On 23 January, 2013, Nursultan Nazarbayev held a governmental meeting, during which he stressed the need to strenghten the informational influence of the pro-governmental party and to carry out pension reform. He also disseminated information about the problems of ineffective use of budget funds, in particular, about the disappearance of $10 billion, allocated by the National Fund for the fight against the global financial crisis.
Nursultan Nazarbayev outlined priority objectives for the Government in the near future, namely: further industrialisation of economy; development of the agricultural sector; launching of the second wave of privatisation of public enterprises; carrying out administrative reform and the implementation of the Local Government Development Convention; preparation for the potential influence of global recession; lifting the moratorium on the use of mineral resources, which should allow foreign investors to extract raw materials.
Despite Nursultan Nazarbayev’s declarations, recently one can observe unfavourable conditions for the investment climate, stemming from corruption and the policy of ‘oil nationalism’. As a result, Western investors are closing their projects in Kazakhstan. In 2012, the government amended the law on subsoil use, and subsequently, statements on the shutdown of their activity in Kazakhstan were issued by: the French company Total, the Italian company ‘Eni’, the Norwegian company ‘Statoil’, as well as the American company ‘ConocoPhillips’. The British-Dutch company ‘Shell’, previously prepared to participate in projects in the Caspian Sea, has retracted all of its previous proposals. On 30 January, 2013, information was disseminated that 24.5% of the shares held by ‘ConocoPhillips’ had been acquired by the state oil company ‘KazMunaiGaz’. Thus, the state obtained 75.5% of shares in projects in the Caspian Sea.
The President also ordered the government to create a single pension fund, by transferring to it all private pension funds. According to the President, this will allow for a more efficient and safe distribution of citizens’ savings. However, representatives of pension funds argue that the nationalisation of pension funds will lead to a dilution of income and non-transparent management of pension assets.
Experts and opposition activists consider the order of the President, regarding the strengthening of the influence of the pro-government party ‘Nur Otan’ in the regions, a return to the Soviet past, when a full merger of the Party and State precluded the possibility of forming a political opposition.
An opposition politician, journalist and human rights activist Zhasaral Kuanyshalin notes that, by these means, the President is trying to fully control the election of rural akims (governors). An activist, the head of the Atyrau NGO ‘Arlan’, Maks Bokayev believes that the order to strengthen the Nur Otan Party will allow members to launder money, as huge financial means are allocated for the implementation of presidential initiatives.
One of the most unexpected and widely commented upon was the statement of the President regarding the missing $10 billion, allocated from the National Fund in 2008 for the fight against the financial crisis. “It’s easy to request and spend the money of the National Fund. What happened to the money that was allocated for the crisis, the 10 billion dollars, we still have not seen this amount, it has disappeared, there is no return”- said Nursultan Nazarbayev. In fact, the President’s words sounded like a mere statement of fact, as he didn’t give instructions to investigate the situation and to bring to justice those responsible for the loss of funds.
Responsible ministers began to give excuses for the loss of money from the National Fund the very next day, on 24 January, 2013. They did it through the press. The Minister of Economy and Budget Planning Erbolat Dosayev stated that the amount spent on the stimulus package had been primarily invested in the banking sector, so “it cannot be considered lost, as it can be returned to the state in the future, for example, after the National Welfare Fund ‘Samruk-Kazyna disaffiliation from the capital of banks, which have undergone restructuring”. The Finance Minister Bolat Zhamishev also assured reporters that the money allocated for the fight against the crisis, will be returned to the state.
In the last two months, two major air crashes have occurred in Kazakhstan, killing dozens of people. Some officials blame inefficient state management of civil aviation for the downfall.
On 29 January, 2013, 5 km from Almaty, a ‘Challenger-200’ plane, owned by SCAT airline, en route to Kokshetau-Almaty, crashed. As a result, 21 people were killed – all the passengers and crew members. The plane was landing in heavy fog, about which the crew was warned twice. The official representative of the main transport prosecutor’s office, Adilet Toktamysov, stated that the crew did not have the appropriate skills to land a plane in such adverse weather conditions. The prosecutor’s office are considering two possible causes of the crash: human error and technical fault.
Let us remind ourselves that earlier, on 25 December, 2012, military transport departmental plane AN-72, belonging to the Border Patrol’s National Security Committee crashed near Shymkent. All 27 passengers and crew were killed. On 22 January, 2012, General Prosecutor’s Office announced that according to preliminary results of the investigation, the crash was caused by: the problem with the aircraft hardware, errors made by the crew commander when piloting the aircraft, and adverse weather conditions.
In connection to the recent plane crashes, on 1 February, 2013, the Chairman of the Agency for the Protection of Competition, Bolatbek Kuandykov, offered to withdraw the civil aviation industry from state regulation due to the unprofitability of most airports. The official said that over-regulation of airports has resulted in the unprofitability of 12 out of 21 airports.
The General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation confirmed the illegality of actions of Kazakh special services which on 15 December, 2012 in Moscow made an attempt to detain Aynur Kurmanov, a renowned Kazakh oppositionist and a co-chair of the organisation ‘Socialist Movement of Kazakhstan’. An attempt to arrest him was undertaken during the rally of the Communist Party in Moscow.
On 17 January, 2013, the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation informed the human rights defender, Lev Ponomarev, that Kazakhstan had not issued any requests for the arrest and extradition of Aynur Kurmanov. On 28 January, 2013, MEP Paul Murphy, addressing the government of the Russian Federation, said: “Aynur Kurmanov, fearing for his life and freedom, had to temporarily relocate to Russia, where he hadn’t violated the local laws. An attempt to kidnap him in Moscow by Kazakh special services is a political act, and it is directly related to his labour union activities, and the struggle for the liberation of the convicted oil workers and leaders of workers’ organisations of Kazakhstan”. The member of European Parliament called on Russia not to release Aynur Kurmanov to the Kazakh authorities.
Freedom of the media
‘Reporters Without Borders’ and ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists’ have noted a severe deterioration of the situation with regard to freedom of speech in Kazakhstan, which negatively affects the country’s international image.
On 22-24 January, 2013, representatives of the international organisation ‘Reporters without Borders’ met with journalists and government officials in Kazakhstan. Following the visit, representatives of the organisation, Anna Suleliak and Johann Beer, stated that in the court proceedings concerning the newspapers ‘Vzglyad’, ‘Respublika’ as one media outlet, the Internet portal ‘stan.tv’, the TV channel ‘K +’, the prosecution and the defence were on an equal footing, and, as a result, the court was inclined more to the arguments of prosecutors and conclusions of experts, summoned for the prosecution.
In addition, Johann Beer stated: “There are very few independent and opposition media outlets in the country, in fact, there are no critical television or radio outlets, there remain only online media outlets and several publications in the press. Still, there are very few of them, and they are subjected to pressure. Legislation itself includes many aspects which are problematic, when it comes to freedom of speech”. In the Freedom of Speech Index, Kazakhstan occupied the 160th place out of 179 countries in the world (between Pakistan and Rwanda).
In its report ‘Attacks on the Press in 2012’, Committee to Protect Journalists noted that in 2012, the Kazakh authorities harassed the media outlets which had presented a multi-lateral assessment of the events in Zhanaozen in December 2011. Among the major violations they cited: the closure of independent media outlets, arrests and violent attacks on inconvenient journalists, multi-million tenge claims filed by officials against journalists on unsubstantiated charges of defamation. At the same time, the legal base serves to limit freedom of speech: “Following the labour unrest in December 2011, the Nazarbayev government has passed a law, forbidding the dissemination of information, which is considered a threat to national security, through the press and electronic mass media. Still, it does not clarify the criteria for determining a threat”.