Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 142

Kazakhstan’s Anti-Monopoly Committee, resurrected in June, is the latest in a long line of agencies that will, in the future, report directly to the president instead of to the government. This institutional rejuggling reflects two possible goals: to draw economic policymaking away from the prime minister and to allow for ministerial streamlining.

The Anti-Monopoly Committee, headed by Nikolai Radostovets, was closed down by former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, partly because it had been headed by opposition activist Petr Svoik and partly because of its reported stake in a number of regional concerns. Other agencies that have shifted from governmental to presidential responsibility include the National Statistics Agency, the Agency for Strategic Planning and Reforms, and, to some degree, the Strategic Investment Committee.

This trend was first seen in the ministerial downsizing of March 1997. Part of the motivation then, however, was to allow the president to wrest control from the increasingly influential Kazhegeldin. Few suspect the present prime minister, Nurlan Balgimbaev, of harboring political ambitions. Instead, Nazarbaev’s recent statements suggest that he is mainly concerned about the lack of competence of Balgimbaev’s government. At a recent cabinet meeting, Nazarbaev made no attempt to hide his displeasure with the government’s first nine months’ record on economic reform. He ended his speech by stating that he was “probably warning [the prime minister] for the last time”. (Reuters, July 10) Neither Nazarbaev nor Balgimbaev is a trained economist. Nazarbaev may be trying to spread the risk by creating two governments: Balgimbaev’s and his own. (Focus Central Asia [Almaty], July 15)

The creation of quasi-independent agencies also allows for essential government cuts to meet ambitious budget deficit reductions. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Pavlov warned on June 30 that a further 10,000 officials would lose their posts by September 1. This would include a large number of local officials, he said. (All Over The Globe [Almaty], July 3) Kazakhstan faces falling revenues as a result of low world oil prices, the Asian and Russian financial crises, and the postponement of its own “blue chips” sales. (See the Monitor, June 11) If the above trends are any guide, September may well be an important month for the present government. — SC