ASTANA – Kazakhstan is embarking on some of the most ambitious reforms in its independent history as President Nursultan Nazarbayev moves to implement his election campaign platform of five institutional reforms.
On May 20, three weeks after Nazarbayev announced in his inaugural speech that a “Plan of the Nation” would be developed to radically change the country, two leading Kazakh daily newspapers published the government’s concrete approaches to implementing those reforms.
The approaches, outlined in the “100 Concrete Steps to Implement Five Institutional Reforms” document, have been published to not only give the country a clear sense of the direction in which the newly reelected leader wants to take it, but also to be used as a checklist by the international community.
“We have now published the 100 Steps for the world to see,” Nazarbayev said in his remarks at the plenary session of the Astana Economic Forum on May 22. “Now the world will be able to track our progress or lack thereof on all of them.”
“One hundred concrete steps are a response to global and local challenges and, at the same time, it is a plan for the nation to join the top 30 most-developed countries in the new historical conditions. One hundred concrete steps will give Kazakhstan a margin of safety that will help the country through a difficult period, implement the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy and strengthen Kazakh statehood. The plan lays out radical changes in society and the state, the main goal of which is treatment of systemic diseases, not just smoothing their exterior symptoms,” outlines the preamble to the document.
The concrete steps, which are shorter and more precise measures, are grouped under the following five institutional reforms: formation of a professional state apparatus; the rule of law; industrialisation and economic growth; identity and unity; formation of accountable government.
According to the document, the first reform suggests formation of a modern, professional and independent public service that ensures high-quality implementation of economic programmes and delivery of public services.
A few steps under this reform are concentrated on new ways to recruit talented candidates for public office, including from the private sector. One of them actually even allows for appointing foreign citizens to positions within the government, a practice better known in the post-Soviet realm in countries such as Georgia and Ukraine. Two more measures stipulate elaboration of a new code on civil service and a re-examination of public servants aimed at cleansing the corps of the less competent. The timeline and terms of such a massive effort are yet to be defined.
The announced steps also foresee the introduction of a revamped system of remuneration for civil servants that will rely on performance- and region-based criteria. The latter could be relevant for those working in the oil-producing regions of Atyrau and Mangystau, as well as in Almaty and Astana where life is notably costlier than, for instance, in Shymkent or Petropavlovsk.
The second reform involves the transition from the five-level justice system (first, appeal, cassation, supervising and re-supervising) to a three-level (first, appeal and cassation) system. The aim is to strengthen foreign and domestic investors’ trust in Kazakhstan’s court system. The measures include toughening qualification criteria for the recruitment of judges by introducing a new requirement for a candidate to serve at least five years within the court system and a one-year trial period for newly-appointed judges, improving the public image of police in order to increase the level of citizens’ trust and cut corruption. In general, implementing this reform seeks to ensure property rights by improving conditions for entrepreneurial activity and protecting contractual obligations.
One of the steps under this reform requires expansion of court proceedings that must be decided by a jury, while introducing into laws a category of criminal cases where consideration by jury will be mandatory.
Another “step” stipulates the creation of a municipal or “local” police force, which will work under the control and in close cooperation with local executive authorities and local communities. A widespread practice in the world, it has a brief history in Kazakhstan. In 1992, an institution of local police was introduced but was scrapped after less than a year in favour of a more centralised model.
Within the third reform, the government is eager to attract strategic investors to the country’s agricultural sector that is lagging behind the industrial and services branches of economy. Beyond that, one of the measures stipulates that the tax and customs systems will be integrated. This will open doors to an importer to transport commodities into Kazakhstan before selling them.
The third reform also talks about the extension of the current practice of civil servants making declarations of incomes to declaring expenses as well, starting from January 2017. The following stage could be extended to all citizens, however, no timetable for such an expansion has been defined.
One of the measures talks about strengthening the institution of a “business ombudsman,” a kind of prosecutor on behalf of entrepreneurs. Implementation of those tasks will boost economic growth and diversify industry.
A few steps concentrate on establishing a “multi-modal Eurasian transcontinental transport corridor” that would facilitate quicker delivery of goods between Asia and Europe via Kazakhstan. Among similar measures, construction of a new airport to service the growing needs of Almaty is also mentioned.
Two more steps envisage establishing the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) with a status significantly different enough that it may require introducing amendments into the nation’s Constitution. Those maybe justified by a need to introduce a separate judicial system in the AIFC based largely on the English law and the use of English as “an official language” of the centre, along with Kazakh and Russian. The design of the centre, similar to one used in Dubai, would turn Astana into a major “financial hub for the [Commonwealth of Independent States] CIS countries and West Asia.” The centre would focus particularly on “servicing capital markets and Islamic finances” with a goal to becoming one of the 20 leading financial centres of the world.
AIFC will use the facilities constructed for EXPO 2017 following the exhibition, Nazarbayev announced at the Astana Economic Forum.
On a social side, one of the steps requires the “introduction of mandatory medical insurance” with a “solidary responsibility of state, employers and employees.” Details of this step have not been announced.
The main aspect of the fourth reform concerning issues of “Identity and Unity,” is shaping a “Nation of Common Future” by nurturing a viable middle class as the backbone of a successful nation, which is achieved by sustaining the genuine rule of law and modern and valid political, economic and civil institutions in the society. According to the publication, the ideology of Mangilik El (The Eternal Nation) should serve as a system of common civic values.
Measures to boost domestic tourism and establish encyclopaedia-type information resources and databases systematising presentation of Kazakhstan’s natural and human resources are prominent in the description of the steps under this reform.
The fifth reform involves “creation of an accountable government.” From now on, the heads of public bodies will report annually to the general public on the achievements of their agencies. This will include a concept of “open government” (elaboration of a new law on unhindered access to public information with an exclusion for classified materials), budget and consolidated financial statements, the results of an external financial audit, evaluation of the effectiveness of public policy, public assessment of the results of the quality of public services, online statistical reports from the state agencies and reports on the execution of the national and local budgets.
Further development of an e-government concept, that has seen a highly successful implementation in Kazakhstan, is included in the proposal as reflected in the last of the 100 steps, on establishing a State Corporation of Government for Citizens that is to become a single provider of public services. The arrangement would be modelled on Canada Service and Austrialia’s Centre link.
In order to implement all of the above-mentioned reforms, the National Modernisation Commission under the President has been created. The head of the commission is Prime Minister Karim Massimov. It consists of five working groups, members of which include local and foreign experts. The commission will have its own International Advisory Council, with the inclusion of international experts responsible not only for providing recommendations but also “performing an independent systematised monitoring of results in implementation of the reforms.”
International participants in the May 21-22 Astana Economic Forum have commented on the newly published 100 steps document.
According to the Kazinform news agency, Chairman of Russia’s Sberbank German Gref said he experienced something of a “culture shock” after reading it and that Russia should take on board Kazakhstan’s Plan of the Nation and create a mutual plan with Astana called “100 steps together.”
The head of Sberbank called the document “comprehensive and logically well developed.”
“I can quite professionally assess this document. For many years, I was engaged in this topic. I can say that this document is one of the best I have ever seen. If at least 50 out of 100 steps are completed, and I hope that most of them are implemented, it is obvious that Kazakhstan will turn into a fundamentally different country,” Gref said.