Who Controls the Land in Kazakhstan?

On June 18, 2019, Minister of Agriculture Saparkhan Omarov had a report meeting with the Kazakh people. Customary to the Kazakh state apparatus’ writing style, the press-release on the event is archaic in both its form and content and says nothing about the sector’s problems whose number is not simply big but critical.

This mere fact forces us to predict that one should not expect revolutionary reforms and significant achievements from the head of the Ministry. In view of this, the question arises — why did Nursultan Nazarbayev appoint this man the Minister of Agriculture not long before his resignation from the presidential post?

The thing is that Saparkhan Omarov is considered Abay Bisembayev’s henchman. The latter, in the recent past, served as the Head of the Department of Presidential Affairs and was one of Nazarbayev’s closest and most trusted persons who has remained with the Leader of the Nation after his resignation and is now serving as his aide.

One can easily confirm this by studying the biographies of these two state officials and seeing all the overlaps in their careers.

On the other hand, the situation may be much more complex than it appears at a first glance. For the new Minister of Agriculture was appointed by Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Decree issued on February 19, 2019, in other words, less than a month prior to the announcement of his resignation. It is very likely that Nazarbayev either assented to the request of his loyal ally and aide Bisembayev or pursued some other specific goals.

For instance, he may have wanted to create an unofficial, shadowy channel to exert influence on a significant part of the Kazakh ruling elite. For land is one of the main assets appropriated by the representatives of the elite groups in the course of the state property privatization. We are talking not so much about the city and suburban lands as farmlands.

Those to research the subject of land ownership in Kazakhstan and study the body of land moguls will find out that a significant part of them used to serve (still serving) as regional governors, their deputies, heads of agricultural departments or classify as their relatives or dependent persons.

The fact that Saparkhan Omarov who is close to Abay Bisembayev, the First Presdient’s aide, has been appointed the Minister of Agriculture gives the latter an opportunity to influence not only the policies and the practices of the state agency but the processes of the distribution and the redistribution of large allotments of land. For instance, via registering the incorrect usages of lands and then filing a lawsuit in court. Or, inversely, via suppressing such facts.

The fact that the latter is not simply possible but is employed by the Ministry of Agriculture as a standard practice can be confirmed via the following:

  • the recent statement of First Deputy of the Minister of Agriculture Aydarbek Saparov regarding the issue of Kazakhstan’s three problem-plagued agricultural holdings, 
  • the discussion of the poor efficiency of National Company KazAgro in the Senate of the Kazakh Parliament.

At the instigation of the Ministry of Agriculture, in both cases the discussion had to do with only these three problem-plagued agriholdings — Atameken-Agro, KazExportAstyk and Alibi while not a word was said about the Ivolga Holding, in the past, the most famous and biggest one. Even though the latter, having turned into Olzha Agro LLP and having lost (as a result of the numerous legal trials held not just in Kazakhstan) a number of its land properties, elevators and other assets as well as Vasiliy Rozanov as its top manager did not leave the market.

We believe that the main reason for the state agency’s forgetfulness lies not in the cardinal improvements of this company’s affairs but in the fact that Akhmetzhan Esimov, Nursultan Nazarbayev’s nephew currently serving as the Chairman of the National Welfare Fund Samruk-Kazyna, has been, is and will continue be its shadowy co-owner.

Thus, it looks like Nursultan Nazarbayev, having moved from Akorda into the library building named after him, has nonetheless all the possibilities to pressurize a great many representatives of the ruling elite (both state officials and entrepreneurs) through his aide Abay Bisembayev and his henchman Saparkhan Omarov, the Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan.


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