Building a World Class Civil Service, One Brick at a Time

An independent Kazakhstan inherited many things from the Soviet Union when it collapsed, including a rather unwieldy and cumbersome bureaucracy. As the country began reforms to build a market economy to replace the decaying command economy, it quickly became apparent that there was a dire need to create a more modern and efficient civil service system.

So in late 1990s, an effort began that ultimately turned into a decade and half of reforms whose goal would be to create an agile, dynamic, accountable and transparent civil service. The Kazakhstan 2030 Strategy adopted in 1997 established the creating of a professional government as one of the top seven priorities for the country seeking to achieve ambitious development goals and become a “Central Asian snow leopard” (in reference to South East Asian ‘tigers’).

The Agency on Civil Service was established in the late 1990s, drawing on the experience of Britain and other countries with similar systems. Numerous laws were passed regulating civil service processes, including hiring, promoting and firing. In 2012, the most recent series of such reforms began when top-level state employees (at the level of akims (mayors) of districts and chairs of committees in the ministries) were selected into the so called Corps A. Today, Corps A includes 940 qualified individuals who passed rigorous tests and interviews; of those, 520 have already been appointed to new positions. Among those 940, more than one third have been selected into the reserve for the first time as they had either never served in the government before or had served in lower ranked positions.

So when President Nursultan Nazarbayev met representatives of the Corps A officials for the first meeting of its kind in Astana on Oct. 17, he had reasons to be both satisfied with the most recent efforts, but also to have some tough words for them and set clear and tough goals.

“The establishment of Corps A has concluded one and opened another stage in the development of a professional state apparatus in our country,” the president said. “I have always tied Kazakhstan’s successful development to the tedious work of knowledgeable managers – honest and principled public servants.”

“Often, our foreign guests point out to me both the young age and quality work of Kazakhstan’s civil servants. I always tell them that Kazakhstan is a young country and we basically built our professional civil service from scratch,” the president added.

“Now is a threshold time for Kazakhstan. We have begun implementing a new political course under the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy. And it was no coincidence that one of the first steps along this road was the establishment of Corps A and the renewal of the core of the state apparatus. New tasks lay ahead for state and society. We need to resolve them in a new, creative, thoughtful and forceful way. That is your main mission,” Nazarbayev said.

“I expect from you considerable contributions to renewing the entire state apparatus, primarily, reducing bureaucracy and red tape, improving the quality of state services, ensuring strict observance of ethics and taking an unbending anti-corruption stance,” the president stressed.

He further focused on problems in state management, including red tape and the work load of state employees (including the need to process 22 million references that the people in Kazakhstan had to submit to state bodies upon the requests of the state bodies themselves in one single year of 2012). The president stressed the importance of the recently adopted Law on State Services and further noted that the main task of the state apparatus is to ensure sustained economic growth, create jobs and improve wellbeing for the people of Kazakhstan.

One particular priority would be to meticulously instill the principles of meritocracy, hence Corps A officials will be constantly rotated and their qualifications regularly appraised. And their pay will be increased by 50 percent as of Jan. 1, 2014, in what the president called “an injection against corruption.”

“We all are paid by the state and are financed by the members of our society, the citizens of Kazakhstan. We have to serve the people, and we should never forget that,” Nazarbayev underscored.

“You should always remember that Corps A is not the elite of the elite. It is part and parcel of the people. Never forget you are serving the people, you cannot be indifferent to the people and you should know their problems and seek to resolve them day and night,” he stressed.

The efforts of the president and the government to reform civil service have been consistent and have borne results already. It is obvious, though, that creating a more modern, accountable, transparent civil service is a work in progress and it will require continued sustained efforts on behalf of both authorities and society (as well as assistance by already contributing foreign partners, such as the European Union or the United States) for these efforts to take hold and to have an effect on the quality of state services and the quality of relations between the people and their servants.

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