Kazakhstan is the leader in terms of economic growth and reforms among the five Central Asian states, having enjoyed double digit growth rates over recent years, fuelled mainly by the oil and gas industry. However, experts warn that corruption is becoming a problem that could hamper further reforms.
"Actually it is a recognised fact, even by the government, that corruption has a systemic character in Kazakhstan," Sergey Zlotnikov, executive director of Transparency Kazakhstan (TK), a local anti-corruption group, told IRIN from the Kazakh commercial capital of Almaty.
A government working group has estimated that the black economy accounts for 50 percent of the total, while TK puts that figure at around 80 percent.
On Tuesday, the visiting US ambassador to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Stephan Minikes, told journalists in Almaty that corruption was a cancer eating the country. "As long as that corruption prevails, the full fruits of democracy and the full fruits of a market economy will never come to the people of Kazakhstan," Minikes maintained.
Concurring, Zlotnikov added that corruption was rampant, especially in the country's burgeoning oil and gas industry. "There is high corruption in the oil industry. For example, the former Finance Minister Zeynulla Kakimzhanov said a year ago that 80 percent of oil companies operating in Kazakhstan are working in offshore zones," he said, adding that contracts between the government and oil companies lacked transparency.
According to a survey conducted by TK in 2003, a significant number of the oil and gas companies working in Kazakhstan became involved in corrupt practices if it was profitable to the company. But in certain situations they had to do it as there was no alternative, a sentiment acknowledged by the companies interviewed.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit is under way in a New York City court with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's former economic adviser, James Giffen, charged with paying bribes worth US $80 million from US oil companies to top Kazakh politicians.
"Corruption is everywhere, from the bottom to the top [of society]," Zlotnikov said, citing a lack of balance between the legislative and law enforcement authorities as one of the factors contributing to the problem. The role of parliament and civil society is minimised, while there is still no law on local administration bodies, he pointed out. "The system itself is far from transparent."
Even where progressive legislation exists it is not being implemented because the enforcing powers are not accountable, he explained, adding that talks on strengthening the powers of parliament were under way without tangible results. The media also couldn't play an active role.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Minikes urged Kazakhstan to clean up its reputation by ensuring free and fair parliamentary elections that are due this autumn, and similarly free and fair presidential elections due in 2006. "The opportunity that lies ahead for your country, and it's a great opportunity, is the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections," he said. "The only way to address that is through what I like to call the cleansing tide of the democratic process," he said.
Commenting on the steps needed to tackle corruption, Zlotnikov said that Kazakhstan had yet to ratify any of the international conventions against corruption. "It is necessary to ratify them and get the national legislation in conformity with them. But they [government] strongly oppose ratifying them because it imposes certain obligations," Zlotnikov explained, adding that the authorities wouldn't be able to ignore international covenants as they do with domestic laws if the former were ratified.
It is also important to reform the whole system aimed at establishing the division and balance of powers. "As long as the enforcement power dominates, nothing will change," Zlotnikov warned, adding that the judicial system also needed reforms to function properly.
And for all that, political will and the involvement of civil society in the fight against corruption is needed. "If the state fights with itself without [the involvement of] citizens then this endeavour has no future," the anti-corruption activist noted, emphasising the need for a systemic approach to the problem.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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