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Kazakhstan’s government determined to enhance engagement with civil society

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This year, Kazakhstan is marking its 30th anniversary as an independent state. We have come a long way over the last three decades. Our economy has greatly expanded and our political processes are unrecognisable compared to when we just gained our independence from the Soviet Union, writes Usen Suleimen.

A critical element of Kazakhstan’s development has been the growth of our civil society, especially the increase in the number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). It is hard to believe that in the early 1990s there were only approximately 400 NGOs in Kazakhstan. The story is much different today. By now, the number of active registered NGOs in Kazakhstan has increased 40-fold to around 16,000. Many operate in the sphere of support for socially vulnerable segments of the population or issues related to the protection of the rights and legal interests of citizens and organisations.

This dynamic is of course most welcome. A developed civil society is the foundation of any modern and thriving state. It provides an effective dialogue platform, as well as a communication bridge between representatives of the government and the public.

Therefore, the government of Kazakhstan has continued to support actively NGOs, including financially. In 2020, grants were provided worth 1.8 billion tenge (over 4.3 million US dollars). Most of the funding went towards supporting the projects related to the welfare and development of children and young people. Approximately 305.4 million tenge ($740,000) was allocated to promote directly the development of civil society, including increasing the efficiency of the activities of non-governmental organisations.

While substantial progress has been made, we are of course aware of the need to continue to develop the space for NGOs to thrive.

For this reason, the government takes active interest in this endeavour. Since 2003, a Civil Forum, which serves as a platform for ensuring a dialogue between the state and NGOs, is regularly organised in our capital. The ninth Civil Forum held last November offered 12 virtual meetings between heads of ministries and representatives of NGOs. The participants discussed the main directions of the new concept for the development of civil society, citizen participation in decision-making, and mechanisms and opportunities for public scrutiny of government work, as well as other topics.

Another important tool for effective engagement between government and civil society is the Consultative and Advisory Body “Dialogue Platform for the Human Dimension”, which was set up at the initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan in 2013 to further consolidate opportunities for the NGOs to engage in direct dialogue with representatives of the Government and Parliament on the issues of human rights and democratic reforms.

Meetings are held once a quarter under my chairmanship, with the participation of representatives of NGOs, members of parliament, representatives of the Human Rights Commission under the President of Kazakhstan, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Council and relevant ministries, as well as representatives of our international partners, including the UN Development Programme, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, OSCE, the European Union, foreign diplomatic missions, USAID, Penal Reform International, etc.

The relevance of this platform increased considerably with the announcement by Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of the concept of a “listening state”, implying stronger focus on the government’s engagement with the civil society, and implementation since 2019 of three packages of reforms in the field of human rights and further democratisation of political processes in the country.

Through open and transparent discussion, the activities of the platform have been vital to identifying systemic problems, as well as working together with Kazakh and international NGOs to find joint solutions. Our meetings provide a useful arrangement to discuss recommendations of the UN convention committees on Kazakhstan's implementation of international obligations to protect human rights.

Let me also give you two examples of issues, which had been closely reviewed by the Dialogue Platform and resulted in adoption of new legislative acts. One is the updated law on peaceful assemblies in Kazakhstan. The key change is that since last year NGOs or other groups that want to hold such a meeting need only to notify the local authorities about it five days before the actual event instead of applying for a permit. Another example is that last year the Article 130 of the country’s Criminal Code, namely on libel, was, at last, decriminalised. Both these topics had been regularly and vigorously discussed at the Dialogue Platform’s meetings.

The necessity for such a platform became especially clear earlier this year, when members of the Kazakh civil society raised the issue of the suspension of a few NGOs following inspections by the tax authorities. It was recommended at the meeting held on 26th January 2021 that the suspended organisations should apply to the higher tax authorities and appeal the decision. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, Mukhtar Tileuberdi, assured that he would take this issue under his control.

Following a thorough review with the tax authorities, only a week later, on 3 February, all charges against the affected NGOs were dropped and the decision to suspend their activities was annulled. This situation has demonstrated why it is so important for the government and the civil society to have clear lines of communication. Without the Dialogue Platform for the Human Dimension and the open conversations between civil society and Kazakh government, the issue of the suspension of NGOs may not have been resolved so efficiently. Undoubtedly, lessons need to be learned following this case, but I believe I can say with some confidence that the engagement between civil society and our government is currently tangible and practical.

Of course, we will not stop here.

Last year, the President approved the Concept for the Development of Civil Society in Kazakhstan until 2025 last year. Its aim is to strengthen the system of partnership between the state, business, and civil society, as well as to facilitate further political transformation and modernisation in Kazakhstan. I believe we have a solid foundation to move steadily in this direction.

Usen Suleimen is the Ambassador at Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan to work with the EU on climate conference in Nur-Sultan

Catherine Feore

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Following the meeting of the EU-Kazakhstan Cooperation Council (10 May), Portuguese Minister for Foreign Affairs Augusto Santos Silva and Kazakhstan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Mukhtar Tleuberdi confirmed the mutual commitment in further strengthening bilateral relations. 

The Cooperation Council reviewed the progress made in the implementation of the EU-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (EPCA), which entered into force on 1 March 2020. Bilateral co-operation between Kazakhstan and the European Union has progressed steadily, even in these challenging times, through continued exchanges in the Co-operation Committee, Subcommittees and dialogues, and today’s Co-operation Council.

Santos Silva said: “Bilateral co-operation between Kazakhstan and the European Union has progressed steadily in relation to trade. Even in a year as difficult as last year, the EU has consolidated its position as Kazakhstan’s main trade partner and first foreign investor and Kazakhstan remains the main trade partner of the EU in Central Asia.”

Abolition of the death penalty

The Co-operation Council also provided an opportunity for reinforced political dialogue and addressed issues of good governance, the promotion and protection of human rights, and engagement with civil society. Santos Silva congratulated Kazakhstan for the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concerning the abolition of the death penalty. The EU strongly supports Kazakhstan’s further democratization. 

Climate neutrality

Tleuberdi said: “Kazakhstan, like the EU, plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. In this regard we expressed our interest in finding new areas for co-operation under the Paris Agreement and the European green deal.” The EU looks forward to the EU-Kazakhstan Climate Conference on 3 June, in Nur-Sultan, and joint work towards the COP26 on climate.

The Co-operation Council discussed recent developments as regards Central Asian regional co-operation and the EU side thanked Kazakhstan for its active role in promoting peace, stability and security in the wider region, including with Afghanistan. 

Visas

Tleuberdi also raised the issue of visas for Kazakh citizens to facilitate person-to-person contacts, making it easier to visit EU countries. He said the issue remained high on his agenda and that he looked forward to launching negotiations with European colleagues on this issue.

The EU looked forward to the first official visit of President Tokayev to Brussels when conditions allow.

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Kazakhstan to deliver humanitarian assistance to India

Astana Times

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Kazakhstan will provide humanitarian assistance to India due to the sharp deterioration of the epidemiological situation in this country, reported the Akorda Press, writes Zhanna Shayakhmetova.

President Tokayev instructed the government to provide humanitarian aid to India during the meeting with Prime Minister Askar Mamin on 7 May.

This was announced at the meeting of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Prime Minister Askar Mamin on May 7.

President Tokayev instructed the government to dispatch 6 million medical masks, 400,000 respirators, 50,000 anti-plague suits, and 105 portable artificial lung ventilation devices made in Kazakhstan.

India observed a record daily rise in coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing total new cases for the week to 1.57 million, according to Reuters.

India is now the second most corona-affected country with the overall cases standing at 21.49 million. 

On May 4, Tokayev delivered a message to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to express “deep solidarity with the Indian nation over the devastating COVID-19 surge in their country.”

The President noted that Kazakhstan is ready “to unite efforts with our Indian friends to contain the spread of the pandemic and provide every possible assistance in the spirit of enduring friendship and mutual support between our states.”

Earlier, it was reported that Kazakhstan will provide humanitarian aid that consists of 10,000 tons of flour to Kyrgyzstan. 

“Guided by the principles of friendship, alliance and strategic partnership with Kyrgyzstan, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev decided to provide humanitarian assistance to the fraternal Kyrgyz people on behalf of the Kazakh people,”  President’s spokesperson Berik Uali wrote  on his Facebook on May 6. 

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Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan has entered an interesting and critical new stage in its development.

Colin Stevens

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This is one of the conclusions of a major analysis of the early stages of the presidency of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

A report authored by political scientist Andrey Chebotarev outlines social, political and economic reforms already undertaken by the president, all initiated despite the country also grappling with the ongoing health pandemic.

Chebotarev stresses that the report is an objective assessment of the political and socio-economic changes taking place in Kazakhstan.

The study concludes that the president’s zeal and commitment for reform “fully resonates with the population.”

The report was commissioned by the respected Kazakhstan Council on International Relations (КCIR).

KCIR is an influential foreign policy think tank established in 2017 and the president is its honorary chairman.

Entitled, “Political Reforms in Kazakhstan: New Course of President Tokayev”, the findings were published in March.

It states that the change of national leadership in Kazakhstan in March 2019 marked the end of the “first crucial political chapter” – nearly three decades long – of the nation’s history and was a timely chance to provide a critique of what has been achieved so far.

The first two years of the presidency of Tokayev’s presidency have posed “serious tests of strength” for him, the government, and for the country, says the report, with the most far-reaching test being the crisis.

 The author, a lecturer in political science, argues that the President should, therefore, be credited with “continuity and consistency" in the implementing reforms.

In 2019, Kazakhstan’s first ever president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, stepped down was replaced by the then-Speaker of the Senate, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Chebotarev says, “This change in the leadership opened the way for certain changes. Under the leadership of President Tokayev, a rather interesting and critical new stage in its development was reached that combines at once elements of evolution, fundamental reform, and crisis response.”

Tokayev, says the report, has “quickly mastered the modus operandi” of a president and has demonstrated the ability to respond promptly to various processes and events and “make quick but well-thought-out and adequate decisions.”

President Tokayev himself has emphasised three key principles – continuity, justice and progress. He says that the main plank of his reforms are pragmatism and quality, universality, continuity and gradualism, a strong presidency, an influential Parliament and accountable government, different opinions and the protection of the rights of the people. 

The report assesses the new National Council of Public Trust with Chebotarev noting, “The unique nature of the council lies in the fact that it is a mechanism for establishing a dialogue between the authorities and society. As its work and reputation grow, this agency will help the head of state position himself as an ombudsman for the national interest and those of the entire Kazakh community in all its diversity, rather than small parties or groups’ interests.”

The council, the report adds, “has strengthened the discourse on political liberalization, encouraged good-faith dialogue between the government and society.”

Its membership reflects various views, ideas, and positions, social and political interests and public dialogue initiated by Tokayev and the NCPT “is intended as a tool for political modernization and the creation of truly democratic institutions, as well as progressive social and economic reforms.”

Despite the pandemic, more than 200 measures are, notes the report, being adopted for the implementation of political, administrative, and socio-economic reforms. 

An example of political reform, says the report, is strengthening the fight against the "shadow" economy, with the aim to reduce its level to 15% by 2025.

Social reform includes the adoption of measures to reduce the debt burden of citizens. The category includes 629,000 people, including large families, families with disabled children or those who have lost their sole breadwinner.

On the economic reform front, Tokayev says that the “creation of a truly diversified, technological economy is not just a necessity for us, but a scenario where there is no other alternative. At the same time, the economy must work to improve the well-being of the people.”

The report also cites him saying, “We must find a positive answer to the growing public demand for a fairer distribution of benefits arising from the growth of national income.”

Accountability has also been improved, says the report, by expanding the role of the Kazakh Parliament in state decision-making and increasing the government’s accountability to the Parliament and people. 

Six of newly created agencies are accountable to the President, an indicator, according to the report, of his “sense of personal responsibility for the country’s overall situation and in certain areas in particular.”

Such efforts have met with public approval and Tokayev has consistently held the first position in all major indicators such as credibility, efficiency, and prospects since assuming power in 2019. Tokayev’s rating increased from 5.4 points to 5.26 points today.

Five institutions headed by the President also received a high level of public trust, it says.

The 36-page report concludes, “The country is experiencing, under the new leadership a rather interesting and critical new stage in its development.

“In 2020, Kazakhstan's leadership had to focus heavily on anti-crisis work. At the same time Tokayev managed to maintain his political course, focused on implementing new political, administrative, and socio-economic reforms. All the results achieved so far under extremely challenging conditions form a sound basis for further progress as the country recovers from the pandemic.”

But it also warns, “According to the international financial institutions, economic recovery will be slow and difficult. Full recovery and simultaneous progress in political, administrative, and socio-economic reforms will take time and continued effort by all concerned.”

Polish MEP Ryszard Czarnecki, who chairs the EU-Kazakhstan Friendship group in the European parliament, welcomes the fact that Tokayev, is paying “special attention” to reducing inequalities while Axel Goethals, CEO, of the European Institute for Asian Studies, also told this site, “Kazakhstan under President Tokayev has also made very positive inroads into increasing general representation and civil society participation in its democratic process.”

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