Kazakhstan to launch international aid programme

Some support the philanthropic gesture, while others promote further strengthening the country's domestic foundation first.

By Gulmira Kamziyeva

2013-05-03

ALMATY – Astana plans to establish an agency to provide official development assistance to other countries, which it would call "Kaz aid."

"Every year we play a more active role as a regional donor and provide humanitarian assistance to countries in distress even outside our region," Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Volkov, who announced the government's plans during a presentation of the UN Development Programme's 2013 Human Development Report for the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said. "Based on the experience we have gained, we are working on the creation of an official Kazakhstani humanitarian agency, 'Kaz aid.'"

The government is discussing the planned agency's budget, its focus areas, possible methods of fund allocation and prospective recipients (such as NGOs and governments). Government approval is expected this year.

Creating the agency was the right decision, Olga Shishigina, a lower-chamber MP, said.

"I think that it is a great idea," she said. "In the past, other countries helped us with grants and loans, so why can't we now offer help [to countries in need]? This is an excellent initiative."

Neighbouring countries and others farther away need help, she said. Kazakhstan already helps underwrite Kyrgyz and Tajik implementation of logistical and economic projects, Shishigina said.

Some concerns

Not everybody wants Kazakhstan to rush into philanthropy.

Before creating the agency, Kazakhstan should consider its likely revenues in the near future and estimate whether it would be able to provide for its own citizens while helping others, economist Kanat Berentayev of the Almaty-based Public Policy Research Centre said. It isn't certain that Kazakhstan will be a high-income country within four years, he added.

"It depends on how you look at it," he said. "If you take the GDP per capita, then it is fair to say that the income will be high, especially if oil prices stay this high. But the problem is distribution of wealth, and I would say that only 20 to 30% of the population has a high income, with everyone else below average. Therefore, we need to pay more attention to the medium per capita income, which is quite low in Kazakhstan."

He suggested redistributing any wealth within Kazakhstan to try to bring the majority of the population up to at least an average income before helping others.

Others said the country shouldn't rush in to such a commitment because it's difficult to predict what will happen in the future.

"With the global economic crisis still on-going, there are some factors exacerbating the financial crisis," Kakharman Kozhamberdiyev, political analyst and vice-president of the World Uyghur Congress, said. "Several countries are now in a recession. Given these circumstances, it is too early for us to be assisting other countries."

Such concerns are valid and are under consideration, Volkov said.

Still, the programme is part of the Foreign Ministry's commitment to making Almaty a regional hub for multi-lateral diplomacy, and this is one effort in that regard, Volkov said.

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