Social initiatives help Kazakhs share in country’s growing prosperity

The global economy’s return to healthy growth after the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 is a major reason for optimism. Every country, including many like Kazakhstan who were not to blame for the mistakes that caused the catastrophic crash, found themselves battered by its shockwaves and forced to take tough remedial action. It was a difficult time for nations and their citizens.

So, the fact that global growth appears strong and sustained is very good news in a world in which there are no shortage of challenges. Without economic growth, unemployment rises and wages, as we have seen globally over the last decade, stagnate. It provides, too, the revenues that governments need for investment in infrastructure and essential services.

But there is a growing realisation across the world that economic growth, although critically important, cannot be the sole goal or GDP the only measure of success. People in many countries, including the most developed and mature, are suffering increased dissatisfaction and instability because the fruits of this growth are seen not being shared fairly or used to protect citizens and help them achieve their ambitions.

There is also concern about how the balance is got right between seeking economic growth and conserving our environment. Some of the fastest growing economies of recent years are now battling major environmental problems, such as air pollution and a lack of water.

A successful, healthy and stable society must be one that looks at more than just the latest GDP figures and takes into account the concerns and aspirations of its people. It is an approach that Kazakhstan, which has been among the top performers in terms of economic growth over the last two decades, has followed and President Nursultan Nazarbayev strengthened with the new social initiatives he unveiled earlier this month.

The wide-ranging initiatives are designed not just to improve further the lives of the country’s citizens who have already seen public services and living standards transformed since independence. They couple practical help for people now with measures to improve opportunities and well-being in the future.

Reducing interest rates and deposits for mortgages and extending the period over which loans are repaid will make the dream of home-ownership achievable for many more families. The changes will bring Kazakhstan into line with developed economies and give families a concrete stake in their country’s success and future.

Slashing taxes on two million low-paid workers will ensure that Kazakhstan’s rising prosperity is enjoyed right across the board. Wages and living standards will receive a welcome boost. By suggesting, too, that this could be followed by other steps to make the taxation system more progressive, the President was also signalling his determination to strengthen the bonds which unite the country.

These more immediate steps were coupled with additional social measures which will increase opportunities in the future. A major expansion in university scholarships and the provision of thousands of new student dormitories will tackle one of the biggest barriers to young people studying.

The new focus on engineering and technical studies is vital to ensure Kazakhstan harnesses the abilities of the country’s young people where their talents are needed most. It is through their efforts that the modernisation of the economy can be accelerated, and our country can help shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

A major expansion of financial support to help small businesses get off the ground will also help drive the economy’s modernisation as well as, of course, help create jobs. By highlighting the need to support entrepreneurship in rural areas, the President again showed the importance of ensuring all parts of the country share in prosperity.

This will also be a major advantage of the plans to extend the natural gas network to every region. All Kazakhs have, of course, already benefited from the harnessing of the country’s oil and gas reserves. The industry and its revenues have been critical to rising prosperity.

But President Nazarbayev rightly also wants families and businesses to feel the benefits in their own homes and premises. The new pipeline extending to Astana should not only supply more reliable and cheaper fuel to heat homes and power industries but also more environmentally friendly energy. Kazakhstan is a big country without the major pollution problems yet of the scope some other fast-developing nations face, which can see major cities blanketed by smog for days on end, but we can’t be complacent.

Such an ambitious programme can only be funded, of course, because Kazakhstan’s economy, according to independent experts, has turned the corner. The tough steps taken to guide the country through the global turmoil of the last decade are paying off. But the social programme announced this month shows the concept of Kazakhstan as “our common home” is far more than just words.