Didn’t Work for Munchausen, will It Work for Akorda?

The arrests of officials accused of bribery, embezzlement of the state funds and abuse of authority have become so frequent in Kazakhstan that they no longer attract attention. And even though the press informs on the openings of new criminal cases every day, the people still do not believe in the effectiveness of the authorities’ efforts.

There are numerous reasons for that. One of them lies in the fact that, in its fight against corruption and the other criminal activities, Akorda employs nothing but the state apparatus. It is enough to imitate the war against the law-violating officials and the persons equated to them. But it clearly not enough to eradicate these widespread phenomena.  

Do the people in Akorda understand it? Obviously. Hence the attempts to mobilize the citizens. However, these attempts are also made strictly via the state channels including the help of community councils or paying for the information on the committed crimes.

In our opinion, Akorda is quite consciously retreats from engaging the non-governmental sector in the fight against corruption. This is because, from the standpoint of preserving the proverbial «internal political stability», the mobilization of the citizens is much more dangerous for the authorities than bribery, abuse of authority and embezzlement of state funds altogether.

Apart from that, they will start asking the questions that are critically dangerous for the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, his relatives and allies as well as for a significant part of the Kazakh ruling elite. For only a quarter of a century has passed since the time of the initial accumulation of the capital in Kazakhstan which is precious little from the history standpoint. And the people who remember how the country’s largest industrial complexes were moving from hand to hand eventually ending up as the property of «the selected few» are still alive.

In this context, the fight against corruption may only succeed under one condition — if is starts with restoring the order within Akorda itself. This, however, is impossible by definition — they are not idiots there, they are the people that are experienced, sober-minded and in the full understanding of all the risks they will face if they start substantiating their words with real action. It is for this reason that the current energetic efforts of the siloviks, even when they are based on legitimate grounds, are perceived by the Kazakhs as a part of the elite’s internal shoot-out. Which, in general, does correspond to reality.

It is not surprising then that the bribers, state funds embezzlers and the persons accused of abuse of authority are seen by the society not as criminals but as the people out of luck. And this is a big problem since this perception is likely to be inherited by the future generations. Which, in its turn, means that we should not expect Kazakhstan to be restored to its health in the next 40-50 years.

Not surprisingly, Akorda’s efforts have only led to the increase of the bribes’ size. Let us quote the results of the research conducted by the Center for Strategic Initiatives (CSI) released on March 19, 2019, at the 3rd Republican Entrepreneurs Forum devoted to the corruption-fighting issues.

The material called «The average size of a bribe in Kazakhstan has increased by three times» shows that:

  • «in 2018, the number of bribes in Kazakhstan decreased while their average size increased exponentially» — the fact established during a sociological survey of more than 4 thousand Kazakh entrepreneurs from all the 17 regions of the country;
  • «the number of the entrepreneurs that encountered the manifestations of corruption had decreased since 2017 by 23%, from 56% to 33% in 2018… Interestingly, the average size of a bribe had increased from 61 thousand tenge in 2016 to 193 thousand tenge in 2018, in other words, by 3.2 times due to the increase of the risk to be charged with a crime»;
  • «another alarming trend lies in the fact that the number of the entrepreneurs who are forced to give bribes because they do not see any other way to solve their problems has increased in Kazakhstan. As a result, the respondents believe, the entrepreneur him/herself acts as the initiator of corrupt transactions in 49% of the cases».

According to head of the CSI Bakhytzhan Sarkeyev, «certain small islands free of corruption have already emerged in the country: The North Kazakhstan region has remained the leader of the general regional honesty rating two years in a row. The Akmola and Kyzylorda regions are also included in the leading troika».

However, we do not believe this. More likely than not, due to the relatively small size of the businesses in these regions, the officials and entrepreneurs have already formed the trust-based relationships with each other and, therefore, the latter have chosen not to pour their hearts out.

This assumption has been confirmed by Sarkeyev himself who said that, regardless of the rating, the entrepreneurs encounter the manifestations of corruption in all the regions of the country. With that, let us be clear that he was talking about corruption at the low and the partly-medium levels but did not touch upon the relationships between the authorities and the large-partly medium businesses that traditionally keep away from such sociological surveys and any kinds of other activities in the civil space fully realizing that big money is better be made quietly.

Thus, the cardinal improvement of the bureaucratic procedures on the basis of formalizing the decision-making mechanism, its informatization and automatization is the only effective instrument for corruption fighting that Akorda has at its disposal. This was noted by Deputy Chairman of the Atameken National Entrepreneurs Chamber Rustam Zhursunov on the sidelines of the 3rd Republican Entrepreneurs Forum. However, the means of bypassing this kind of technologies in Kazakhstan are multiplying as well.

As a result, Akorda’s efforts to fight against the law-violating civil servants reminds us of Baron Munchausen’s attempt to pull himself out of the swamp by the scruff of his own neck. While this can perhaps count as an effort, it would be nonsensical to expect this effort to be successful. Therefore, it is not surprising that a significant part of corrupt officials gets off with just a loss of their chairs and of a part of the dishonestly-earned capital.

In this sense, the recent release from prison of Kostanay’s former governor Akhmedbek Akhmetzhanov who, in 2016, was sentenced to 13 years with property deprivation and life-long ban to work for the government is not just blatantly indicative but odiously symbolic.

It is symbolic because former President of the Kazatomprom National Atomic Company Mukhtar Dzhakishev who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2009 and who has done much more for his country than Akhmetzhanov still remains behind bars. From the authorities’ point of view, this is normal since Dzhakishev is not a corrupt official, in other words, not a person who adheres to the unofficial Kazakh rules one of which stipulates that it is allowed to steal from the state but to speak against those in power is not.

This small detail describes the distinctive feature of the Kazakh corrupt officials the best. As a social group, they are an unavoidable and even a necessary element of the Kazakh authoritarian political system and the super-presidential vertical because:

  • de-facto, they perform an important function of sustaining the state apparatus’ working efficiency and solving all kinds of problems in the context of the absence of political competition, the weakness of the non-governmental sector and the press;
  • through them, Akorda bribes a significant part of the ruling elite thus obtaining the possibility to pressurize it directly or indirectly which is critically important for the sustainment of the internal political stability;
  • Akorda uses them as «scapegoats» in order to blame them for its own crimes, shortfalls and failures.


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