EURASIA BLOG: Resignation of Almaty mayor’s spokesman highlights Kazakh corruption

By bne IntelliNews September 28, 2015

Naubet Bisenov in Almaty -


The resignation of the spokesman for the newly-appointed mayor of Kazakhstan’s commercial capital of Almaty just four weeks after taking up the post has drawn attention to the nepotism and corruption that’s so rife in the country’s governing institutions.

Mayor Bauyrzhan Baybek, a 41-year-old musician who despite lacking any executive experience landed one of the most important jobs at a regional level in August after working as deputy head of the ruling Nur Otan party for two and a half years, appointed the ambitious blogger Artur Nigmetov as head of his press service, only for the 30-year-old to resign a month later in protest at the widespread corruption in the Almaty city administration.

On September 21, Nigmetov wrote on his Facebook page that he had resigned from his post, admitting he had turned out to be “weak” in dealing with “bureaucratic intrigues and squabbles”. While not detailing the actual reasons for his resignation, Nigmetov blamed corruption and nepotism in the Almaty city administration, which mirror problems in central government bodies in the capital Astana. “I have decided for myself I will not take part in dirty games because I believe bureaucratic intrigues, squabbles, all kinds of internal groupings and fighting for resources make our government not only inefficient but also quite vulnerable,” he wrote. “This is the Achilles’ heel of any mayor, governor or minister. I believe top executives should suppress such negative phenomena among their entourage.”

Interestingly, Nigmetov didn’t level such accusations against the new mayor, calling him a “genuine statesman”. “During all the time I have been dealing with [Baybek], I’ve become convinced that he is really trying to improve the lives of Almaty residents,” he wrote. “He is a very modern and progressive leader.”

Instead, the former spokesman saved his ire for the ‘old guard’, some of whom are remnants of the Soviet system, who spend their time trying to preserve their own interests by hampering and undermining attempts to adopt new, progressive working practices.

Certainly, the old guard’s attempts to defeat new practices in city hall will complicate Baybek’s ability to turn his administration of Kazakhstan's largest city into a sleek functioning, modern government body.

Baybek, a German-educated musician appointed mayor in early August, has not been in office long enough to rid the city government of such conservative factions, but he is being already cheered on for his eagerness to clear up the city from makeshift stalls around markets (albeit for a day or two), remove incompetent doctors from hospitals and punish restaurants that wilfully cut down publicly-owned trees.

In an attempt perhaps to whitewash his image as someone who has himself benefited from Kazakhstan’s nepotistic and corrupt political system, the young and seemingly open-minded Baybek has tried to shake up the city government by appointing same-minded, Western-educated young professionals to posts in his administration. Soon after assuming the mayoral duties, he appointed a British-educated economist as his deputy and Nigmetov, who served an internship at the Stockholm-based SIPU International consultancy, as his chief spokesman. But as Nigmetov’s experience shows and analysts point out, the problem that plagues the governing system that President Nursultan Nazarbayev has created in Kazakhstan during his over quarter century-long authoritarian rule is not the individuals who fill the jobs at different levels, but the entire system itself.

Almaty's new mayor, who was catapulted to his new job from being No.2 in Nazarbayev’s ruling Nur Otan party, may yet have to prove his managerial and democratic credentials: as it is, the widespread belief is that his meteroic rise is down to the simple fact that his father and the president were classmates. Of course there is nothing unusual in such appointments in Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev, who only a few months earlier blasted the Kazakh civil service for nepotism and corruption, appointed his eldest daughter Dariga as deputy prime minister despite her lacking any executive experience.

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