to the Akmola, Atyrau, East, West and North Kazakhstan, Kostanai and Pavlodar regions.

The Productive Employment and Mass Entrepreneurship Development Programme began in the country this year. It provides a number of measures including mass training and inculcating skills in demanded professions and business basics and creates conditions for mass entrepreneurship through loan services, labour market development assistance in employment and labour mobility support.

“We should clearly know in which sectors and regions new jobs will be created to regulate the labour market. Target indicators for creating jobs on projects implemented as part of the state and industrial programmes were set by the ministry in cooperation with the central state bodies and regions. We also signed relevant memorandums with local governors. More than 630,000 jobs are expected to be created which will serve as a reserve for employment of citizens seeking help from the state,” said Duissenova.

A free vocational education will be organised for young people who did not enter educational institutions after graduation. In the programme’s first stage, short-term vocational training courses lasting one-six months will be conducted at colleges, Atameken Chamber of Entrepreneurs educational centres and enterprise training centres.

The Damu Fund will allocate loans for programme participants in the cities, while the Agricultural Support Fund and Agrarian Credit Corporation will provide assistance for village and town residents. The amount of loans granted will increase to 8,000 monthly calculated indices (MCIs) up to 18 million tenge (US$57,474) with a term of up to five years and yearly rate up to 6 percent. Loans with seven-year terms will be granted for livestock and agricultural cooperatives.

A loan guarantee mechanism up to 85 percent for starting entrepreneurs and up to 50 percent for operating ones was introduced at the Agrarian Credit Corporation.

The programme also includes increased targeted support to employ certain categories of citizens including youth, women and those with disabilities, ensure labour mobility increase and labour market infrastructure development.

The ministry also believes the labour movement between sectors will identify professions that will become obsolete due to the introduction of new technologies and industries where new jobs can be created as part of the labour market modernisation.

“The movement of labour resources between the regions is of special importance. We not only give the opportunity to learning the profession for free, but also give a choice to find new jobs, hire employers or start business as part of the state initiative,” added Duissenova.

There is also a need to establish and implement joint cooperation between the regions in industry, agriculture, transport and logistics, and trade and services projects.

Memorandums of cooperation regarding labour resources and increasing labour market mobility among the East Kazakhstan, Kostanai, Pavlodar and South Kazakhstan regions were signed as part of the event.

Similar business forums are planned in the near future in the Almaty, Mangistau and Zhambyl regions.

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Clothing donation project brings warmth, hope to those in need

Fri, 2017-04-14 05:55

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Almaty residents can donate clothes and items to the Teplo (Warmth) charity boxes to help people in emergencies. There are currently five collection points located at Esentai Square, Dostyk Plaza Mall, Mega Alma-Ata Mall, On Clinic hospital and Pita Green healthy food restaurant.

The social and charitable project, aimed at organising contributions for distribution to those in difficult situations, was launched Jan. 15 by Sinai Private Charitable Foundation. The mission is to provide all types of clothes for people in need. The project, launched on permanent basis, also provides jobs as targeted assistance for individuals with physical challenges.

Items are distributed through social service centres for children and adolescents left without guardians, trust funds and organisations working with vulnerable citizens.

“Our team consists of six people. We have no sponsors and public figures. The project is supported by me independently. We are delighted to provide support for more than 50 families since the project’s launch,” project head Timur, who preferred to be known only by his first name, told The Astana Times.

The venture started with installing donation boxes.

“We needed a durable and sealed box with an anti-vandal mechanism inside and a beautiful exterior design. Many companies offered us cooperation, but the KazHydroMash Company proposed the most suitable option for us. The second stage was the search for storage. There was a lot of selection criteria, as we needed a building that would be comfortable for the physically challenged who are involved in the sorting process. It should also be bright and located in the centre with all communication facilities and an entrance for unloading and loading trucks,” he added.

There was also a need to establish working processes and consider all stages, including unloading items, delivery to storage, further sorting and subsequent chemical cleaning.

“Clean things are sent to people only after all these procedures. Good logistics and powerful industrial washing machines with a large load of clothing are needed for the harmonious work of the whole mechanism. We cooperate with the Daas Kazakhstan Company in terms of logistics. Tricycles of this company are used to unload our boxes. Laundry is also a key point. We decided to cooperate with the IC Pro Company. The equipment surpassed all our expectations; in addition to washing and disinfecting, it dries clothes and disinfects again in the final stage, treating with dry steam. In the end, the item becomes like a new one,” he said.

Timur also spoke about communicating the effort to the media.

“The project is quite new in our country and at the moment, it attracts the attention of print media and TV channels,” he said. “We made social videos that are distributed in social networks to draw the attention of the Kazakh people to the importance of helping people from vulnerable segments of the population. Everyone has moments in life when he or she needs some help and support. People’s participation will save lives, their care will give hope. Care unites people.”

Collecting clothes led to the idea of organising Teplo Express, the logistics company that provides services to deliver and transport various goods. In a case when the customer has unwanted clothing and items in good condition, he or she can donate them to the service for future distribution.

“Daas Kazakhstan helped us with the organisation of Teplo Express. We work to develop awareness and humanity. We are able to achieve this together, as every good deed is a small step for a person and a significant step for all mankind,” he said.

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Astana improves services, enhances security to welcome EXPO 2017 visitors

Fri, 2017-04-14 05:49

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – In anticipation of the EXPO 2017 international specialised exhibition, the city administration is taking a holistic approach to preparing for the country’s main event in a decade. The capital’s municipal enterprises and businesses are completing preparatory works to provide a safe and positive experience for tourists and citizens during the informative and recreational event.

“Construction of all infrastructure facilities for EXPO is nearing completion and will finish by June 1. We have detailed construction schedule requirements for roads, infrastructure and additional substations. The new passenger terminal at Astana International Airport will open June 1 and the new railway station will be ready May 25. New hostels and 16 more hotels will provide an additional 1,500 beds by June 1. So, all construction work continues in accordance with the approved schedules and we have no doubt that they will be completed,” said Deputy Akim (Mayor) Malika Bekturova in an interview for this story.

Given the scale of the upcoming event, the city’s administration is strengthening security measures by installing more video surveillance systems and conducting stress tests with relevant agencies in all directions: mass gatherings of people, power outages, water shutdowns and peak loads.

“We are now implementing a project on video surveillance that has several components. The first one implies installation of new surveillance cameras, visual fixation equipment in public places and parks, at intersections and along streets and highways. The second component is the integration of existing cameras; surveillance systems at residential areas and places of mass gatherings of people such as frequently visited shopping malls and other places are connected to the situational centre that is already operating. This centre coordinates the work of emergency services, the national security committee, fire safety, ambulance, department of internal affairs and other municipal services of the city. There is also a call centre for all potential emergencies. In addition, algorithms for responding to a particular situation have been developed. We are now cooperating together with the EXPO 2017 National Company to work out various non-standard situations. We will be training during April and May,” said Bekturova.

“We are also working with the owners of public catering facilities, cafes and restaurants. Businesses began preparing in advance for this event. There is a programme ‘Recommended by EXPO 2017’ featuring many participants. That is, today there is a menu in three languages. In general, personnel have been undergoing special training; some of the staff members speak one or more foreign languages. We also conduct trainings with the sanitary and epidemiological service on a permanent basis focusing on sanitary rules and regulations,” she added.

These trainings are constantly enabling businesses to thoroughly prepare for the EXPO. In addition, a cultural tour guide programme was launched to offer services for foreign visitors.

“By the beginning of June, Astana guides will complete training and will receive certificates of official guides. We will post their photos with contact details and describe in what languages ​​this or that guide provides tours on the Smart Astana app and Astana Guide app. This is an opportunity for all tourists to choose guides that know reliable facts about Astana and contact them,” she said.

Additional bus routes for EXPO facilities will also be introduced to smooth the traffic flow, tackle congestion and offer convenient transport service to the passengers.

“There will be shuttle buses; it is a bus service intended primarily to shuttle passengers between two fixed points. In general, the traffic schedule will be revised taking into account the burden on the EXPO district. Additionally, we are testing a single taxi service that will already be operating in May. A single tariff for taxi service will be applied for the convenience of residents and guests of Astana,” said Bekturova.

A single reservation system is also being introduced for hostels, dormitories and other accommodations. Foreign tourists and guests will be able to book a room and make contacts at information kiosks at the railway stations, airport and the city’s shopping malls.

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Japanese Oki Dub Ainu Band to perform at Almaty’s music festival

Fri, 2017-04-14 05:42

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – As the May 20-21 Spirit of Tengri 2017 contemporary ethnic music festival in Almaty gets closer, one of its most anticipated guest performers, the Japanese Oki Dub Ainu Band, and Ainu music and culture, is coming into sharper focus. 

“I bumped into the Kazakhstan team in the elevator at the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games. They whispered ‘shaman,’ because I was wearing an Ainu costume for the opening concert. I am not shaman, but a tonkori man. Tonkori is a kind of harp handed by Sakhalin Ainu,” Ainu musician, artist and lead band member Oki Kano (known professionally as OKI) told The Astana Times.

Ainu are the indigenous people of Japan and Russia and the music is a tradition of its namesake people. A tonkori is an Ainu stringed instrument which Kano uses in performances.

Kano mixes traditional Ainu music with reggae, dub and other worldwide genres. He also plays guitar and traditional Ainu percussion instruments.

“Some tonkori rhythm reminds me of the sound of riding a horse. Ainu didn’t have a horse culture like the Mongols, but the roots of the tonkori sound originated from somewhere in central Asia,” he said.

“The Mongol Empire invaded Sakhalin. The Ainu won the war once; I mean the Mongolian military was good at horseback riding. Finally, the Ainu lost the war and concluded a trade treaty with the Empire. We, the Ainu people, got a lot of cultural influence from central Asia through trade,” he added.

According to various sources, oral Ainu culture has numerous genres. Light-hearted ballads on daily affairs and rituals are accompanied by traditional Ainu instruments and yukar (mimicry), a form of rhythmic epic poetry supported by light percussion.

The contents of these ballads were “an important source of understanding daily life as well as various traditions and habits of the Ainu people,” said Kano, and are significant in protecting its cultural identity today, as seen by his efforts.

His band plays traditional Ainu songs in an electric style that mixes dub rhythms with the tonkori. During live concerts, he either plays with the band or sings and plays the instrument in a solo acoustic act.

Kano is from Kanagawa Prefecture, located on the largest island in Japan. He studied industrial arts at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. Kano moved to New York in 1987, where he worked as a special effects artist on film productions, returning to Japan in 1992, according to the band’s website.

Kano often performs in Japan, but has also participated in several folk music festivals in other countries. His band was recently on tour in Australia. In 2006, he released the album Kíla & Oki with the Irish band of the same name. His earlier solo albums include collaborations with the female Ainu singing group Marewrew.

The band is preparing for its visit to Almaty and performance in the festival.

“No fussing and fighting. Music makes the world go round. Oki Dub Ainu Band will rock the Spirit of Tengri festival with heavy drum and bass sound, plus deep echo and reverb DUB WISE! Let’s share the special time together and dance with wicked Ainu rhythm. Don’t miss it!” said Kano.

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Secret weapons of Uzbek businesswomen

Fri, 2017-04-14 02:39

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Uzbekistan’s mostly male-dominated entrepreneurial arena is slowly being populated by women. According to the Uzbek statistics committee, the number of businesswomen in small and private entrepreneurships grew 1.6 times in the past decade – more than 40 percent are successful managers and directors of small businesses.

The Astana Times wanted to learn what drives women entrepreneurs and how they manage to succeed in the modern economic environment.

Dilfuza Zaitullayeva, 25, is the owner of Uzbek Tours, a small travel agency. She was born and raised in Tashkent.

“Women are more often than not getting into politics and business around the world. Our main weapon to thrive in business is of course being tactful, flexible, having good organisational skills and listening – something men often don’t do,” she said, smiling.

“To have a successful small business, one needs a tempered character, patience. When I opened my company three years ago, there were times when I thought to myself that there was no way to further it; that’s it the dead end and now I need to shut it down. In these times, now I just sleep on it and when I wake up I always find the way out,” she added.

Zaitullayeva’s success is also motivated by her love of what she does.

“I realised that it is something I liked doing. We started with outbound tourism, but as you know, Uzbekistan is rich in its own culture and history and now we do both inbound and outbound tourism. But I really enjoy doing this and this passion helps me thrive,” she said.

A graduate of the English linguistics faculty of Uzbek State University, Zaitullayeva uses all the theoretical skills she acquired on the job.

“Of course, you have to understand that it’s not always like that – you just like something and open a business and you will be good at it. You need basic skills or at least to have an understanding of what you’re doing. In my case, I speak English and Spanish fluently that I majored in, so for me it was easy to communicate with tourists and foreign clients,” she noted.

Starting one’s own company these days in Uzbekistan is easy, she claims.

“Opening a business is very simple: you pick a name for your company, provide state authorities with all the documents they require and in about 10-15 business days you’re a business lady. Then, depending on your type of activity, you need to obtain the license – here it might take up to six months to obtain one, in our case in the tourism and hospitality sector,” Zaitullayeva explained.

“These days, seeing female entrepreneurs is a normal thing; there are more and more of us each day. This means that our economy is doing well; the middle class is growing and I think it is a good sign,” said Zaitullayeva.

She dreams of teaching young girls how to open their own businesses in the future, as she believes it is something that should be taught in public schools.

“I am grateful to my teachers for everything they taught me, but I never used biology or geometry or algebra in my adulthood. I wish I had learned a little bit about business management, the procedures and what to expect, etc. I want to thank the Association of Business Women of Uzbekistan, Tadbirkor Aiyol, for helping me find my path when I most needed it and all my relatives who believed in me from the very beginning,” she said.

Zaitullayeva realises Uzbek Tours is still a small company with a moderate income. She is planning on expanding and reaching out to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, however, and is looking for business partners.

“I want the people who are thinking about opening a business to draw a map of what needs to be done, where they see themselves and plan each detail carefully. And most importantly, so the business will not only bring financial stability, but also pleasure,” she said.

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AIFC to launch its international stock exchange in fall

Fri, 2017-04-14 02:31

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) is planning to launch the Astana International Exchange (AIX) this fall, which is expected to help create conditions for further economic growth. The initiative was discussed at the international conference “Kazakhstan: tapping international capital markets,” held April 12 in the capital.

Photo credit: AIFC Press service

“Today, Kazakhstan’s economy is facing certain difficulties connected to the challenges in the banking sector of the economy. It is a cyclic problem and sooner or later it happens in any country, but, nevertheless, it is a period of ‘painful’ reforms in that sector. And we realise the need to create an alternative to bank loans. … In our country, good borrowers are not overburdened with loans and the level of bad debts is really high,” said AIFC Governor Kairat Kelimbetov at the event.

That alternative is the stock market under development in the country. To date, the existing KASE (Kazakhstan Stock Exchange) has not been able to show good results; its capitalisation is only 5 percent to GDP, while, for example, in Eastern European countries the rate is more than 15-20 percent, he added.

AIX will be the main platform for the initial public offering (IPOs) of Kazakhstan’s major companies as part of the much-discussed privatisation programme.

“A very good chance for the development of the stock market is the initiative on privatisation of the largest assets of national companies, which are part of the Samruk Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund announced by the head of state within the 100 [Concrete] Steps. The programme of their IPOs will begin in 2018 and in 2019-2020 we will see how the first companies – Air Astana and KazAtomProm – will be privatised… Privatisation in Kazakhstan is needed not to fill the holes in the budget, but to attract investments, to diversify investors and, most importantly, to improve corporate governance,” said Kelimbetov.

AIX will function under English law and will open access to a wide investors’ base. Its partners, the world’s largest exchanges, will be announced in May or June and help launch the most high-tech platform in the region, he added.

Thus far, AIFC has signed memorandums of understanding with the Warsaw, Shanghai and Moscow stock exchanges, as well as NASDAQ, and exchanges in South Korea and Saudi Arabia. A memorandum was also signed with the Japan Securities Dealers Association, Korea Capital Market Institute, Korea Financial Investment Association and other organisations specialising in Islamic finance.

“The stock exchange will serve as a mechanism for the diversification of the economy by providing access to capital and allowing Kazakh investors to benefit from the economic growth of the country by investing in local major and successful enterprises,” according to the AIFC press service.

AIFC is set to create a new infrastructure jointly with its partners in accordance with the world’s best standards. It will allow trading in securities, commodities and derivative securities with a full cycle of the business process: the organisation of trading and clearing and registering securities.

The conference was organised jointly with BNY Mellon, FTI Consulting and Kinstellar and brought together representatives of Credit Suisse, KMG D&S, Kazatomprom and experts and analytics in the investment and stock market development fields.

AIFC will assist in attracting investments to the Kazakh economy by creating an attractive environment for investing in financial services, developing the securities market and ensuring its integration with international capital markets.

One of the main features of the new financial centre is the fact that legislation will be based on English common law.

“World experience shows that 85 percent of all the biggest successful global and regional financial centres work in the model of the legal content of English common law. Some can argue which legislation is better – English common or continental, – but we see that basically financial models and financial regulation are oriented towards English common law. The simplest justification for this is that English common law is [based on] a precedent and, in fact, it is the most flexible,” said Kelimbetov.

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Central Asian regional hub for countering global threats to open in Astana

Fri, 2017-04-14 02:27

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The Central Asian Regional Hub for Countering Global Threats will be established in the capital within the Academy of Law Enforcement Agencies under the Prosecutor General’s Office. The plan was announced April 11 at the meeting in Vienna between Prosecutor General Zhakip Assanov and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Yury Fedotov.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between the Kazakh Prosecutor General’s Office and the UN, according to the office’s press service.

“It is an important event for us. This will help the Central Asian countries to increase their potential in combating the challenges, security and stability that stem from terrorism, violent extremism and transnational organised crime. We are grateful to Kazakhstan for its support and we will work in cooperation in this direction,” said Fedotov, according to the press release.

The regional hub will become a location where law enforcement and special bodies will take part in trainings and learn the world’s best practices and advanced technologies to counter five global threats –  extremism and terrorism, illicit drug, weapon and human trafficking, cybercrime and corruption.

“This hub will become a single platform in Central Asia. The law enforcement and special authorities from Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan will learn the best world practices and technologies to counter major global threats,” said Assanov.

The UN and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) headquarters in Vienna are ready to send their leading experts to the regional hub to share experience. The hub aims to become a major international research and development centre for joint research with law enforcement agencies of Central Asian countries.

During his stay in Vienna, Assanov also met with OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier to discuss the main directions of cooperation as part of the Central Asian regional hub. Kazakhstan cooperates with the OSCE on all the most important aspects of strengthening international security in the sphere of combating the challenges and threats of our time, said Assanov.

“We need to unite joint efforts in the fight against violent extremism and terrorism, drug trafficking, corruption and money laundering. The academy’s initiative to create a hub is timely and relevant. We support this initiative. We must attract the best experience of the international expert community,” added Zannier.

Assanov also held talks with International Anti-Corruption Academy Dean Martin Kreutner. The parties noted the common goals and tasks facing their respective institutions and expressed interest in establishing mutually-beneficial cooperation.

UNODC, with 21 regional offices in 150 countries, is a global leader in combating illicit drug, weapon and human trafficking, organised crime and international terrorism.

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U.S. filmmaker chronicles Kazakh eagle hunters in Western Mongolia

Fri, 2017-04-14 02:17

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – A stunning video named “Nomads of Mongolia” describing the life of Kazakh eagle hunters in Western Mongolia shot by U.S. filmmaker Brandon Li has been amazing YouTube and Vimeo viewers over the past few months. The former MTV producer and current global nomad took some time from his schedule to give an exclusive interview to The Astana Times.

“I was drawn to the Kazakh nomads because I wanted to capture a part of the world that still lives traditionally in a unique and visually compelling way.  Cultures like theirs are rapidly dying out around the world, so my goal was to create a vibrant short film that conveys the spirit of their lifestyle while their traditions are still being practiced,” Li said.

The filmmaker spent several weeks in a unique and picturesque place in Mongolia, home of the Kazakh ethnic group. Kazakh people living there have rich traditions that are still being practiced today.

“I filmed in Bayan-Ölgii, in Sagsai and the Altai Mountains. I was simply awed by how strong these people are to survive under such harsh living conditions. Every aspect of their life requires strength, from milking a camel to herding yaks. I was also impressed by the dedication required to train eagles for years in order to utilise them for hunting. I am glad the hunters eventually release the eagles back into the wild so the birds can breed. I also enjoyed experiencing the activities they do for fun like wrestling and horseracing. It was good to see a lighter side to their lives,” he added.

Brandon Li

Since ancient times hunting with eagles has been not only the practice of trapping animals, but also art and entertainment. It has not lost its importance to this day. Today, enthusiasts in Kazakhstan, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, Pakistan, England, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary and many other countries practice eagle hunting. On Nov. 16, 2010 UNESCO recognised falconry as a living human heritage.

“I held an eagle but I did not dare try to eagle hunt. The birds are so large and powerful – it takes a brave person to tame an animal like that. I watched three eagle hunters go out and hunt, though. I was fascinated to see the strategies they use to catch prey. Eagle hunting is a complicated and dangerous practice that requires strength, intelligence and a mutual trust between hunter and eagle,” Li explained.

Li has made 42 videos so far. His works are triggering great interest and inspiring more people to travel and experience different cultures.

“I was born and raised in the U.S. and have been a nomad for about four years. I spend almost all my time outside the U.S., traveling for work and pleasure. So far, I have visited about 35 countries. Filmmaking has been my main form of self-expression for most of my life, whether I was making home videos as a child, studying in film school, or directing commercials and films as an adult.  Traveling is my main source of inspiration so I am always looking for opportunities to have an adventure and make a film about it. I have made films about India, Japan, Hong Kong, Spain, France, Greece, Dubai, Oman and many other places. I always try to focus on the lives of the local people, portraying them in a way that is respectful and accurate while also being visually beautiful. Next, I will be shooting in Mexico and Central America for a short film, and who knows after that. The fun part about my life is that another adventure is always just around the corner,” he said.

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ADB forecasts growth of Kazakh economy

Thu, 2017-04-13 03:21

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) released its forecast for the economic situation in Kazakhstan for 2017, projecting the country’s economic growth will accelerate as a result of state programmes aimed at stimulating consumption and investment.

“The measures taken by the authorities to solve the existing problems in the banking sector are an important step in the right direction,” said director of the ADB office in Kazakhstan Giovanni Capannelli, reported Kazinform.

“However, it is necessary to continue working on stress testing and asset quality analysis in accordance with international standards to determine which banks need additional capital and to improve the assessment of non-performing loans,” he added.

The bank’s experts suggest higher revenues from oil exports will also contribute to the rise. According to the forecast, the growth of Kazakhstan’s gross domestic product will reach 2.4 percent this year and 2.2 percent in 2018. In 2016, the nation’s GDP grew 1 percent. Annual inflation is projected at 8 percent this year within the target corridor of the National Bank (6-8 percent). The experts highlight Kazakh authorities adjust the base rate, carry out transactions in the stock market and maintain control over monopoly prices. At the same time, the report notes there are problems in the banking sector which have to be solved.

The report also emphasises that increasing transparency and improving communication will contribute to improving the effectiveness of operation within the banking sector.

Industrial growth in 2017 will reach 2.4 percent, which will be facilitated by significant infrastructure costs and increased production of oil and gas condensate. The volume of oil production is expected to increase by 3.8 percent and reach 81 million tonnes, which will be achieved due to an increase in production at the Kashagan field and expansion of the Tengiz field. The growth of agriculture in 2017 is projected at 3.5 percent in connection with implementing a new programme of state support for the agricultural and industrial complex.

Kazakhstan became a member of ADB in 1994 and has received more than $5 billion in sovereign and non-sovereign loans for development projects in agriculture, education, finance, transport, water supply and sanitation. Projects implemented with the assistance of ADB helped the country open transport routes, support social equality and develop knowledge products, private entrepreneurship and cooperation with neighbouring countries.

Headquartered in Manila, ADB aims to reduce poverty in the Asia-Pacific region through inclusive economic and environmentally sustainable growth, as well as regional integration. The bank has 67 member countries, 48 ​​of which are from the region.

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Kazakhstan seeks to improve civil service through international partnerships

Thu, 2017-04-13 03:14

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The Civil Service Development global and regional trends report highlighting civil service development and reform in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, the Caucasus and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries throughout the past 25 years was presented April 12 at the Partnership for Civil Service Excellence conference in the capital.

A unique summary, consisting of the theoretical framework and applied expertise of leading scholars and practitioners, aims to become a useful source leading to further improvements of civil service systems, said Civil Service Regional Hub steering committee chairperson Alikhan Baimenov.

Photo credit: press service of ACSH

“Today’s era of globalisation and development of information and communication technologies set new requirements to the quality of civil service systems. Citizens turn to be well informed about solutions in other countries… The state bodies tend to function in a quasi-competitive environment. This stimulates the search of the adequate responses to these challenges. The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has started developing a set of internationally-recognised principles of responsible and effective governance and the regional hub is involved in this process,” he said.

Photo credit: press service of ACSH

Five new countries including Bhutan, Estonia, Indonesia, Lithuania and Palestine joined the hub. The number of international experts currently includes more than 90 individuals. The UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) recognised the hub’s multi-faceted regional initiatives and invited it to present at the 2016 Global South-South Development Expo.

“Another good example is the ever-growing cooperation with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which recently hosted the delegates from the hub’s participating countries at its headquarters to facilitate the dialogue in the field of civil service reforms. The hub is advancing its relations with professional associations from all over the world,” he said.

Baimenov also noted the key role of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The hub’s institutional and financial support is ensured by the agreement between the Kazakh government and UNDP, which will be extended for a three-year period.

The hub has become an important platform for advancing civil service excellence not only in the CIS region but beyond, said UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kazakhstan Norimasa Shimomura.

“The hub has become an excellent example of close and fruitful cooperation between UNDP and the Kazakh government which fosters knowledge development, knowledge sharing and peer-to-peer learning and joint research activities between participating countries. It enables the consolidation of knowledge and best practices in the field of governance and serves as an efficient platform for their dissemination. The hub’s activities contribute to the transformative changes taking place in its participating countries,” he said.

Photo credit: press service of ACSH

“The hub’s activities support Kazakhstan’s development priorities and encompass the five institutional reforms and the Plan of Nation 100 Concrete Steps. The regional hub assisted the Civil Service Agency in this country over the past year in undertaking reforms related to the new pay scales of civil servants and their new competency framework. We hope that this support will trigger the necessary changes in Kazakh civil service and public administration to the benefit of the people of this country,” he added.

The hub is one of the shining examples of highly productive and successful cooperation between the Kazakh government and the UN, noted Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Yerzhan Ashikbayev.

“The hub promotes one of the national strategy’s most important goals – creation of the professional civil service as part of an effective government machinery responsive to the needs of citizens. This is a universal agenda for any government in any country. The hub has helped the Kazakh government and governments of participating countries to build capacity, forge partnerships and adopt best practices and innovations from all over the world with the view to develop a culture of operational excellence,” he said.

Photo credit: press service of ACSH

Ashikbayev stressed more input is expected from the hub on such issues as partnership with the private sector, civil society and the media as Kazakhstan embarks on a new pace of its modernisation agenda in line with priorities put forward by President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

UNOSSC Secretary-General Envoy Jorge Chediek expressed the organisation’s readiness “to scaling up their work with the Astana hub with a view toward increasing capacities of the hub to address the needs of countries in the region and beyond.”

“I came to sign an agreement and confirm our commitment and to deepen our partnership with the Astana centre,” he said.

OECD representative Edwin Lau noted the meeting was an opportunity to better understand the types of practices that can help countries to develop and also develop indicators that are appropriate both for OECD and developing countries.

“The work on indicators is particularly critical, because OECD countries bring quite a bit of experience in terms of methodology in data collection. We believe that having good statistics is important not just for the capacity of the country, but also for evidence-based decision making. We are pleased to be working with the hub to develop indicators on strategic human resource management for Kazakhstan,” he said.

Participants from 40 countries considered the pressing issues and challenges faced by regional nations in the civil service sphere and the roles of partnership and the hub in its solution. The heads of the authorised state bodies of Armenia,  Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Ukraine took part in the discussions.

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Kazakhstan’s Modernisation 3.0 is to create a completely new, non-commodity economic model, minister says

Wed, 2017-04-12 07:37

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

The country has decided on a strategy: we need a new model for economic growth that will ensure global competitiveness; we need to expand the business environment and improve the conditions for mass entrepreneurship; we need to stabilise economic growth for the long term. What will be Kazakhstan’s response to external and internal geopolitical and economic challenges? Minister of National Economy Timur Suleimenov spoke about the state of the economy here and now and about how the county intends to achieve its goals.

Minister of National Economy Timur Suleimenov

Mr. Suleimenov, what kind of understanding of trends in the world and the national economy has 2016 brought us? What was the beginning of this year like for us and what can you say about the quality of our economic growth?

Let us start with the second part of your question. The figures characterising the results of the year have been mentioned many times, so I will focus only on the main indicators. Thus, annual inflation in 2016 was 8.5 percent compared to 13.6 percent in 2015. Since early 2016, there has been an improvement in economic activity and the indicators of the real sector of the economy. In January and February 2017, gross domestic product growth was 2.5 percent compared to the corresponding period of 2016.

As for the quality of economic growth, it is ensured by growth in agriculture (by 1.6 percent), industry (by 4.5 percent), construction (by 5.3 percent), trade (by 2 percent) and transport (by 3.2 percent). The construction sector continues to grow: the volume of construction work has increased by 5.3 percent due to the implementation of projects through the Nurly Zhol state programme, the Industrialisation Map and housing development programmes. Investment activity also supports the positive pace of economic growth: according to recent figures, investment volumes in January and February 2017 has increased by 11.3 percent.

As for trends, the shocks on global raw materials markets, like the transition to a new economic reality, are just some signs of rapid and irreversible change in the world. Our economy cannot be unaffected by issues of the global economy and geopolitics that have occurred or are taking place here and now. And the year 2016, as well as the two previous years, was rather complicated for Kazakhstan. We looked for ways to adapt to new external and internal conditions.

Nevertheless, we are not just observers, we see and evaluate the trends of the economy’s digitisation and the automation and robotisation of production. We want to have accelerated development, but we are restrained by high dependence on the raw materials sector and yet-low rates of technological modernisation in most industries, due to insufficiently active involvement of new technologies in production. This also includes the still-wide participation of the state in regulating business processes.

We need to radically improve the institutional and business environment; we need to create conditions comparable to the level of developed countries for the effective development of human capital. All this requires a pragmatic approach. And our choice is the third modernisation of Kazakhstan declared by the head of state in his address to the people of Kazakhstan. We have to create a new model of economic growth in a short period of time.

Kazakhstan’s national debt, its absolute and relative value compared to GDP, is also of interest, isn’t it? It is especially important in light of the upcoming changes in the institutional and practical implementation of economic innovations. How big is the national debt and why is it growing?

According to the Ministry of Finance, the national debt as of Jan. 1, 2017, amounted to 11.4 trillion tenge ($36.4 billion), or 25 percent of GDP. And this is a safe level of national debt. The government’s debt is 8.9 trillion tenge ($28.4 billion), 19.4 percent of GDP; the National Bank’s debt is 2.5 trillion tenge ($7.9 billion), or 5.5 percent of GDP; the debt of local executive bodies is 40.7 billion tenge ($130 million), or 0.1 percent of GDP.

Compared to early 2016, the national debt increased by 2.4 trillion tenge ($7.7 billion) – from 9 trillion ($28.7 billion) to 11.4 trillion ($36.4 billion), mainly due to an increase in the domestic debt of the National Bank by 252.3 billion tenge ($805.4 million). This was caused by the implementation of the monetary policy through issuing notes of the National Bank, as well as the development by the government of loans on existing credit lines attracted from international financial organisations (IFOs) and the attraction of government loans from themselves to finance the deficit of the national budget.

The government’s debt has increased by 211.6 billion tenge ($675.5 million) due to the development of loans under existing credit lines attracted from IFOs and the development of the government’s loan taken from the World Bank – $1 billion to finance the deficit of the national budget.

At the same time, liabilities to the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Development Bank (IDB) amount to 2.2 trillion tenge ($7 billion), or 47.8 percent of the total external debt of the government. The next largest part, 46.9 percent, is made up of obligations on Eurobonds (2.2 trillion tenge or $7 billion) and to governments of other countries (244.8 billion tenge or $781.5 million), at 5.3 percent.

As a rule, ministers of the financial and economic sector, when answering questions about the external debt of Kazakhstan, sharply differentiate between government debt and the debt of the quasi-public sector. Tell us about the latter – how large is it?

That is an absolutely correct differentiation. In general, the presence of national debt is evidence that the economy is developing: the country borrows from foreign markets for development. As I have said, 25 percent of GDP is a safe level of national debt.

Now, the aggregate debt of the three main entities of the quasi-public sector – the Samruk Kazyna National Welfare Fund and the KazAgro and Baiterek national managing holdings – is 13.3 trillion tenge ($42.5 billion), or 29.1 percent of GDP, of which the foreign debt is 7.3 trillion ($23.3 billion), or 15.9 percent of GDP.

Of course, the government has developed and implemented measures aimed at restraining the growth of national debt and the debt of the quasi-public sector. Let me point out that the concept for the formation and use of the National Fund Resources introduces a limit on the amount of government debt and foreign debt of the quasi-public sector, which should not exceed the size of the currency assets of the National Fund. As of Jan. 1, 2017, it accounts for $61.2 billion, or 44.6 percent of GDP.

In addition, the law on the national budget annually sets limits on the government debt. For example, in 2017, this limit amounts to 11.2 billion tenge ($35.8 million). The same applies to granting state guarantees and the debt of local executive bodies.

And since the costs of servicing and repayment of the government debt should not exceed 15 percent of the revenues of the national budget, a restriction will be imposed on the borrowing of the quasi-public sector. That is, the holdings will be obliged to coordinate the volume of external and internal borrowings with the government.

The component of the national debt in GDP that you have mentioned – 25 percent – could be considered scanty if we had a clearly diversified economy. We do not have such an economy – is that why it is so difficult for us to see this level of national debt as low?

We are coming to the end of a cycle of high prices for raw materials and, accordingly, ultra-high rental income. The world, as you see, is moving from hydrocarbons to renewable energy sources. In Kazakhstan today, the pace of modernisation of the economy and the development of different technologies, including the use of renewable energy resources, is not high. Therefore, in order to prevent structural changes in the global economy from leading us to significant costs and becoming an obstacle to productivity growth, we will create new industries at the junction of traditional sectors and the services sector. The technological re-equipment of basic industries will increase labour productivity growth by 1.3 times by 2020.

The purpose of implementing the third modernisation in the country is to create a completely new, non-commodity economic model.

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Social Health Insurance Fund CEO clarifies system for health contributions

Wed, 2017-04-12 00:24

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – The Kazakh Parliament is considering amendments to the law on compulsory social health insurance. If they are approved, contribution rates to the Social Health Insurance Fund (SHIF) will be reduced to ease the burden on the economy and business, said SHIF chairperson Elena Bakhmutova.

Elena Bakhmutova

“In general, the proposal is to reduce the rate from employers to 1 percent starting from July 1. Gradually, this rate will increase to 3 percent by 2022. Meanwhile, rates for employees will remain unchangeable at 1 percent from 2019 and 2 percent from 2020. Thus, employer and employee will collectively pay 5 percent of the employee’s salary, not exceeding 15-fold size of minimum wage by 2022. A 5-percent threshold will also eventually be established for the other categories of citizens. However, the object of calculation will be different amounts in each case. Individual entrepreneurs should start paying fees as early as July 1 at a rate of 5 percent and the object of calculation is two minimum wages. This rule applies for all categories of entrepreneurs – peasant farms, notaries or lawyers,” she said.

State rates will be set at 3.75 percent from January 1, 2018. Gradually, this rate will reach at least 4 percent by 2022, but not more than 5 percent. Its specific size will be set in the law of that period’s national budget.

“The state pays for 14 preferential categories of citizens based on the average monthly wage for 2016. The rate, as you can see, may eventually approach 5 percent. At the same time, the category of inactive citizens who are not currently engaged in economic activities needs general clarification; they do not work in legal business, either they are self-employed or work somewhere unregistered. For them, it is very important to apply to a registration campaign of polyclinics so that they can firmly understand whether they belong to the preferential category or they still have to take care of their own insurance and pay their contributions to the system. For them, contributions to the system will be 5 percent of the minimum wage,” said Bakhmutova.

Monthly contributions for the inactive population, most of whom live in rural areas and do not have any recognisable income, will be 1,414 tenge (US$4.50) by 2018, she added. One can pay through the second-tier banks. Funds will be transferred to the SHIF account in the National Bank, which will start spending them on medical services which will be offered to citizens as well as foreign citizens legally residing in the country.

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Kazakhstan’s hockey team prepares for World Championship Division One

Tue, 2017-04-11 08:21

The Astana Times provides news and information from Kazakhstan and around the world.

ASTANA – Kazakhstan’s hockey team is getting ready for the division one World Championship Division One tournament, which will be held in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, April 22-28. The team of coach Eduard Zankovets will compete against teams from Austria, Poland, South Korea, Hungary and Ukraine. The best two teams will go through to the top division.

Photo credit: Astana Barys press service

Kazakh hockey players gathered in Astana in early April. A week later Kazakhstan’s Canadian-born players Kevin Dallman, Dustin Boyd and Nigel Dawes joined the team. Another Canadian-born, Brendon Bochenski, despite unjustified rumours about his career ending, arrived a bit later.

The team played two warm-up matches with the Automobilist team as part of their preparations. The first match ended in a 1-0 win by the visiting team. The naturalised foreigners did not participate in this match. The second match was won by the home team, whose player Maxim Khudyakov scored two goals. However, as Zankovets noted, the results of the matches are not the most important thing.

Photo credit: Astana Barys press service

“The most important thing is to check the candidates for the national team. Basically, we have a competition for a place in the third and fourth lines. It is these two matches that should give us an answer to the question: who deserves to get into the line-up. Moreover, the team is in the training process, which means some pressure, and this should have given the guys additional game practice,” the head coach said.

Another foreign player of Barys, Marten Saint-Pierre, took part in the second game. He most likely will also receive Kazakhstan citizenship and play at the World Championships. The main goalkeeper, according to the head coach, will be Vitaly Kolesnik.

Team Kazakhstanis one of the favourites of the upcoming tournament. However, too much confidence can play a low-down trick and prevent Zankovets’ team from winning first place.

Photo credit: Astana Barys press service

“Let’s play and see. One thing we know for sure is that it won’t be easy. We should prepare hard and shouldn’t relax even at that level. Some might underestimate opponents, I just know how it happens, as I’ve been at such championships. I understand that if you don’t have the mindset, you can lose to absolutely any opponent,” said defender from Kazakhstan’s national team Maxim Semenov.

According to the head coach of Kazakhstan’s national team, they will have very difficult matches. “Kazakhstan is one of the favourites. Moreover, there are such good teams as Austria, Hungary, but at the same time, let’s not forget that any other team can give us a surprise, including the home team, Korea. So we will need to train really hard,” said Zankovets.

Kazakhstan’s team will go to Slovenia soon to have a warm-up match with the national team of that country, then to Italy, where they will also play a test match. The World Championship Division One Group A matches will be held in Kiev April 22-28.

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