by Aibolat Abitbekov
National Plan “100 Concrete Steps” have components of “Weberian bureaucracy” and “New Public Management.” To successfully implement this plan, Kazakhstan should learn best practices not only from other countries (extrinsic learning) but also from itself (intrinsic learning). I propose learning from Italy’s implementation of decentralization as an important component of New Public Management model. Additionally, I offer “Akims’ Experience Exchange Program,” “Building a Learning Government,” and “Increase Capacity of Local Governments” as my personal contribution to Kazakhstan’s public affairs sphere. This dual learning approach would significantly increase the quality of implementation of “100 Concrete Steps” plan of nation.
The Republic of Kazakhstan is actively reforming the public sector as a response to external and internal challenges. The National Plan “100 concrete steps” (hereafter the Plan) is an essential part of this process. The head of the Russia’s Sberbank German Gref states that “This is an impressive program to create an effective government. Kazakhstan started from one of the most ambitious programs in the world. I felt that I am reading the Singapore government’s program” (Vedomosti, 2015). The next important step is a competent implementation of the Plan.
To successfully implement the Plan, I propose the “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” learning approach. The close look to the Plan illustrates that Kazakhstani public sector attempts to move from strict bureaucratic structure toward New Public Management (hereafter NPM). In doing so, Kazakhstan must learn best practices not only from other countries (extrinsic learning) but also from itself (intrinsic learning). I offer learning from Italy’s implementation of decentralization and use of “Akims’ Experience Exchange Program,” “Building a Learning Government,” and “Increase Capacity of Local Governments” to implement the first and fifth institutional reforms.
The next section Background provides general information about the Plan. Then, a section on “Comparative analysis of decentralization” represents analysis of Kazakhstani and Italian reforms in this field. After that, I describe three elements of “intrinsic learning” approach. Finally, ‘‘Conclusion’’ summarizes this paper.
The Plan was proposed by President N. Nazarbayev to Kazakhstani people in May 2015. It consists of five institutional reforms but I am focusing on the first and the fifth institutional reforms in this proposal. The first reform is about development of professional civil service, which raises the following topics: reorganization procedures regarding recruitment and promotion of civil servants, results based salaries, continuous learning of civil servants, fight against corruption, strengthening the principle of meritocracy and allowance to recruit foreign managers, experts from the private sector and staff from international organizations. The fifth institutional reform specifies how Kazakhstan will establish an accountable government. The attention in this reform is given to: a results-oriented state governance system, openness of government agencies, participation of citizens, fiscal decentralization and using internet technologies to deliver information to citizens. To sum up, these reforms make an attempt to reduce the gap between government and people and increase the effectiveness of the public sector. A close analysis of the Plan illustrates that it has components of Weberian bureaucracy and NPM.
III. Extrinsic Learning Approach: Comparative analysis of decentralization
Decentralization in Kazakhstan
Decentralization process in Kazakhstan has had several turning points. The first important date was 2001, when President N. Nazarbaev told in a meeting of government ministers and regional officials in Astana that it was time to proceed to the “gradual and wise” decentralization of executive structures. A year later, a concrete delegation plan of public administration system of Kazakhstan was written in the “Kazakhstan-2050 Strategy: New Political Course of the Established State.” However, the concrete action began in December 15th 2016, when the President ordered to working group to examine redistribution of power. The working group to make proposals for redistribution of powers and functions was created in January 11th 2017. At the time of writing this proposal, the working group was finalizing the proposal of redistribution of power to increase the role of government and parliament but the results have not been announced yet. So, we can conclude that Kazakhstan is in the very beginning of the decentralization journey. The “check and balances” system is in the process of implementation and the delegation is so far only in plans that should be implemented in the future.
However, the sustainability of decentralization is also an important issue. In order to have a sustainable administrative and political devolution countries should implement the fiscal decentralization (Shin & Ha, 1998). In terms of Kazakhstan, the fiscal system of the country is considered as centralized. The government is responsible for preparing budgets and presenting it to the Parliament. The members of the Parliament should approve the budget in order to implement it during the following year. The central government then distributes money among oblasts. Oblasts distribute these finances further to the lower level authorities. Local authorities do not have taxation power in Kazakhstan. The only exception here is the land tax that could be fixed by local authorities. The State Revenue Committee vertically interacts with local authorities, but does not report to them. As a result, the fiscal centralization of Kazakhstan is a barrier for the country’s delegation process.
To sum up, we can see that the President of Kazakhstan demonstrates a strong willingness to implement decentralization. He started from horizontal decentralization to increase the role of government and parliament. Additionally, delegation plans have been fixed in country’s major programs and strategic documents, but still there are no formal laws that could fix decentralization process. Importantly, one of the main issue to implement delegation related to fiscal centralization. A reasonable question could be stated here, what can Kazakhstan learn from Italy to overcome these challenges?
Decentralization in Italy
Italy in contradistinction to Kazakhstan has concrete laws regarding decentralization. Baldini et al., (2014) provide an overview of the main laws. These legal documents strengthen the local autonomy, institutionalize the direct elections of regional and local level presidents/mayors and even lay the ground for fiscal federalism. Although Italy is not fully decentralized and still on its way to federalization, it has passed the critical threshold of centralized government. Importantly, decentralization occurs in all three spheres: administrative, fiscal and political and there are concrete laws that support the processes of delegation and devolution of authority and power to sub-national governments. So, even there are some critiques about Italian federalism policies in academia (Baldini & Baldi, 2014), Italy deliberately but surely is moving toward federalization.
So, clearly there are wide range of lessons that Kazakhstan must examine from Italy. Particular attention should be given to the federalization laws, that were passed and implementation of Italian local governors’ direct elections. In addition, Italian fiscal decentralization policies, which is Kazakhstani bottleneck in delegation process, can be closely studied. Last but not least, Kazakhstani government should focus not only on successes but also on errors that Italian government did in decentralization process in order to avoid them.
IV. Intrinsic Learning Approach: “Experience Exchange Program”
So far, I have discussed the “Extrinsic learning approach,” which basically means to learn best experience from Italy, now I would like to propose an “Intrinsic learning approach.” I introduce this idea because for successful implementation of the “100 concrete steps,” Kazakhstani government should be “smart,” which implies having an ability to learn not only from “outside” but also from “inside.” Only this dual learning approach can bring into reality a successful implementation of reforms in Kazakhstani public administration. So, within “Intrinsic learning approach” I offer three ideas: “Akims’ Experience Exchange Program,” “Building a Learning Government,” and “Increase Capacity of Local Governments.”
The importance to implement the “Akims’ Experience Exchange Program” closely relates to the flaws of the current centralized top-down hierarchical structure of public administration. Kazakhstani akims (mayors) of all local authorities have incentive to obey to the higher tiers of government because they are appointed by them. As a result, one can observe the vertical interaction of akims and there is almost no motivation to develop relationships horizontally, which means there are weak interactions among akims of the same level. Thus, the implementation of the Program is also within the main priorities of the Kazakhstani government and it closely relates to decentralization that was discussed above.
The main idea for the Program is to create a platform, where akims of different levels could exchange experiences. They can meet on the equal base once or twice a year and share their views, skills, knowledge and successful achievements. These meetings should be held every year in a new administrative region. For example, akim of Almaty could share his experience of initiation of public councils and/or introduction of “Easy bus cards” in the city with other akims and explain what were main challenges and successes of these projects. This would help akims’ horizontal interaction and develop informal relationships.
Secondly, “Building a Learning Government” suggestion relates to training and development courses for civil servants. Here, the content of those courses are the most important part to successfully implement the Plan. Specifically, the content of those courses must include new technologies and modern software to use them in civil servants’ everyday jobs. For examples, the software like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Microsoft Project that are widely used in developed countries must be on hand in Kazakhstan’s government too. It is because modern public reforms must be supported with adequate modern technological tools as it was done in developed countries.
Last but not least, Kazakhstani government must “Increase Capacity” of local authorities, which means to have enough skillful staff, to successfully implement the first and fifth institutional reforms of the Plan. Astana (the capital) attracts most skillful talent from the whole country with its high salaries and prestigious positions, while the remote local authorities suffer from the staff shortage. As a result, the capital generates well-organized plans and releases a necessary budget for their implementation but the local governments are not able to bring these plans into fruition and fail to allocate the financial resources appropriately. There is a high risk that the same scenario may happen with the implementation of “100 Concrete Steps.” Thus, Kazakhstani government must take this into account and create strong incentives to the skillful capital state workers and “Bolashak” scholarship alumni to work in regional government authorities. This would significantly increase the capacity of local authorities to successfully implement the Plan.
To sum up, “Akims’ Experience Exchange Program,” “Building a Learning Government,” and “Increased Capacity of Local Governments” could establish the intrinsic learning approach. The Kazakhstani government in this case would learn not only from Italy’s experience but also from its administrative experiences. The dual learning approach would significantly increase the quality of implementation of the Plan.
Kazakhstan faces internal and external challenges. The “100 concrete steps” was proposed by President N. Nazarbayev to make reforms in government and public sectors. The Plan is well written and is very ambitious but more importantly it needs a good implementation. I believe that Kazakhstan should use an extrinsic and intrinsic learning approach to successfully implement the Plan. Specifically, Kazakhstani government can learn Italian decentralization policy, especially as my analysis shows, it should focus on the fiscal delegation policies and laws regarding devolution of Italy. In terms of intrinsic learning Kazakhstan can introduce “Akims’ Experience Exchange Program,” “Building a Learning Government,” and “Increase Capacity of Local Governments” that could lead to the successful implementation of the Plan. Additionally, this dual approach would give government a chance not only apply the best practices but also utilize and enlarge its own rich potential.
 Five institutional reforms (“100 concrete steps – Главная,” n.d.):
- Establishing a professional state apparatus
- The supremacy of statute law
- Industrialization and economic growth
- Nation of one future
- Transparent accountable government
 “Sberbank today is the circulatory system of the Russian economy, accounting for one third of its banking system” (“Sberbank of Russia – About Sberbank,” n.d.).
 There are three tiers of administration in Kazakhstan: national, oblast and rayon. The first tier of government is the head of the executive bodies. Then, there are 14 oblasts and 2 cities with special status: Astana, the capital, and Almaty, the financial center. Finally, the rayon level consists of 159 rayons and 37 cities of rayon importance.
 Public councils and “Easy bus cards” (Onay) were actively introduced by Bauyrzhan Baybek in Almaty city (the financial center of Kazakhstan) when he became an akim in August 2015. These two projects were actively discussed by citizens and experts and there were a lot of issues during the implementation process.
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