Kazakhstan’s foreign aid systems are maturing, integrating with foreign policy, says official

ASTANA – Not many know that Kazakhstan has been providing aid to other countries for the last two decades. A few years ago, the country adopted a law on official development assistance (ODA) and has subsequently launched two pilot projects with the international partners. Ministry of Foreign Affairs Foreign Economic Policy Department Director Olzhas Issabekov talked about those projects, as well as the establishment of the country’s ODA system, in an interview with the Astana Times.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Foreign Economic Policy Department Director Olzhas Issabekov

“The first project under Kazakhstan’s ODA system was done in April 2017. It was focused on Central Asian countries and the agricultural sector. We implemented the project in partnership with Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation. The essence of the project was that Kazakh experts in the field of agriculture, in partnership with Israeli experts, transferred practical knowledge and skills to representatives of Central Asian countries working in agriculture. In fact, these were two-week seminars in Almaty and Akmola regions on the site of successful demonstration farms, where methods and subtleties, for example, of drip irrigation, were visually presented,” he said.

Israel is one of the world leaders in the use of drip irrigation, which is why it was one of the partners of the project, he added.

The second project, focused on Afghan women, is currently being executed. The first part is complete, while the second is planned for late March – early April.

“The agreement on the project was reached at the highest political level in 2015 during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Astana, following which a joint statement was issued with President Nursultan Nazarbayev. One of the points of this statement is an agreement on the implementation of a pilot project under the Kazakhstan ODA system in partnership with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),” said Issabekov.

The project aims to increase the economic potential of Afghan women. As technical assistance, it involves the transfer of knowledge and experience.

The project is co-financed by UNDP and JICA. Kazakhstan is contributing experts in the relevant fields who provide their knowledge and skills.

A group of Afghan citizens, mainly women involved in public administration and NGOs, came to Kazakhstan last July for the first part of the project. The training centred on state management and reform as well as interaction between state and non-state sectors.

The second section is related to healthcare of mothers and children, he said. The Afghan group will again fly to the Kazakh capital for classes.

Issabekov thanked Nazarbayev University, one of the main partners for the project. A large number of seminars and trainings were held on its campus.

“The project is unique. It is aimed at supporting an important country for us – Afghanistan; on the other hand, thanks to the partnership with UNDP and JICA, our experts enrich their knowledge and practical experience in the course of its implementation,” he explained. “From the point of view of relations with Afghanistan, this project fits into the framework of the luggage of Kazakhstan-Afghanistan cooperation in the field of assistance and sustainable development, which already exists.”

These two projects were implemented in the framework of the fledgling ODA mechanism in Kazakhstan.

Yet, at first, Kazakhstan had little experience in the ODA concept.

“After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan became an independent country, located in a region which, unfortunately, was facing issues requiring attention not only of these countries, but also its neighbours. Kazakhstan initially positioned itself as a responsible player and participant in the regional processes… Therefore, it is important to say that since the first days of independence, Kazakhstan has been providing necessary assistance,” said Issabekov.

Prior to adopting its ODA system, Kazakhstan has already provided about $450 million in aid during 20 years. A large proportion was for humanitarian projects.

“But we must admit that for a young independent state, providing assistance has become a new direction. Therefore, unfortunately we cannot say that it was always properly coordinated, that it was always possible to monitor the effective use of the resources and some other material benefits allocated by our country to those countries to which this assistance was addressed. All this led to understanding by the leadership of the country that since such an activity is conducted by Kazakhstan, it is time to put it on a systematic basis, as many countries in the world do, where this sphere is very structured and all processes are regulated,” he added.

The first step was approving the Concept in the sphere of ODA, which was adopted by a presidential decree in 2013.

“The concept is a kind of algorithm, a roadmap for how we move, what actions need to be taken for Kazakhstan to have its own national system for official development assistance. One of the most important points of this document was the creation and adoption of the necessary legal and regulatory framework – the law,” said Issabekov.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs started from scratch, as Kazakhstan had no similar legislative acts. The law was preceded by painstaking work to study the legislation of other donor countries. The developers combed through the experience of European, American and Asian countries, adapting the concepts to Kazakh realities to create the law.

“And still, despite the fact that the law was signed in 2014, we receive positive feedback from foreign experts on the quality of our law. Its main advantage is its flexibility; that is, it can be used and applied in various circumstances. The world is changing; nothing stands still,” said Issabekov.

The presidential decree of the main directions of the state policy in the sphere of ODA up to 2020 followed the legislation.

“For a specific period of time, the document sets guidelines for us practically in all areas that should be worked out when carrying out activities in the field of ODA. More precisely, it defines geography and sectors and sets benchmarks in the sources of financing, as well as the partners with whom we can work,” he added.

Throughout the world, ODA is considered one of the most effective instruments of foreign policy and is largely tied to its priorities and tasks. In Kazakhstan, the main state policy directions are synchronised with the Concept of foreign policy and new state policy directions updated every four-five years.

Kazakhstan’s ODA policy states various criteria should be applied when determining geography and partner countries. The first condition is the level of relations between Kazakhstan and the country in question and its need for external development assistance. The most important criterion is the willingness of the country to specifically cooperate with Kazakhstan on aid issues.

“Therefore, at the moment we have identified for ourselves the countries of Central Asia plus Afghanistan as geographic priorities,” said Issabekov, adding that the document also mentions Transcaucasia, Asia and Latin America.

“We are actively working to create a national operator in the ODA field under the Foreign Ministry, which is envisaged by the Concept in the field of ODA,” Issabekov said. “This is the most common formula in the world. ODA activities are closely connected with foreign policy. So, the activities of such agencies should be clearly coordinated with the foreign policy department,”

“The establishment of the Agency for the promotion of international development KazAID is a necessary and key element of the national system of official development assistance. This will solve a number of important daily tasks, in particular, relating to the inventory, systematisation, management and coordination of ODA that was provided to partner countries in previous years and which will be provided by our country in the future,” he added.

According to the diplomat, the absence of a national operator in the sphere of ODA reduces the effectiveness of work in this area, and the country does not receive in due measure political, economic and image ‘dividends.’

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