Kazakhstan has entered a new phase of development – institutional transformation. A big and intensive work within the five institutional reforms and Plan of the Nation of 100 concrete steps initiated by President Nursultan Nazarbayev has started. These reforms and the work around them are being closely monitored by both domestic and foreign experts. If the political elite has an understanding of the need of the announced reforms, the social community still has questions which will be addressed by Director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies Erlan Karin.
A key theme of domestic policy is the five institutional reforms initiated by the ruling power. The circumstance is interesting and even somewhat unexpected, because President Nursultan Nazarbayev has already launched several modernisation programmes. In terms of political interests, why would he institute a new set of reforms?
The programme of five reforms proposed by Nursultan Nazarbayev is first of all an expression of the political phenomenon of the national leadership. In world political history, it was national leaders who put forward programmes that set the fairway of successful development of their countries. It is no coincidence that in the five institutional reforms of the President you can see parallels with such programmes as the six arrows of Atatürk, three step strategy of Deng Xiaoping and seven principles of Lee Kuan Yew. This harmony is not accidental. All of these programmes were a reflection of the fundamental strategic goals and priorities which were aimed at the efforts of these states and societies. Nazarbayev has repeatedly demonstrated the ability not only to timely formulate a new agenda, but also drastically implement successful reforms. In fact, the five institutional reforms programme is a continuation of Nazarbayev’s reformative course. This time, implementation of new radical and far-reaching reforms will ensure the country’s transition to new standards of quality of life and performance of the state and society.
Personally, I get confused when five reforms and Mangilik El are mentioned simultaneously as a concept. Which one is a priority?
Mangilik El is an ideological platform which serves as a foundation for the five reforms. In fact, the concept of Mangilik El will be a set of basic values of our society found during the modern times of our independence. The main fundamental value of Mangilik El is strengthening independence. Therefore, the five reforms is not just a new programme of development of the country; in a sense, it is a strategic doctrine that incorporates a system of priorities, goals and values of the new Kazakhstan, which can be called the doctrine of Nazarbayev.
The goals for further development are set, the priorities are identified. What’s next?
The President has not only initiated a plan of reforms, but also suggested development of a specific and precise algorithm of its implementation, which is Plan of the Nation consisting of 100 concrete steps. And this is only the first stage of implementation of the presidential programme, as each declared step will require different kinds of other changes and innovations; in other words, it will result in snowballing reforms and transformation of both a local and universal nature.
Today, the very intense and hard work of the National Modernisation Commission is being managed within the working groups. Hundreds of analytical and research centres, as well as non-governmental organisations, are being attracted to their work. For several hours, every step, each proposed measure is being discussed in detail and all of them are considered from the perspective of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) standards in terms of quality of life and transition to a new level of public services. The stated goal of joining 30 developed countries is not an ultimate goal. We set the bar not for the status to become a member of some group of leading states, but to indicate the further steps and achieve the concrete results of the reforms. Often, discussion in the working groups and the national commission itself about possible changes and ways to get to it lasts until late into the night, but everyone understands that reforms are necessary and must be carried out quickly and efficiently.
In the context of the five reforms, there is a lot of information about reform in public administration. In terms of attractiveness, of course such rhetoric is advantageous, but how realistic it is to conduct modernisation of state apparatus?
Yes, you’re right. A big part of Plan of the Nation is aimed at modernisation of state apparatus and consequently at improving the quality of management. Also, significant measures are aimed at the formation of transparent government, strengthening of public control over the work of government bodies and expansion of the area of responsibility of civil society. Such a strong emphasis on reforming public institutions is not accidental; today, many experts are unanimous in their opinion that success of economic reforms and overall development of the country is largely caused by an effective model of governance which acts as the main condition for success of the reforms. Therefore, one of the key principles of the five reforms is accountable, transparent and efficient government. In other words, in the first place authorities would be interested in this as an initiator of the modernisation project.
Today, the world is facing challenges and tension in international politics is getting higher. In these conditions, Kazakhstan is launching a modernisation project. Don’t you think there is a risk?
Institutional reforms are aimed not only at introduction of new standards, but are also as a response by Kazakhstan to consistent and fundamental changes taking place in the world. New challenges in world politics and economics are quite serious, even fateful. In fact, currently a new world order, as well as an algorithm of its performance, is being defined and laid as well. Therefore, the chosen model of reflection today will determine the future situation of any state.
Promotion of the five presidential reforms creates a completely new agenda for Kazakhstan and quite an attractive trend for modernisation throughout the post-Soviet space. Hence the strong feedback we get from foreign experts and politicians, especially Russian ones. I get a lot of different offers from various foreign think tanks and political funds to take part in one or another conference, forum or symposium and every time my colleagues ask me to talk about the new reforms of Nursultan Nazarbayev. In other words, the interest is very high and not only in connection with the interest in our country, but especially in terms of learning and using Kazakhstan’s experience in modernisation.
In the context of global instability, however, isn’t it dangerous to carry out systemic changes? Wouldn’t it be easier to go by the way of preservation of the status quo and look at modernisation during better external conditions?
On the contrary, the new reforms, even though it may sound pompous, are a historic opportunity. It is therefore important to understand the ideology of the reforms and their meaning. Speaking about today’s fateful moment, Nursultan Nazarbayev stressed that “the time of global changes gives each country a choice: either you choose reforms or devolution and downgrading. And only those will stand through the time of changes with dignity which are capable of self-renewal and reforms.” In this context, the five institutional reforms of the President are based on an understanding of the logic of global processes and express the aspiration of Kazakhstan to become part of the open world. It is no coincidence that reforms involve emphasis on development of the trilingual concept and modernisation of education and the science system; these all will provide Kazakh society with mobility and dynamism. In other words, the new agenda suggested by Nursultan Nazarbayev is to stimulate a powerful spurt of modernisation of our country.
This interview first appeared in the Liter newspaper and is translated and reprinted here with permission.