President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s State of the Nation address, “Kazakhstan’s Way 2050: Common Goal, Common Interests, Common Future,” outlined specific contours and implementation phases for the ambitious plans for socioeconomic modernisation set out in the Kazakhstan 2050 strategy. Its tasks reflect a new stage of activity for society and the state in making Kazakhstan one of the 30 most developed countries in the world by the middle of the century. Improving the welfare and social well-being of Kazakhstan’s people are the main goals of this science-based policy document.
The country’s leap to a qualitatively new stage of socio-economic development is a natural consequence of its achievements over the last decade. Consistently developing the country’s economic potential helped solve many pressing social modernisation issues. Kazakhstan reduced unemployment from 12.8 percent in 2000 to 5.2 percent in 2013. During the same period, the share of people in Kazakhstan with incomes below the subsistence minimum decreased by more than four times while pensions grew more than sixfold. Investment in education increased eightfold; spending on health care tenfold. At the end of 2013, the average monthly salary in Kazakhstan exceeded 107,000 tenge (US$689).
Based on this fundamental groundwork, Kazakhstan is now working toward a new set of goals arising from the 2014 presidential address and Kazakhstan 2050. The next two decades present a window of opportunity for a major breakthrough. The President set the task of meeting quality of life standards equal to those of the countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Target achievements include important indicators like job security, provision of housing, clean drinking water, the consumer basket and access to education, health care, cultural and consumer services and social benefits.
Achieving this goal directly depends on quadrupling gross domestic product per capita by 2050. The middle class, which produces more than half of the GDP, will become the largest segment of the population of Kazakhstan. Life expectancy will reach 80 years or more. The country will establish an advanced national education system that meets the best world standards. Kazakhstan will be one of the safest and most comfortable states in the world.
To implement these plans, in the next 10-15 years the country will fundamentally restructure its economic base, emphasising the development of an innovative, knowledge-intensive and diversified economy as well as significantly increasing the proportion of small and medium-sized business in the GDP.
However, economic success is not a goal in itself. This progress must be converted into social achievements: full employment, material well-being, abundant housing, good education and health care, a connection with culture and other conditions for a fulfilling life. Economic independence provides the best opportunity for this and the President believes the development of small and medium-sized business should be the main instrument of Kazakhstan’s industrial and social modernisation in the 21st century.
Among the main principles of the plan to modernise the country is improving people’s well-being. According to the head of state, the social well-being of ordinary people should be a key indicator of progress toward our main goal.
In this regard, one of the major components of social modernisation is ensuring active employment. Today, about 30 percent of employed workers do not have secondary or higher educations and the share of self-employed persons is about a third of the total economically active population. The state is taking steps to improve the efficiency of utilisation of our labour resources through the Employment 2020 programme. Developing small and medium-sized businesses is another key factor in improving employment in the Kazakhstan 2050 strategy, and one with a proven international track record.
The private sector is an engine of job creation and accounts for 90 percent of employment in developing countries. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) create two-thirds of all new jobs. In principle, Kazakhstan’s SMEs are moving in line with global trends. At present, the country has more than 800,000 small and medium-sized businesses, which employ 2.4 million Kazakh citizens. However, their share in terms of employment and contribution to the country’s economy still hasn’t reached the desired results. Therefore, we’ve been tasked by the President to double these figures by 2030.
Special attention will be paid to developing the agricultural sector and agricultural processing. The creation and implementation of targeted programmes and mechanisms in this area will help address fundamentally important social problems, including the formation of a rural middle class and creating new jobs in rural areas, thereby improving the welfare of the rural population. The state will support its entrepreneurs, including with legal assistance.
One of the most important factors in achieving the set goals is education. Kazakhstan’s education system is currently facing the challenge of introducing modern techniques and training programmes, improving teaching, including trilingual education and vocational training, promoting analytical thinking and more. We must reform the entire system of acquiring knowledge, the result of which should be access to education meeting the highest global standards. We must introduce at all levels of education the duality principle, which will contribute to the consolidation of not only theoretical knowledge but also practical skills and work in production, including in high-tech and innovative enterprises.
Health is also a key socioeconomic indicator. By leading healthy lifestyles, citizens increase their capacity to perform and, through that, their welfare. The state’s task is to create the appropriate conditions for this. In general, the main principle of the national health care system is that the health of individuals becomes the joint responsibility of the state, the employer and the employee.
Demanding high standards from the education and health care systems, Kazakhstan will invest in the human resources of these sectors. The social packages of workers in the educational, health care and social protection spheres are set to be revised. From July 1, 2015, a new model of wages for civil servants will be introduced. It will ensure an increase in the salaries of workers in health care up to 28 percent, in education up to 29 percent and in the sphere of social protection up to 40 percent.
No less important in social development are intangible factors. As the President has pointed out, we are entering a period when spiritual issues will be no less important than economic and material factors. In this regard, forming a social and cultural environment that strengthens national unity, social harmony and Kazakhstan patriotism, as well as developing a local cultural code based on the synergy of the diverse cultures and spiritual traditions in the country, is relevant as never before. In this context, the President’s goal of developing a long-term concept of cultural policy is a farsighted and timely proposal.
In socially oriented states, special attention is paid to citizens with disabilities. Today, there are over half a million such people in Kazakhstan. The country must become a barrier-free zone for them, the President said.
Resolving the problems of the disabled must be the common cause of all Kazakh citizens. I am convinced that socially responsible domestic entrepreneurs will support the President’s call to provide all possible assistance in the employment of people with disabilities. The proposal to introduce special quotas for employing 5-10 people with disabilities to increase productive employment and socialise disabled people aims at that. So does the President’s instruction to the government to increase by 25 percent the social benefits given for the disability and loss of a breadwinner by July 1, 2015, and to improve the legal framework for associations of disabled persons.
Our committee is actively involved in implementing the provisions of the President’s address. Our increased activity in scientific work is reflected in our new name, the Committee on Socio-Cultural Development and Science. Among our immediate plans is a round table on the effectiveness of legal research and implementing its results in the process of socioeconomic modernisation. Expressing the opinion of my colleagues, I am sure that the deputy corps of the country will do their best to make a worthy contribution to this historic programme document and its implementation.
The author is chairman of the Senate Committee for Socio-Cultural Development and Science.