Kazakh President flies to Arys after deadly explosion at weapons depot, pledges full support to residents and restoration of town

NUR-SULTAN – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev visited the town of Arys June 24 shortly after an explosion at an ammunition depot on the same day killed two, injured dozens and resulted in the evacuation of tens of thousands of city residents.

Photo credit: akorda.kz.

The explosion occurred on a military base just outside of Arys. The explosion sent debris flying, which damaged nearby private property and ignited additional fires nearby. No additional explosions have been reported in the city itself, but all 44,000 residents were evacuated as a precaution. At press time, no cause for the explosion has been determined and no date had been announced for the return of the evacuated residents.

Photo credit: akorda.kz.

The President instructed during his visit the ministers of defence and internal affairs to work with local authorities to extinguish the remaining fires at and near the depot.

The explosion and resulting fires at the depot began at 9:20 a.m. June 24 near the town of Arys, approximately 100 kilometres from Shymkent, and continued through mid-day June 25, reports the Kazakh Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Emergency Situations Committee. Approximately 44,000 people in Arys were evacuated by 51 emergency crews, 75 special vehicles and 105 vehicle units.

A state of emergency in the region was declared by Turkestan Region Akim (Governor) Umirzak Shukeyev immediately after the explosions began.

“A criminal investigation on the incident was opened. The perpetrators will be prosecuted under the law,” the President wrote in an early morning tweet on June 25 after attending a meeting on addressing the aftermath of the explosions, visiting an evacuation point and surveying the town and people’s temporary accommodation.

Arys will be cleared of all explosive devices, said Tokayev during his visit to the evacuation point while pledging his and the Government’s full support to the residents and the town.

The Kazakh Ministry of Defence has also formed a commission to investigate the cause of the explosions.

A working group headed by Shukeyev and headquartered at the Zhambyl School in Arys includes the region’s healthcare department, prosecutor’s office and law enforcement agencies. Shukeyev also visited a kindergarten, hospital, police department and residential buildings June 24 to assess the situation.

Tokayev instructed a governmental commission to assess the damage caused to housing, social facilities and critical infrastructure, said Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin at a June 25 government meeting.

No reports were available at press time concerning exactly how many private homes near the depot were damaged or the extent of damage to other government facilities and infrastructure near the depot. Vladimir Bekker, Chairman of the Emergency Situations Committee, announced however that out of 7,600 houses in the town, approximately 80-90 percent sustained damage of one degree or another, ranging mostly from shattered glass to more serious damage to roofs.

“All citizens of our country are concerned about the state of the inhabitants of Arys and are providing all possible assistance. I urge everyone to support the initiative of the Nur Otan Party to raise funds to assist people in Arys,” Mamin said.

Photo credit: akorda.kz.

Two people died from the explosions at the depot.

“Unfortunately, one civilian (from Arys) and one soldier (from a military unit) are dead. I express my sincere condolences to their families and friends,” he noted.

The Kazakh Ministry of Healthcare reported June 25 that 165 people received medical assistance. Among the 89 people that were hospitalised, there were five mothers, 13 pregnant women and 18 children, and 37 and 52 people were from the Turkestan Region and Shymkent, respectively.

“The Kazakh Ministry of Healthcare and local authorities are making every possible effort to provide the necessary medical care to victims of the emergency situation,” the ministry’s press service stated.

The Kazakh Ministry of Healthcare dispatched additional doctors, neurosurgeons, neurologists and resuscitation specialists to the hospitals. Two air ambulances and 22 regular ambulances of Arys, Kentau, Shymkent and Turkestan were also mobilised to provide emergency medical care.

Children who went missing amid the evacuations were gathered in the Taukekhan High School, and their photos were distributed on the Turkestan Region Akimat’s (administration) official website, Turkestan Region Akim Advisor Saken Kalkamanov wrote in a June 24 Facebook post.

“Our people are known for being ready to support each other in difficult times,” Pavlodar Region Akim Bolat Bakauov wrote in a June 24 Instagram post.

“When an emergency situation occurred in Arys in the Turkestan Region, we cannot stand aside because this is a common tragedy among all people in Kazakhstan. The Pavlodar Region is ready to accept 300 children from Arys to their summer camps and take care of them. #АрысБiзБiргемiз,” he wrote, using the hashtag meaning We Are United with Arys.

Throughout the day on June 25, both President Tokayev and First President Nursultan Nazarbayev, as well as numerous government institutions ranging from the Presidential Administration, the Senate and the Majilis of the Parliament to the ministries of foreign affairs, culture and sports and others announced they were transferring their one-day salaries to help the victims of the explosions in Arys.



International simulation seminar on fighting human trafficking launches in Kazakh capital

NUR-SULTAN – The five-day International Simulation Training organised by the Kazakh Academy of Law Enforcement Agencies in the nation’s capital drew 120 participants from 17 countries to practice new skills, gain experience and enhance cooperation to address human trafficking along migration routes. The course, which will use trainings that simulate human trafficking situations, began June 24.

Photo credit: the Kazakh Academy of Law Enforcement Agencies.

Training includes “live simulations of trafficking cases,” Valiant Richey, acting Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) coordinator for combating human trafficking, told The Astana Times. “We use actors to play the role of traffickers, victims or intermediaries and invite participants from a number of different fields – for example, social workers, law enforcement prosecutors, labour inspectors. They work together to solve cases. It recreates the atmosphere of a live case. They learn how to work together and use new skills in solving trafficking crimes.”

“We hope that this exercise will assist you in these three directions. First, we wish to enhance the criminal justice response, prosecute human traffickers operating along migration routes while placing a special focus on sexual exploitation, forced labour and financial investigations. Second, we want to better equip practitioners to promptly identify potential victims and ensure adequate protection mechanisms. And on another level, there is, I believe, a third vital element. By gathering experts from such a variety of fields and nationalities, we hope to foster among you a spirit of cooperation to fight complex phenomenon such as human exploitation. I hope you’ll take advantage of this diversity and benefit from each other’s experience… and bring what you learn to your home countries,” he told participants at the launch of the training.

The training, taking place at the Academy of Law Enforcement Agencies of Kazakhstan in Kosshy, near Nur-Sultan, was organised and developed by the OSCE Secretariat, the OSCE Office representatives in Nur-Sultan, the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

More than 70 experts from prosecutors’ offices, law enforcement agencies, labour inspectors, nongovernmental organisations, migration organisations and border and social services are participating in the training. One main goal is to encourage cooperation between states and develop a network of experts in the field to improve preventive mechanisms and support for victims.

“Today [human trafficking] is one of the main challenges of our time, posing a serious danger to the global community… Kazakhstan ranks 83rd out of 167 countries in the Global Slavery Index ranking. It certainly worries us… There are still flaws in matters of interaction – in my opinion, not enough preventive work… We need coordinated work by all government agencies and society as a whole,” said Yergali Merzadinov, rector of the Academy of Law Enforcement Agencies, during the opening ceremony.

“Human trafficking is a transnational and trans-boundary crime, which can only be defeated by joint efforts. Therefore, it is extremely important to develop international and regional cooperation. I am very pleased that representatives of 17 countries are participating in today’s event and I hope that this will help improve the interaction between the countries,” said U.S. Ambassador in Kazakhstan William Moser.

The first such training in Kazakhstan took place in September 2018. Since then, four cases of human trafficking involving 19 people have been identified and solved, returning the victims to their homeland, said the rector.

The exercise “is an excellent opportunity to gain new knowledge and skills in combating human trafficking. In turn, the exercise in Nur-Sultan demonstrates the desire of our country to make its key contribution to the process of identifying victims of trafficking along migration routes with the help of international inter-agency cooperation,” said Kazakh Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Roman Vassilenko.

The very first such training took place in Vicenza, Italy, in 2016, and the deputy minister emphasised interest in cooperating with Italian and OSCE experts in organising future trainings for OSCE participating states. In 2019, the OSCE published a practical handbook on how to conduct simulations, which they plan to translate in Russian in the second half of the year.

“We highly appreciate that today a similar project is being carried out not only in Italy, where in 2016 to 2017 simulations were conducted in English, but also in Central Asia,” he added.

Photo credit: the Kazakh Academy of Law Enforcement Agencies.

For Kazakhstan, this is an opportunity to develop regional cooperation in solving common vital issues and improving the situation for migrants in the country.

“Kazakhstan plays an important role not only because they are hosting the exercise, which is very important, but they’re providing us with the venue to conduct it and the expertise to support it. We have 17 countries who come to participate in this, so the country is a central piece of the region to combating trafficking of human beings,” said Richey.

According to the statistics, approximately 300 criminal cases involving human trafficking are initiated annually in the country. Over the past three years, Kazakh law enforcement institutions thwarted six organised groups attempting to take part in human trafficking. This year, 104 criminal cases have been filed, said Major General Armanbek Baimurzin, head of the Criminal Police Department of the Kazakh Ministry of Internal Affairs. He expressed his ministry’s openness “to cooperation with all interested parties, international and governmental organisations” on the problem.

Giorgi Sanikidze, the UNHCR Central Asia Office’s senior regional programme advisor, stressed that people who lack citizenship or proper identity documents are vulnerable to trafficking. Such undocumented people also face poverty, discrimination, lack of access to legal employment opportunities, education and basic services, he said.

“This is one of my favourite moments of the whole exercise – the time right before it starts, because all of you sitting and wondering what this crazy thing with these actors is… In just a few hours we start work on this project together and your professional life will not be the same after you do it,” Richey told participants before the simulations began.



Newly elected Kazakh President to focus on economic prosperity, multi-vector foreign policy and fight against corruption 

With the election over and a strong mandate won for his leadership, newly elected Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has wasted no time in setting out his vision for the country. His inaugural address on June 12 was both comprehensive and ambitious, underlining his determination to build on his predecessor’s legacy.  

But he also used this important moment for his presidency to show that he had used the election campaign not only as a chance to talk to the country but also to listen. There were promises to step up efforts to ensure all shared in growing prosperity and opportunity and, importantly, to strengthen dialogue between government and citizens. 

On foreign policy, he understandably promised there would be no change from the open, balanced, multi-vector approach which has served Kazakhstan and its citizens so well. It is an approach that has increased the country’s security and prosperity and earns respect on the world stage so that its interests are protected and advanced. 

He stressed, too, that strong, sustained economic growth was essential if the well-being of the people was to continue to be improved. There was a firm pledge to drive through the ambitious modernisation plans set out by the First President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Within these plans, there was again an emphasis on the role of the younger generation with support for budding entrepreneurs and managerial promotion based on ability not seniority. 

But as well as growing the economy, there was also a determination to tackle inequality which is, as evidence shows, an almost universal challenge around the world. It is a problem that some countries believe will sort itself out without intervention or see as an inevitable outcome of globalisation. This is not, however, the view taken in Kazakhstan by either the First President – who identified the need for special assistance to low-income families and vulnerable groups – or his successor.

In his address, President Tokayev spoke directly to his fellow citizens who had been left behind or found themselves the victims of global economic forces. He accepted that the steps taken to protect Kazakhstan from the damage that international financial instability could cause, while necessary, had led to hardship and promised to do all the Government could to help. A fair distribution of national income was, he said, strategically important to the country. 

A stronger and fairer country was also the goal of social priorities set out by President Tokayev. He promised to accelerate the provision of affordable quality housing and improvements to education and healthcare. He recognised, too, that the wealth and opportunity gap is not just found on an individual and family level but also across regions. Regional inequality weakened the nation, he said, and the solution was to give local communities more power and resources to find their own solutions to local problems.  

Nor, the country was promised, would there be any let up in the drive against corruption. President Tokayev revealed that a new package of measures to root out the ‘scourge’ of corruption, which he said was undermining national development and security, were already being prepared. There was a pledge, too, to continue strengthen the justice system by improving the selection and training of judges. Importantly, too, he accepted that the law enforcement agencies had to do more to win public will trust. 

This was not the only area where the President talked directly about public concern. In his address, he recognised real anxiety about the threat to Kazakhstan’s precious environment. He responded with a promise to put in place a unified framework, backed by tougher rules, on environmental protection. The new Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources, which he announced, will have a role in this task just as the re-organised Ministry of Trade and Integration will spearhead the drive to increase exports that are so important to economic growth and job creation. 

As well as these particular areas of anxiety, President Tokayev went further when he talked about the need to widen and deepen dialogue between the government and the governed. This, he accepted, was a matter of genuine concern. The new National Council of Public Trust is one way he hopes to strengthen the national conversation, providing a forum to enable different views to be aired and, in turn, inform future policies. 

In the end, however, the best way for any Government to earn and maintain the trust of its citizens is to ensure it delivers what it promises and to focus rigorously on the security, prosperity and well-being of all its citizens. What is already clear is, like his predecessor, this is exactly what President Tokayev intends to do.   



External news in brief – The Astana Times

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed into law an agreement between Kazakhstan and Lithuania on the reciprocal transfer of persons sentenced to imprisonment and persons who require court-ordered medical treatment, the Akorda announced. After a request for transfer is submitted, the period of time to be served needs to be at least six months. Transfers will not be made if they are judged to be a threat to sovereignty or public order, if they violate the laws and interests of either country or if the person to be transferred has not paid damages. 

Tassybay Abdikarimov has received the first ever Virtus et Fraternitas (Virtue and Brotherhood) medal honouring 20th-century rescuers who saved ethnic Poles or people of Polish citizenship from death or oppression. Abdikarimov helped Walenty Jabłoński, a Pole exiled deep in the Soviet Union, and has been taking care of the graves of Polish people who died in exile in Kazakhstan. “The medal is a distinction for an extraordinary gift of the heart dedicated to the Polish community, as well as the symbol of being approved by this community. You are our sisters and brothers,” said Polish President Andrzej Duda at the June 19 ceremony at Warsaw’s Polish Theatre.

Air Astana earned a four-star service excellence rating and retained the accolade of Best Airline in Central Asia and India at the Skytrax World Airline Awards for the eighth year in a row. More than 21 million travellers were surveyed about their experiences with airlines on the ground and in the air over a 10-month period. The survey measured passenger satisfaction across a wide range of performance indicators of airline front-line product and service, including check-in and boarding, seat comfort, cabin cleanliness, food and beverages, in-flight entertainment and staff service. The survey covered 300 airlines, from the largest international airlines to smaller domestic carriers. “Skytrax is the Gold Standard for airline service so we are delighted to have yet again won our regional league, which covers a vast area of the globe and includes many excellent airlines. I am very grateful to our customers and to my colleagues,” said President and CEO of Air Astana Peter Foster. 

Kazakhstan will export lamb to the LuLu retail hypermarket chain in the UAE, reports the press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Facilitating the promotion of Kazakhstan’s exports is one of the top priorities for the ministry.  “Export always has certain risks, but this market is attractive due to the price and consumer demand for high-quality food products. Ambassador of Kazakhstan in the UAE Madiyar Menilbekov supported us. The Chamber of Commerce helped local entrepreneurs organise an official visit to this country. As an entrepreneur, I just used the opportunities that were created for us,” said Optograd Company Director Almat Berdenov.

The Saltanat Kazakh State Dance Ensemble took part in the 36th International Folklore Festival in Saint-Gillen, Belgium. “We came to present the culture of the Kazakhs and our traditional musical instruments. We express national culture in the language of dance with the works created by folk and modern composers. We also performed at a folklore festival in Roche-la-Moliere, France. We received ovations. French people especially liked our melodies,” said ensemble soloist Denis Vitchenko, according to Kazinform.

Ermek Tursunov’s film “Shyrakshy” (“Guardian of the Light”) premiered June 19 at the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival. The film tells the story of a soldier who returns from war with an old film projector, a gift from an old German man he rescued. Until the end of his days, the soldier does not part with the film projector. The Kazakh film took part in the main competition of the Shanghai Film Festival for the first time. 



S&P affirms Kazakh Bank RBK credit ratings at B-/B, kzBB at national scale

NUR-SULTAN – Standard and Poor’s (S&P) financial service company affirmed recently Kazakh Bank RBK’s long-term and short-term credit ratings at the level of B-/B with a stable outlook. S&P also confirmed the bank’s national scale rating at kzBB.

“The affirmation of ratings reflects our view that last year Bank RBK completed a full-scale reorganisation after a period of default, and starting from August 2018, the bank is building up its loan portfolio in accordance with the business strategy, using the experience of the new management team business relations of the beneficial shareholder. In view of this and on the basis of the assumption that the bank will continue to pursue a balanced policy regarding funding and liquidity, we have increased our assessment of the business position to ‘moderate,’” said S&P in their analysis, reported inbusiness.kz.

According to S&P analysts, in the course of corporate financing, the bank focuses on companies in the oil and gas sector, metallurgy, mining and export. The bank also plans to provide cash and settlement services to the companies, as well as to partners and counterparties of the Kazakhmys Group (key asset of the beneficial owner) and import companies.

“At the same time, Bank RBK is also developing the direction of retail lending (as of April 1, 2019, its share was 38 percent of the total loan portfolio), which contributes to further diversification of the bank’s business. As we understand, at present, about 30 percent of retail loans are issued to employees of Kazakhmys Group, whose credit risk is relatively predictable for Bank RBK,” the report says.

Founded in 1992, the bank started its work under the name Meken Bank. It is one of the first private banks in independent Kazakhstan. The bank had changed its name several times before being renamed Bank RBK in September 2011. The same year the bank began to expand its branch network, upgrade its product line, modernise IT systems, internal business processes and expand customer base.

The bank was close to bankruptcy before CSS Finance, the branch belonging to Kazakhmys Holding President Vladimir Kim, became a major shareholder in November 2017. The same year S&P downgraded RBK rating from CCC+ to the default level D.

As of February 2018, the bank’s 99.6 percent of voting shares belongs to CSS Finance.



Maria Agapova to be first Kazakh woman to compete in UFC world promotion 

NUR-SULTAN – Kazakhstan’s first amateur mixed martial arts (MMA) world champion Maria Agapova has been invited to the second main fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series July 30 in Las Vegas. The winner will sign a contract with the world promoter.

Agapova (6-0) will meet Tracy Cortes (5-1), Arizona’s (United States) freestyle wrestling and grappling champion.

“We were going to do this with my team for a very long time. I hope that I will become the first girl from Kazakhstan to get into the UFC. Dana White, salam alaykum! Akhmat (Agapova’s MMA fight club) is strength! Kazakhstan go ahead!” Agapova told vesti.kz.

“I could not even dream of it. I am glad that I was accepted into the friendly multinational family of the Akhmat Pavlodar club. It was here that I revealed myself both as a person and as an athlete. I am happy that I have not listened to anyone, only the call of my own heart, and left boxing to (fight in) MMA. Never be afraid to change something in your life. Do what you like and do not listen to anyone! Follow your dream!” she added, reported prosports.kz.

Agapova is the first Kazakh fighter to win the amateur MMA World Championship and World League Heroines in China. She began her professional career in 2015. Agapova participated in the World Fighting Championship Akhmat Fights (WFCA), Russian Fight Nights Club (FNG) and Brave Combat Federation (BCF) tournaments, meeting fighters such as Yulia Kutsenko, Darya Kutuzova and Yulia Litvintseva.



Baiterek Holding, Euler Hermes sign $1.12 billion export credit insurance deal

NUR-SULTAN – Baiterek National Holding Chair Aidar Arifkhanov and Euler Hermes head Ingo Junker signed a $1.12 billion export insurance deal June 3 in Berlin, Germany, Baiterek’s press service reports.

Photo credit: 365info.kz.

This agreement allows Germany to have insurance coverage for its export operation in Kazakhstan for up to $1,119,050,000. The agreement is meant to attract German investment to Kazakhstan’s economy, as well as to provide new avenues for Kazakh companies and banks to cooperate with Germany and European Union countries.

Euler Hermes is an international export insurance agency, and Baiterek Holding was recognised as Kazakhstan’s official Euler Hermes cooperation operator. The confirmation from the German side was received June 14.

Export credit insurance (ECI) protects exporters against the risk of non-payment by a foreign buyer, export.gov states. ECI significantly reduces the payment risks associated with doing business internationally by giving the exporter conditional assurance that payment will be made if the foreign buyer is unable to pay.

As the REGNUM news agency reports, on May 23, German Ambassador to Kazakhstan Tilo Klinner said that German companies plan to invest in power generation, housing and public utilities development and tourism in Kazakhstan.

Baiterek National Holding is a key institution in Kazakhstan tasked with ensuring that the country’s economy develops sustainably. It supports financial diversification, innovation, export development and labour productivity. The holding includes the Development Bank of Kazakhstan, the Investment Fund of Kazakhstan, Zhilstroysberbank of Kazakhstan, IO Kazakhstan Mortgage Company, ESC KazakhExport, FRP Damu, QazTech Ventures, the Housing Construction Guarantee Fund, Kazyna Capital Management, Baiterek Development and the Kazakhstan Project Preparation Fund.

Euler Hermes is the largest company in the world that specialises in export credit insurance. Most of the shares belong to the French insurer Allianz France, which, in turn, belongs to the largest German insurer, Allianz SE. Engaged in credit insurance and protection against financial risks for more than 100 years, Euler Hermes has developed a full range of services for managing companies’ receivables.



International Eurasian Film Festival to feature awards ceremony, master classes, promote Kazakh filming locations

NUR-SULTAN – The International Eurasian Film Festival to be held in Nur-Sultan from June 30 to July 6 will include the usual film screenings and award ceremonies, as well as master classes and promotional events to Kazakh filming locations, the festival press service reports.

Photo credit: Turan Kazangapov.

Films from China, France, Russia, North Macedonia, Italy, the Philippines, Israel, Ukraine, Australia, Kazakhstan and other countries will compete for the main award in the feature film category, and films from Tajikistan, South Korea, Belarus, Iran, Uzbekistan, Japan, Kazakhstan and other countries will jockey for the best short film award. The awards ceremonies are to take place during the festival’s June 30 opening and July 6 closing ceremonies in the Kazakhstan concert hall.

Ten Kazakh films are also to be shown outside of the festival programme in such special categories as The Viewfinder, Special Event, From the Heart of Eurasia, NetPAC Choice and other categories. The screenings will be held at the Chaplin Khan Shatyr movie theatre throughout the entire festival.

A festival jury in cooperation with FIPRESCI (Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique, an international film critics and film experts organisation based in Paris) and NetPAC (the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema, a pro-Asian film critics, directors, festival organisers and juries organisation based in New Delhi) will decide which films will be recognised.

Kazakh filmmakers and critics will conduct master classes from July 1 to July 5 in the Rixos Hotel as a part of the festival programme. Educational and promotional events for local filmmakers, as well as the signing of film industry agreements, are scheduled for the event, head of the Department of Culture and Art of the Ministry of Culture and Sports Abil Zholamanov said.

This year’s festival has a goal of not only celebrating film culture but also of promoting Kazakh filming locations to international production companies, the festival organisers say. A special tour of Kazakhstan’s potential filming locations for the representatives of foreign production companies is scheduled during the festival.

“This year, as a part of the festival, a group of American producers will come to Kazakhstan. They intend to discuss joint filmmaking with Kazakh partners. Among them are representatives of Lionsgate, NBC Universal, Warner Horizon, Discovery and Global Film Solutions film production companies. A major role in the organisation of this tour rests with our guest today, Mr Footlik, who made it possible,” Andrei Hazbulatov, head of the State National Film Support Centre, said.

An international production company representative and CEO of Global Policy Initiatives, Jay Footlik expressed hope that Kazakhstan’s film industry will develop further, having seen new supportive regulations adopted.

“We, Hollywood film producers, are happy about the adoption of the Law ‘On Cinematography’, which opened up a lot of opportunities for both Kazakhs themselves and us in terms of implementing successful film projects… Kazakhstan in this respect is the most attractive country: accessible diverse landscapes, infrastructure and trained local technical staff. I am sure our countries will jointly implement many successful film projects,” Footlik said, acknowledging Kazakhstan’s potential in the international film industry.

The Law “On Cinematography” includes, among other Kazakh film industry promotion measures, state subsidies covering up to 30 percent of production costs in Kazakhstan for foreign film companies that decide to shoot in the country.



Consistent, systematic change necessary for Kazakh education system to achieve goals of Bologna Process

As the 10th anniversary of joining the Bologna Process approaches, the Kazakhstan government shall take stock of its progress and address two main questions. Have we achieved our goals? Where do we go from here and how?

Aray Ilyassova-Schoenfeld

The answers to both these questions depend on who you ask. For some, perhaps, joining the Bologna Process was the goal. Kazakhstan’s achievement in this regard is commendable. The world has recognised our sincere efforts to reform the higher education system.

For others, perhaps, the goal was to reform the higher education system in line with the developed European countries. For this, we need to know what the Bologna Process is all about.

The Bologna Process is a collaborative European effort to overcome the problem of mobility in education and the labour market. The process also aims to increase the competitiveness of the European education system in the face of challenges posed by the technological revolution and globalisation. It is centred on students and markets, making them a governing stakeholder instead of passive consumers.

The process is built upon underlying values and principles such as academic autonomy and freedom, critical thinking, linking research and teaching, civil liberties, and tolerance enshrined in the Magna Carta.

The three-cycle degree system, European Credit Accumulation and Transfer System (ECTS), diploma supplement, and independent accreditation are mere administrative instruments. They create an enabling environment to achieve the actual goals of mobility.

Kazakhstan has successfully installed the above administrative mechanisms through legislation and continues to improve upon the implementation process.

Nevertheless, 20 years of reforms fall short when it comes to meeting the actual objectives or cultivating the underlying values of the Bologna Process. Both of which require more than passing legislations.

The membership to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) has not bestowed upon students an automatic ticket to Europe for study and work. Kazakh students continue to face great difficulties in getting accepted to Western universities mainly because of the problematic quality of education.

According to the 2018 competitiveness report by the World Economic Forum, Kazakhstan ranked 59th in the aggregate but 116th on graduate skills. The problem does not begin at universities, but at the primary and secondary level. According to the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment report, 45 percent of Kazakhstan’s secondary school leavers do not have basic reading proficiency. The Unified National Test, main entry point to higher education, has been widely criticised for failing to assess students’ preparedness for higher education.

Take for example, the fact that the primary independent quality assurance agency in Kazakhstan accredited, on average, two programmes a day and certified 98 percent of all applications between 2013 and 2016. These numbers may indicate a higher level of efficiency. But one wonders about the level of scrutiny of the contents and delivery mechanisms of a programme that go through.

Nevertheless, Kazakhstan still does better than many of its peers in the EHEA on many accounts. The government remains determined to turn things around and the Bologna Process offers a direction and framework. We shall actively participate in the process and strive for outcome-based, instead of mere procedural, reforms.

The effective implementation of the Bologna Process would require a paradigmatic shift on the part of the political elite, civil servants, and academic community at large. The only way out of this infinite loop is to provide institutionalisation; put expert dedicated people at the helm; develop decision-support information systems and structure goals and means before embarking on implementation.

Kazakhstan should focus on quality enhancement, which would inevitably require promotion of the Magna Charta values. There cannot be any quality education and innovative mind-set without critical thinking and venues to express the creative potential.

Quality enhancement is a long-term painstaking process requiring a systemic approach with no arbitrary deadlines or obsession with world rankings. Such obsessions led Kazakhstan civil service astray. Consequently, they have focused on paper procedures and numbers rather than substantive outcomes.

A point so aptly put by Dr. Andris Barblan, Secretary General of the Magna Charta Observatory, who said during the Taraz Declaration ceremony, we shall resist the bureaucratic temptation to “quantify rather than qualify.”

As a first step, the budget for education requires a substantial increase at all levels and it shall be balanced horizontally. Teacher salaries and teaching/administrative workload (at the cost of research) remain the biggest hurdle in attracting and retaining well qualified educationists. Currently, three quarters of the higher education budget goes to Nazarbayev University (NU).

Secondly, the Ministry through the National Qualifications framework, the management of universities, and quality assurance agencies all need to make an effort to genuinely engage the industry stakeholders.

Finally, the primary and secondary schools require more systemic attention than what they receive at the moment. Besides increasing inputs to the system, the curriculum design activity shall engage more international and local critical voices from intelligentsia.

Dr Ilyassova-Schoenfeld is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Graduate School of Public Policy, Nazarbayev University.

Dr Lodhi is an Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy, Nazarbayev University.

The views expressed here are their own and do not represent those of their organisation.



Gasoline prices drop in Kazakhstan as country reaches sufficient supply for domestic market

NUR-SULTAN – Kazakhstan’s gasoline prices have dropped, and an Energyprom study found that the country has sufficient supply for the domestic market and is planning to gradually increase exports.

According to May data, average prices in Kazakhstan dropped 6.9 percent for AI-92 gasoline, down to 147.6 tenge (US$0.38) per litre; 3.8 percent for AI-95/96, down to 168.6 tenge (US$0.44) per litre; and 3.4 percent for AI-98 gasoline, down to 185.9 tenge per litre (US$0.48), compared with May 2018.

During the first four months of this year, 1.2 million tonnes of gasoline, including aviation gas, were produced in Kazakhstan, 9 percent more than during the same period a year earlier. Diesel fuel production increased 10.3 percent, reaching 1.6 million tonnes.

The largest output during these four months was in Pavlodar Region, which generated 38.6 percent of gasoline and 41.4 percent of diesel fuel production. The Pavlodar Petrochemical Plant is one of the most powerful refineries in the country. Shymkent Region provided 35.6 percent of gasoline production and 25.3 percent of diesel fuel production through its Shymkent Refinery. Atyrau Region provided 24.6 percent of gasoline and 29.3 percent of diesel production through the Atyrau Oil Refinery.

According to the January to March results, Kazakh producers provided 98.2 percent of domestic gasoline demand and 93.1 percent of domestic diesel fuel demand. Due to the growth of production and import substitution in the sector, gasoline imports decreased almost 94 percent over the year, dropping to 16,700 tonnes.

Gasoline exports increased by 11.2 times over the year, but are still insignificant at just 665.9 tonnes.

Legislative restrictions once hindered exports, but that is no longer the case. Kazakh Vice Minister of Energy Makhambet Dosmukhambetov announced that the first exports of Kazakh gasoline to Kyrgyzstan would begin in July.

The Ministry of Energy has already reported that Kazakhstan will export gasoline to Kyrgyzstan in small batches of 10,000 tonnes. Former Vice Minister of Energy and current KAZENERGY Association General Director Bolat Akchulakov said that the country has accumulated excess gasoline.