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State and Civil Society: Kazakhstan’s story

By Darkhan Kaletayev

Kazakhstan is a country in motion. Over the years of independence, significant reforms have been carried out to strengthen democratic structures, modernise our national identity, and support civil society. As a government and as a nation, we are working to foster an inclusive society, in which all organisations can come together under a united identity and common goals.

Over the last fifteen years, the government has worked to support the civil sector across Kazakhstan. In 2015, new mechanisms for financing NGOs were also
introduced. In follow up, an online NGO Database was launched in March 2017 to help NGOs find partners and donors, and inform citizens about their capabilities.

Of course, it is far too easy for grand declarations about civil society to begin and end with empty rhetoric. Many governments claim to support bold national
strategies, which do little more than enhance a nation’s international image, while everyday lives remain unchanged.

Kazakhstan has recently faced criticisms regarding the treatment of some NGOs in the country, and it is in the light of such comments that we are even more determined to ensure that meaningful reforms are carried out in the civil sector. Kazakhstan’s commitment to a united civil society centers on nurturing strong and responsible individuals, which is why we are dedicated to enacting significant reforms at the local level.

As part of Kazakhstan’s modernisation programme, the Ministry of Social Development is implementing the Atameken project, to help strengthen the voices of local people. This ambitious project aims to give every
citizen the opportunity to put forward their own proposals to address important issues which they face in their local areas.

Kazakhstan has a long tradition of collective development. Our nomadic heritage is based on neighbour helping neighbour, and communities working together to achieve common goals. To ensure this long tradition of volunteering is maintained, the Ministry has introduced a Volunteering Roadmap and a National Volunteer Network, bringing NGOs together in a way they never have been before.

Active civil engagement is an essential part of a modern society. There are over 200 public councils in Kazakhstan, including 16 at the national level. These councils involve the combined efforts of thousands of people to help improve public transport, housing construction, road maintenance, and water provision, to name a few.

The Ministry and the Civil Alliance have created the website kazkenes.kz, to help increase public awareness about the vital work their councils
carry out.

The non-governmental sector has an essential role in the management and projects
of local public councils. Kazakh civil society is involved in strategic planning, discussions around policy documents, scrutinising development programmes and budgets, and drafting legislation on citizens’ rights.

Our government is aware that there is much more work to be done, and we are constantly exploring new ways to grow and strengthen civil society and civil engagement. Such organisations have a vital role to play in the ongoing development of local communities. Equally, their work in scrutinising and holding local and national government to account is at the very heart of Kazakhstan’s maturing democratic society.

A relatively new interactive platform for the development of civil society is the annual Astana Economic Forum, which in 2018 discussed the ‘Future of Civil
Society’. The Forum will work alongside the established channels to improve the effectiveness the democratic process and civic engagement in the decision-making
process at all levels of public life.

NGOs are as essential to modern Kazakhstan as our government. As a government,
we will continue to work hard to ensure that the civil society sector remains a shining beacon in the region, an example from which our neighbours can learn and
follow.

(The author is Minister of Social Development of Kazakhstan)

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