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Wednesday, 01 October 2014

G-Globalizing Public Policy Options in Kazakhstan

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By Rafis Abazov (10/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

G-Global was established as a global discussion tool, as during the last two decades public policy consultations have been a mixed blessing for the government of Kazakhstan. On the one hand, Astana has managed to attract leading international experts from world donor organizations and private consultancy groups, and has with their help quite successfully restructured the country’s economy. On the other hand, some policies have been painful and unpopular among the domestic electorate and have in some cases been heavily criticized for the lack of transparency in policy design and formulation. Will the G-Global project, created as a domestic and international public policy discussion initiative, contribute to better policy choices?

 

 

BACKGROUND: Kazakhstan introduced its G-Global Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) platform as an “intellectual network” and “communication Internet platform” in 2012. From its inception, the main intellectual engine behind G-Global has been Kazakhstan’s newly created leading think tank and network, the Eurasian Economic Club of Scientists (EECS). The EECS has also used G-Global as its permanent ICT platform for its annual Astana Economic Forum (AEF) in order to provide an opportunity for “equality of dialogue of people around the world.” From the start it has offered an arena for discussion on a wide variety of issues – from the global financial crisis and innovation policies to geopolitics. However, the main focus of G-Global has traditionally been developmental and transitional issues, with special attention being afforded to public policy choices and practices.

Kazakhstan’s policy makers have not forgotten the painful experience of the economic and social reforms of the 1990s, when leading international donors, like the IMF, designed the reform packages and often pressured for unpopular policy choices including the shock-therapy approach, providing no opportunity for other options or adjustments. In private, many government officials have complained that these choices not always were the best options in Kazakhstan’s specific environment, and that with some in-government and public consultations the moves could have been less painful and less unpopular.

These grumbles have become particularly loud since 2001–2004, when a large cohort of Western-educated Kazakhs – the recipients of the Bolashak government scholarship – have begun to return with a better understanding of modern governance and public policy process and to take positions in all levels of government. It is quite natural that these young, ambitious policy-makers and managers should have turned to the emerging power of ICT, deciding to explore e-power and promote e-governance in order to improve public policy formulations and enhance the negotiation processes with the international organizations and western private investors.

The G-Global Internet communication platform was officially launched after several years of discussion and preparations, and has been heavily promoted by Kazakh government officials, including the office of Kazakhstan’s President. President Nursultan Nazarbayev himself made a presentation on the G-Global initiative at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg on September 6, 2013. The G-Global platform – housed at www.group-global.org – is organized as an open Internet portal somewhat similar to the web-portal of the World Economic Forum. It is subdivided into several sections, covering a series of local and global projects such as the World Anti-Crisis Conference, Kazakhstan New Silk Way, Green Bridge ecological program (Kazakhstan’s contribution to the RIO+20 World Forum), Global Risk Expo-2014 and Atom. It also has a special global-expert sub-portal (http://g-globalexpert.com/) where experts can contribute their opinions and blogs.

IMPLICATIONS: G-Global is an integral part of the e-governance strategy of the Kazakhstan’s government, which has established one of the best e-gov infrastructures in the CIS region. According to the “United Nations E-Government Survey 2014,” Kazakhstan holds place 28 out of the 192 countries in the E-government Development Index and ranks 22nd in the E-participation Index. A systematic approach to promoting the G-Global platform and the AEF (the 7th AEF conference drew almost 10,000 participants in May 2014) and attracting international experts has gradually led to some positive results.

First, the platform has become a popular virtual discussion ground for local and international experts to dialogue on public policy choices and best-practice experience. For example, Kazakhstan’s government utilized some critical suggestions and recommendations from international experts and made several adjustments in the Kazyna Sovereign Fund’s multi-billion investments into the national Industrialization Road Map and funding priorities for 210 projects within the Business Road Map-2020 Program.

Second, it has provided a unique opportunity for Kazakhstan’s economists, experts and policy practitioners to integrate with the global intellectual and policy community. For example, Kazakhstan has been among few countries from the CIS zone to make significant contributions to the RIO+20 UN Forum on sustainable development in Brazil in 2012 and committed up to US$ 4 billion to support alternative energy development in the country and in the greater Central Asian region as part of the preparations for the World Expo-2017 in Astana. Third, G-Global has offered to create a neutral international communicative platform for global security dialogue, though its success has been mixed. For example, in spring and summer 2014 Astana offered its platform to establish a dialogue between Kiev and Moscow on the Ukrainian crisis; however this offer was never considered by the conflicting parties.

Recent policy studies on e-governance and the experience of the G-Global platform suggest that the future of effective public policy process lies in a right combination of traditional political procedures with the greater usage of ICT in governance processes. E-government, including the G-Global platform, provides the politically active general electorate with an opportunity to learn more and to contribute to the policy formulation process, assuming that they will thus have a greater stake in the reforms and policy implementation process. It also provides a huge opportunity for a young generation of policy makers to voice their innovative ideas and views, rendering the policy formulation process more inclusive and possibly more effective.

CONCLUSION: The G-Global platform still faces challenges in attracting attention and new followers, especially among the young generation of intellectuals and policy practitioners both from Kazakhstan and foreign countries (so far 2.5 million users visited the website, official est.). To become more relevant, the G-Global should take additional steps and actions to expand its audience.

In particular, it needs to establish greater cooperation with think tanks and universities both in Kazakhstan and around the world, especially among one of the potentially largest target audiences – the student and educator communities. It should also consider finding links to the traditional media in Kazakhstan (which about 60 percent of the country’s citizens still read) in order to improve its outreach and expand the audience. In addition, it should find ways to show that electorate’s e-participation contributes indeed in the policy making process.

AUTHOR’S BIO: Rafis Abazov, PhD, is a visiting professor at Al Farabi Kazakh National University and a director of Global Classroom Program. He also teaches at SIPA, Columbia University, NY. He is the author of The Formation of Post-Soviet International Politics in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan” (1999), The Culture and Customs of the Central Asian Republics” (2007) and “The Role of Think Tanks in the Policy-Making Process in Kazakhstan” (2011), and a contributor to the UNECE Innovation Performance Review of Kazakhstan (2012). He has been awarded an IREX 2010–2011 EPS fellowship (Title VIII program) for research on public policy reforms in Kazakhstan.

(Image Attribution: kazembassy.ca)

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