Contemporary model of state, independent from corruption: initiatives and achievements of Kazakhstan

Taking into account its history, national characteristics and despite an insignificant period of independence, Kazakhstan has established its own model of state. Considering the dynamics of the progress of developed countries, Kazakhstan continues modernising and building a modern state similar to that of the countries, leading in preventing corruption.

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Our resolve and non-acceptance of compromises in the formation of a society free from corruption is dictated by the political wish of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, broad support of civil society, business community and ordinary citizens.

Key obvious components of success are the following:

– a state transparent and accountable to society;

– a professional, efficient and economically motivated state apparatus;

– high level of ensuring the rule of law and strengthening the protection of rights and freedoms;

– support and protection of businesses;

– purposeful and consistent implementation of anti-corruption policy; and

– development and enhancement of international cooperation.

All necessary conditions have been created to achieve this purpose – large-scale economic, social and political reforms have been carried out. We have started the third modernisation of Kazakhstan.

The first prerequisite of modernisation is the establishment of an open and accountable government.

In this regard, we have adopted a Law on Information Access and created an Open Government electronic platform, consisting of five open data websites that facilitate citizens’ participation in the affairs of state.

This enables every citizen to see public budget expenses, receive online consultations and file online complaints, assess the effectiveness of government authorities as well as participate in discussing draft laws without leaving his or her home.

Currently, the government is working on enhancing and optimising the functioning of these websites on the basis of feedback from citizen.

Today, government’s interactions with citizens are based on the principles of customer-orientedness, transparency and accessibility of services.

This year, 47 percent of public services are rendered electronically. All the licenses and permits are issued for businesspeople in an electronic format only.

Twenty-four percent of services are rendered through “one stop shops” via the “government for Citizens” state corporation.

These measures have allowed reducing the level of “day-to-day corruption” by two thirds.

Database integration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Justice has already made it possible to exclude the need to obtain about 3 million one-time certificates (in total 21.5 million certificates were provided for the current year).

As a result of these measures, Kazakhstan occupies leading positions in the electronic government development index among South East Asian countries. Overall, our country is also 33rd among 174 countries according to the UN index.

In the coming years, 90 percent of public services will be transferred to an electronic format, the rest 10 percent will be delivered through “one stop shops” based on the experience of European and other most developed countries.

In the modern world, digital technologies play an increasingly important role in the development of the economies of countries.

In order to achieve sustainable economic growth, increase the country’s competitiveness, and improve the quality of life of the population, a state programme titled “Digital Kazakhstan 2020” is implemented in four key areas such as the development of an affordable and high-speed digital infrastructure and increasing digital literacy of the population.

At the locations where services are rendered, self-service corners (Connection points) were provided, where anyone in the presence of an EIScan receives the necessary services (such as obtaining address, property inquiries, placing the child in the kindergarten queue, submitting tax declarations and much more) as well as courses on skills training on the eGov website on the basis of Citizen Service Centres, and local executive bodies.

After the adoption of the Law on Public Councils, heads of government authorities are obliged to publicly report to the citizens.

More than 200 public councils are functioning on a regular basis.

Every government authority has to submit drafts of the legislation it is preparing for review by the respective public council and has to consider the suggestions.

At this stage, the work to strengthen the autonomy of the public councils and increase the effectiveness of public oversight is underway.

As part of the modernisation of the country, 35 functions of the President have been transferred, thus strengthening the role of the Parliament and the autonomy of the government.

Starting next year, we are introducing the fourth grassroots level of budgets for rural counties.

Local budgets will be adopted only after considering the needs and interests of the citizens of every region. Society will actively participate in the governance of the state.

The success of the reforms depends on the effective work of the state apparatus.

It is commonly known that during the epoch of the Soviet planning economy, the state controlled everything.

During the independence years, we have reduced the control functions by half. This work continues.

Currently, as part of modernisation, we are conducting a comprehensive overview of controlling and supervisory functions of the government authorities.

We are working on reducing in 2018 to 2020 more than 40 percent of supervisory functions by transferring them to a competitive environment and increasing civil servants’ salaries by two or more times.

It is absolutely natural that the country’s modernisation has started with the civil service system.

Now, entering the civil service begins with entry-level positions. When entering the civil service, it is necessary to pass a three-stage selection system, including testing for knowledge of legislation, assessment of competencies and an interview.

Career promotion is merit-based. One must have the appropriate skills, knowledge and experience.

As a result of this approach, the number of newcomers to the civil service has increased threefold, the turnover of staff has decreased by half, and transfers have decreased 18 times.

Also, in order to increase the transparency of the state apparatus, it is envisaged that foreign managers can be hired in state authorities.

To comply with the norms of service ethics and prevention of violations of legislation, posts of independent Ethics Commissioners were introduced.

Our country is progressing along the path of the formation of a law-based state of free and equal citizens.

A key aspect of the reforms was the development of modern justice: transition to a three-level justice system, the independence of the procedure for the selection and appointment of judges, adoption of a new code of ethics for judges, full automation of managing of court records and distribution of court cases, as well as continuous audio and video recording of all court hearings.

Implementation and further development of the institute of mediation need to be mentioned. The number of civil cases examined with the application of this institution has increased by one third since 2016 and today it has 21,076 cases. The introduced norm on the return from the budget of the state duty in full when resolving the dispute peacefully, in the first half of 2017 alone allowed to return 1.5 billion tenge from the budget to the parties. The list of categories of disputes on which mandatory mediation is necessary is constantly expanding, which promotes the popularisation of peaceful settlement of civil disputes.

In December 2015, the President signed the Law on the establishment of the Astana International Financial Centre.

Following the experience of Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, an independent financial court, based on the principles of the English common law, will operate within the Centre starting next year.

This will allow for effective protection of foreign investors and resolution of investment disputes.

The results of international ratings prove the effectiveness of the on-going reforms.

According to the Global Competitiveness Index, Kazakhstan has improved its “Judicial Independence” indicator by moving from 111th to 79th place.

In the past three years, Kazakhstan’s judiciary moved 29 positions up (from the 35th to the 6th place) in the “Ensuring the fulfilment of contracts” indicator of the World Bank “Doing Business – 2018” rating among 190 countries.

The reforms also touched upon the law enforcement system and the prosecutorial authorities.

We moved away from punitive-repressive methods and accusatory bias in criminal proceedings. The fundamental change in the sphere of prosecutorial supervision is the exclusion of general supervision from the functions of the prosecutor’s office.

The new appearance of the prosecutor’s office meets the best practices of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and puts a priority on the protection and restoration of human rights and freedoms, as well as the legality of the criminal process.

Functions of the police are decentralised by creating a local police service, which is accountable to local executive authorities.

On-line maps have been created, with the help of which it is possible to see all statistics on crimes in each region, as well as all appeals addressed to state authorities.

The system of recruiting to law enforcement agencies has changed.

Now, candidates for law enforcement agencies undergo the same selection process as all state employees.

In total, this year, testing was conducted for 30,515 candidates for law enforcement services, of whom 42 percent passed the required minimum. The highest levels were recorded in North Kazakhstan (52 percent), Almaty (50 percent) and Pavlodar (49 percent) regions.

Today, the emphasis in the penal system is shifted to probation and re-socialisation.

As a result, the share of non-custodial sentences amounted to 73 percent (22,627). The number of institutions of the penitentiary system is decreasing. This in total allowed reducing the prison population by three times.

If in 1996 we occupied the third place in the world in terms of the prison population (96,000prisoners), today we are already at 70th (35,000 prisoners).

Protection of the rights and interests of business is another vector of the development of the modern state.

In this regard, the Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs was established in 2013. Its activities are aimed at improving the investment climate and developing business conditions for both national and foreign investors.

In order to further improve the undertaken measures and strengthen the role of business in combating corruption, the Institute of the Ombudsman for the Protection of the Rights of Entrepreneurs was introduced and the Council for the Protection of Entrepreneurs’ Rights and Anti-Corruption was created.

The Foreign Investors’ Council, chaired by the President of Kazakhstan, has been operating since 1998. It focuses on investment issues and investment attractiveness of the country.

The effectiveness of these institutions is evident in international ratings.

Notably, Doing Business – 2018 assessment ranks Kazakhstan 36th in the overall rating of 190 countries. We are the 1st in “Protecting minority investors.”

Given that the activities of many entrepreneurs are related to public procurement, a number of measures have also been taken in this area to ensure transparency of all its procedures.

Today, all stages of public procurement, from planning to payment, are conducted electronically.

Full automation of the public procurement system has allowed for off-site online control (remote control) through the website.

In accordance with the best world practices, additional changes in legislation to meet existing issues (the lack of a single platform for electronic procurement and others) were adopted.

Kazakhstan has made significant steps to reduce corruption. First of all, they are related to the implementation of the new anti-corruption policy of the state. The Plan of the Nation of 100 Concrete Steps and the Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2015-2025 have formed the conceptual basis for the policy.

International rating agencies and national experts have positively evaluated the implemented measures.

Thus, according to the Transparency International’s “Global Corruption Barometer,” the proportion of Kazakh citizens observing the progress in combating corruption has doubled and the number of people giving bribes decreased by one third compared to three years ago.

Recent studies published by the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies demonstrate that over 80 percent of respondents do not give bribes and have already forgotten what bribes are.

The decrease in corruption is also evidenced in the findings of the study conducted by the Zertteu Strategic Centre based on which 70 percent of respondents have not faced corruption situations.

A new format of dialogue with the non-governmental sector, political parties, trade unions, businesses and academic communities facilitates this.

Openness and willingness to cooperate has become an important tool for increasing citizens’ involvement and engagement in anti-corruption. This also serves as evidence that the society is becoming more responsible and conscious.

The key thesis of the modern anti-corruption policy: “We must go through changes and adapt to changing conditions, and take the best of what the new era offers.”

Modernisation of public consciousness is impossible without changing habits and stereotypes and fostering anti-corruption culture of citizens.

Therefore, the anti-corruption policy is based on a rational combination of anti-corruption education, prevention and only then – a punishment.

The tools for preventing corruption identified in the new anti-corruption legislation have already demonstrated their effectiveness. These include anti-corruption monitoring, analysis of corruption risks, developing anti-corruption culture, anti-corruption standards, and preparation of the annual National Report.

The adopted systemic and comprehensive measures have generated the following results:

– administrative barriers, bureaucratic procedures and corruption risks have been reduced;

– the quality of public services has been improved whilst the human factor has been excluded due to automation and introduction of standards and regulations;

– legal awareness as well as legal and anti-corruption culture of people have increased;

– the implementation of the Code of Ethics has led to close monitoring over its observance by civil servants;

– increase in civil servants’ salaries is guaranteed.

We are equally cooperating with all sectors of the society, from school clubs to business communities.

For instance, about 60,000 university students have been trained in the “Basics of Anti-corruption Culture.”

All our projects have a common goal: reach out to every citizen and ensure universal and sustainable zero tolerance to corruption

As a result, there is an increase in the population’s activity in fighting corruption.

In order to encourage informers, financial incentives are being widely used – 187 people were issued awards totalling to more than 26 million tenge in 2016, which is 27 times more than in 2015.

The state does not intend to loose institutes of criminal prosecution of corruption crimes.

In Kazakhstan everyone is equal before the law. There is no immunity from the law.

Officials convicted of corruption, regardless of their positions and ranks, are prosecuted with all the severity of the law.

According to official data, more than 10 thousand people (10,931) have been convicted of corruption crimes since 2001.

Among them there are two former prime ministers, nine ministers and chairpersons of agencies, fifteen mayors of regions and cities, eight heads of national companies and eight generals of the national security, defence and law enforcement agencies.

The effectiveness of the anti-corruption measures implemented in Kazakhstan has been positively assessed among the reputable international experts of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, the United Nations Development Programme, foreign diplomatic missions and international organisations based in Kazakhstan.

Our country intends to develop cooperation with international organizations and implement international standards.

On the initiative of the Agency, at the site of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (Almaty) a meeting with Kazakhstani missions of international organizations, foundations, and human rights NGOs was held.

During the meeting parties emphasis further joint work on developing specific recommendations aimed to reduce the level of corruption.

Similar work is being done in the international arena.

The Agency co-operated with the United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as with non-governmental partner organisations, including Transparency International, Penal Reform International and other non-governmental and commercial associations.

The Agency is currently working on a priority issue on the accession of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) of the Council of Europe.

The representatives of interested state bodies in September 2017 held the regular meeting of the OECD Istanbul anticorruption Action Plan network in Paris. The OECD Secretariat gave a positive assessment of the implementation of the recommendations of the Istanbul Plan, which Kazakhstan has consistently implemented since 2004, embodying the anti-corruption standards of the OECD countries in legislative acts.

This year Kazakhstan’s experience was presented in Germany and Austria for further consultation and expert evaluation that itself aroused interest from the host parties. During the meetings recommendations, opinions and suggestions of international experts were heard.

It is essential for the Agency work to get any feedback. Even comments on the Internet to news about the activities of the Agency, we consider as a form of such a connection.

Analysing user comments, we are trying to understand those who are on the other side of the monitor. Public opinion, including the opinion of those who write comments on the Internet on a particular issue acts as a barometer, determining our work and its effectiveness.

Each of us should understand that the implementation of the new policy of Kazakhstan, aimed at joining the cohort of the most competitive countries in the world, involves a radical change not only in the content of the state’s anti-corruption strategy, but also the attitude of society itself to corruption, as a phenomenon incompatible with the goals and objectives of our development.

During the recent meeting of the head of state with the Chairman of the Agency Kairat Kozhamzharov, the President noted that a lot of work has been done to implement the strategic line in the anti-corruption sphere and in this regard “it is necessary to strictly follow the principle of rational and transparent use of budgetary funds.” The head of state gave specific instructions on how to conduct work in this direction and emphasised the importance of forming in society intolerance to manifestations of corruption, noting that no one can escape punishment if he committed corruption crimes.

The author is Deputy Chairman of Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan for Public Service Affairs and Anticorruption.