Government Reforms: Same Old Faces…
By Daniyar Ashimbayev, Editor in Chief, Kazakhstan biographical encyclopedia
The year 2007 has turned out to be incredibly rich in events. It had seemed that after recent quite eventful years, the 16th year of Kazakhstan’s independence would pass off calmly. However, it proved to be quite the opposite…
The prime minister and Senate speaker changed in January. Constitutional reforms were conducted in spring and summer. Against this background the so-called “Rakhatgate” scandal began to unfold. An early parliamentary election was held at the end of the summer and produced extremely controversial results. “Our side” won, but in such a manner that all efforts at “democratisation and liberalisation” appeared to some extent in an unfavourable light to the international community. A financial crisis – or “correction” in the construction and financial sectors as it is now being described in Astana’s corridors of power – emerged in the early autumn. Despite the fact that the very notion of crisis was categorically denied, the government still took anti-crisis measures (be it ever so humble, and, as usual, delayed). At the same time, the government is seen as having “bullied” Italy’s ENI – the operator of the project to develop the Kashagan field. This is despite the fact that, as a general rule, there is no great enthusiasm for increasing oil output and exports at a time when there is chronic under-spending on budget programmes and, to be honest, prospects of an outbreak of the “Dutch disease”. The year, however, is finishing on a triumphal note – with the election of Kazakhstan to the post of chair of the OSCE in 2010. This is being interpreted by some as Europe recognising our democratic standards and, by others, as a tribute to the country’s active involvement in ensuring “European energy security”.
There are many other, no less important, headlines that have been generated by the government reform in 2007. Its protracted implementation has only helped to implant the new institution of “responsible secretaries” relatively painlessly in the government system. At the outset, there had been quite a negative reaction to a report in parliament last April by the then deputy prime minister, Aslan Musin, when he briefed MPs on the main outlines of the government initiative. Being the first to make public the planned changes, Mr Musin himself bore the brunt of the early criticism. In May, Prime Minister Karim Masimov repeated the innovation in a calmer environment. In June, the appropriate amendments were made to the law On the Government, and President Nursultan Nazarbayev issued a decree to set up the post of responsible secretary in early August. The appointments of responsible secretaries were made in late October. The process of adopting new statutes governing ministries and state agencies started in mid-November and finalised the legal status of responsible secretaries in the structure of government bodies. Such a lengthy procedure in the end resulted in a surge of public interest in the personalities of the appointees, many of whom were not at all known to the public. This had the effect of putting a halt to arguments about the nature of the government reform itself. The term “responsible secretary” became generally accepted, all the more so because the initial suggestion of “general director” was believed to be worse.
At the same time, the reform, in itself, has had quite a positive significance. The fact of dividing civil servants into political and administrative categories, and of adopting a system based on competition and constant improvement of the country’s legislative framework have not helped to achieve one of the most important targets set by the initiators of the law On the Civil Service.
The fundamental issue is the “custom” by which senior ministerial and departmental officials, when they are appointed as regional governors or ministers, travel from region to region and from ministry to ministry with their own entourage. This “exodus” of the elite from Almaty to Taldykorgan, from Aktobe to Atyrau, from Kostanay to Astana, from Astana to Shymkent and from Almaty to Ust-Kamenogorsk, or from one government building to another, is well known to the public. The custom serves only one purpose – the minister or regional governor feels extremely comfortable in any new place because they are surrounded by the same old faces fulfilling the functions that are familiar both to them and to their bosses.
In any case, the fact is that a certain type of international practice was being introduced in Kazakhstan without special adaptation and testing. In principle, the new post of responsible secretary should assume the management of the staffs of ministries and departments and ensure the consistency of their work independently of any government or individual ministerial reshuffles.
To be frank, however, the need for explanations emerged straight away. Firstly, how should the responsibility between ministries and responsible secretaries be divided and, secondly, what should be the latter’s reporting line?
At the initial stage, Mr Musin, answering these rather reasonable questions raised by MPs, explained somewhat opaquely that “one-man management” would remain in force, but that “a collective body will be set up to jointly take decisions which should be compulsorily fulfilled”. How is one-man management compatible with “collectiveness”? The former deputy prime minister stopped short of specifying this, while the prime minister said in May that this innovation “will make it possible to focus the work of the political management of government bodies on resolving strategic issues in each sphere”.
This issue was not properly analysed in the law adopted in June, either. It was only stipulated that responsible secretaries should head and endorse the structure of the staff of a ministry (“all departments and directorates of a ministry”) and would be appointed by the president (in those ministries where the president considered it necessary) after coordination with the prime minister, and would preserve their posts when the government or a minister resigned. It was specified that “the status and powers of responsible secretaries of ministries and central executive bodies, which are not part of the government, are set by the president”. Moreover, “responsible secretaries while carrying out their activities are accountable to the country’s president, prime minister and minister (head of a central executive body that is not part of the government)”.
In return for “losing” control over the staff, the law granted ministers an important right – the right to appoint chairs of ministry committees, although responsible secretaries would also endorse the composition of the committees.
By his decree of 27 July, the president specified the powers of responsible secretaries and their status as far as possible. It turned out that the responsible secretary, firstly, would be a political civil servant, who “has a special status”; secondly, they were made equal to first deputy ministers; thirdly, they would report to the president, the prime minister and the minister; and fourthly, they were subordinated to the head of state or “on the president’s consent, to the presidential administration”, the prime minister or the minister.
In addition to organisational and monitoring duties, personnel and budget functions, responsible secretaries would have powers to ensure “the fulfilment of policy adopted by the head of a central executive body in corresponding sectors of public administration”, which include ensuring information and analytical support to the work and drafting of strategic and keynote documents of a central executive body, endorsed by the president, the government and the head of a central executive body.
The protracted procedure of implementing the reform and the unclear rules for picking candidates for new posts (Mr Musin, at the time, suggested that one of the ways of doing so would be “a search for a responsible secretary on the job market on a competitive basis”) have again shown that the architects of the reform had not fully understood this issue, especially when the ballooning powers of responsible secretaries had clearly provoked a conflict between the inner circles of the highest echelons of power. (In particular, despite expectations, the new decree on the status and powers of responsible secretaries did not mention their role in this respect).
Judging by personnel decisions made on 28 October, a consensus was reached, although it was not set out in documents. Moreover, ministers won the match by a devastating score – many appointees came from the staffs of the ministries themselves and only a few were sent from the presidential administration and the staff of the government.
This decision has in fact turned out to be quite positive in ensuring a more or less successful start for the administrative reform. Firstly, responsible secretaries have not become “strangers” in “enemy territory”. Secondly, since they were previously direct subordinates of their new “political and strategic” bosses, they ended up in a psychologically subordinated position which lifted the threat of a conflict at the initial stages. Thirdly, ministers themselves have received, at least for an initial period, “convenient commissars”. Taking into account that the statute, for example, on the Agriculture Ministry specifies only nine functions for the minister and over 20 for the responsible secretary, it is, at least, easier to share one’s own functions.
The personalities of the new appointees have also turned out to be quite balanced. Rapil Zhoshybayev, who has been appointed the Foreign Ministry’s responsible secretary, was previously working as a department head at the presidential administration and deputy foreign minister. Tosylbek Omarov, the Agriculture Ministry’s responsible secretary, worked as a deputy governor of Kostanay Region and as chief of staff of this ministry. Askar Kenzhekhanov, the Justice Ministry’s responsible secretary, was also previously chief of staff. Serik Praliyev, the Education and Science Ministry’s responsible secretary, worked in the same sphere, heading the Kazakh Women’s Pedagogical Institute and the Kazakh-Turkish University in Turkistan. Akmaral Asatova (the Health Ministry’s responsible secretary) headed the health department in the prime minister’s office and literally two months prior to her new appointment was appointed head of the East Kazakhstan Region health department. Gulshara Abdykalykova, the Labour and Social Protection Ministry’s responsible secretary, worked twice as deputy minister in this ministry, and in between headed the State Annuity Company. Vyacheslav Sovetskiy, the Industry and Trade Ministry’s responsible secretary, headed the ministry’s entrepreneurship development department and state department at the presidential administration. Abelgazi Kusainov (the Transport and Communications Ministry’s responsible secretary) used to be head of the regional committee of the Communist Party in Soviet times, deputy speaker of the Senate, four times deputy minister and twice committee chair. Anuarbek Sultangazin (the Finance Ministry) worked both at regional and central levels and was deputy chair of the Agency for Regulating Natural Monopolies, member of the Audit Committee and chair of the Financial Monitoring and State Purchases Committee. Rustem Khamzin (the Environmental Protection Ministry) headed the staff of the Economy and Budget Planning Ministry and worked as deputy head of the presidential administration’s socioeconomic analysis department. Yerzhan Babakumarov (the Culture and Information Ministry) worked at the presidential administration for 10 years, reaching the post of head of the information and analytical centre and worked as deputy culture and information minister over the past year. Khoblandy Musin (the Tourism and Sport Ministry) was deputy youth, tourism and sport minister in 1996 and changed many posts (in the sphere of tourism and aviation, headed the Astana finance department and deputy head of the presidential property management department) and was deputy tourism and sport minister in the past year. Dina Shazhenova (the Economy and Budget Planning Ministry) worked in the Finance Ministry and Economy and Budget Planning Ministry for a long time, and recently headed the Treasury Committee. Askar Batalov (the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry) headed the Kazinvest Kazakh Investment Promotion Centre and was deputy industry and trade minister.
Batyr Mukhanbetazhiyev (the Information Technology and Telecommunications Agency) worked as information technology specialists at the Kazakhstan Temir Zholy railway company, the Finance Ministry, the Economy and Budget Planning Ministry and headed the National Information Technology company. Abay Ikranbekov (the Land Management Agency) had worked as deputy head of the State Land Committee for four years and as chief inspector at the prime minister’s office for the past 10 years. Yuriy Shokamanov (the National Statistics Agency) is a doctor of sciences and worked as deputy head of the Statistics Agency for 13 years. Aleksandr Konoplyanyy (the Agency for Regulating Natural Monopolies) worked in this agency, the administrations of the government and the president and headed the prime minister’s secretariat since the beginning of this year. Yergazy Nurgaliyev (the National Space Agency) was deputy mayor of Baykonur and was the president’s representative at the Baykonur space launching site for almost 10 years and recently at the Kazgarysh national space company.
We can see therefore that the new responsible secretaries are well capable of solving the tasks they face. All of them are people who have serious work experience, both professional and administrative.
The only unanswered issue is the practical functioning of the government as a whole. The Cabinet of Ministers itself has become a collective body and its head does not tire of expressing his liberal views and the principle of “government’s non-involvement”. State holding companies that have been set up in recent years have assumed almost all the real functions of managing the economy, imposing their views on tariff and investment policy on the government, let alone the full endorsement of its principle of non-involvement. Social-entrepreneurial corporations do the same thing at a regional level. State bodies for controlling the extremely swollen government system and business have proved to be practically unworkable. Political control can also be forgotten about now. At the same time, it is precisely the administrative civil servants, who do not have prospects of career growth nor the levers to exert real control over budget flows, who have become the main “victims” of anticorruption campaigns and constant reorganisations.
Is the new governance system able to change the situation in these conditions? Hardly. The vertical path is still “disoriented”. There was no test pilot exercise as had been promised. The reform was launched, but its practical consequences were not analysed.
On the other hand, there are established political and administrative traditions that have emerged as the “organism’s” reaction to turbulent changes that have taken place in the past decade, especially in issues of ensuring “the continuity of policy”. Firstly, in this policy only its form remains unchanged. Its content changes elusively: depending on the situation in the world and in the country and on the raw materials and capital markets, as well as (and this is, perhaps, most important) on the current arrangement of chairs in the Ak Orda presidential residence. It the least dependent on government programmes, and this significantly eases the very procedure of ensuring “the continuity of policy”.
Secondly, the practice of constant rotations and reorganisations and reshuffles that aim, first of all, to control financial flows has itself built up the defence mechanism of the government system. On the one hand, practically in all the regions, departments and sectors in “near-management” circles there is a handful of “experienced specialists” (or “accidentally surviving specialists” as they are also known), who ensure genuine continuity. On the other hand, it is being ensured by the president’s “old guards” who still remember the “old rules” (what should function and how) and “the initial plan” (why all this was initially created).
Will the government’s innovations ensure the manageability of the state? That is the question! Our historical experience shows that the sustainability and efficiency of the system hardly depends on the government’s efforts. The personality and position of the manager plays a far greater role, let alone traditions and mentality. At least, we can say that the impact of the majority of these factors has been, so far, to smooth out the consequences of administrative reforms.
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