In a Break with the Past, Kazakhstan is Embracing Civil Society Groups
This year Kazakhstan is marking its 30th anniversary as an independent state. This date provides a natural opportunity to look back at the progress the country has made, as well as consider steps that need to be taken in the future to achieve our objectives. The development of civil society institutions, as well as mechanisms for the protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens, undoubtedly plays a key role in this.
We welcome the fact that an active and independent community of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has been established in Kazakhstan. In just under two decades the number of registered NGOs in Kazakhstan has grown from 5,000 to 22,000. At the same time, we understand that more needs to be done. For this reason, the government has continued to actively support Kazakhstan’s civil society and its activities, starting at the legislative level. In this regard, a new strategic document – the “Concept for the Development of Civil Society in Kazakhstan” – which defines the main directions for the long-term development of the civil sector, was adopted last year. Its objective is to create favourable conditions for the development of civil society and ensure open and transparent dialogue and engagement between citizens and the state.
To facilitate such engagement with NGOs, various dialogue formats have been established, including by the Ministry of Information and Public Development. For example, a civil forum has been held on an ongoing basis since 2003, which deliberates issues related to developing cooperation between the state and civil society. The civil forum “Society and the State: 30 Years of Partnership and Development” was held last year. Approximately 12 meetings between heads of ministries and representatives of non-governmental organisations were organised, enabling NGO representatives to raise any pressing issues and questions. In particular, the development of environmental education, the involvement of NGOs in monitoring, the relationship between government bodies, NGOs, and business, increasing the level of digitalisation in the activities of NGOs, activities of international organisations in Kazakhstan and other key topics were discussed. As a result of this civil forum, more than 650 proposals and recommendations were received from representatives of our civil society.
Another important tool for effective engagement between the government and civil society is the Coordinating Council for Interaction with NGOs, a consultative and advisory body, where issues of improving legislation in the field of NGOs and recommendations of civil forums are considered. There are also regional councils for engagement with NGOs at the district, city, and regional levels. The government also provides financial state support and grants for joint social projects run by the country’s civil society and NGOs aimed at improving the quality of life of citizens.
To further strengthen the civil society institutions and enhance the activities of NGOs, the Ministry of Information and Public Development of Kazakhstan launched the project “Academy of NGOs.” This is the first systematic learning course for senior managers of NGOs in Kazakhstan that focuses on legal and managerial issues and knowledge.
In addition, for the first time in our country’s history, a mechanism for public scrutiny will be introduced, which further enhances engagement with civil society. Essentially, this means that the public will scrutinise the state and the quasi-public sector of the country to a much larger extent, which will have a positive impact on the overall transparency of the state. In addition, the status of public councils will be strengthened. Currently, there are public councils in all government bodies, but they will now be introduced into the quasi-public sector as well.
In order to facilitate effective cooperation between the state, NGOs, and the business sector, as well as to develop social responsibility, a trilateral dialogue platform between the state, business, and NGOs – “ASAR” was established in the country. The IV “ASAR” Forum will be held later this year.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to an expansion of the volunteer sector. This is evidenced by the many newly established citizen-run charity and volunteer projects in Kazakhstan. As part of the Year of the Volunteer, efforts have been made to support volunteering across the country. Thanks to these efforts, assistance was provided to more than 1 million people in need.
I must also note that the government actively engages with international NGOs based in Kazakhstan. In particular, we frequently discuss issues related to current civil initiatives, improvement of our legislation, and share experiences on the development of civil society.
Overall, our objective is to ensure that the country’s civil society is involved in public administration through the mechanisms and platforms that I have outlined here. I am confident that they will increase the degree of civil society’s participation in decision-making, as well as ensure a full-fledged dialogue between the government and society. Ultimately, these measures form a strong foundation on which our country will continue to build a well-developed civil society, thus ensuring the protection of the rights and freedoms of our citizens.