Tokayev gives new Cabinet “broad powers”, tells it to be independent - Exclusive

Tokayev gives new Cabinet “broad powers”, tells it to be independent

President Tokayev said on Wednesday he was giving “broad powers” to his new Cabinet and told it to be independent and proactive – signalling an attempt to set a new power balance between president and government.

This comes a day after Tokayev, in a surprise move, named Olzhas Bektenov as the country’s new head of government, following the resignation of Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov’s government.

“The government has been given broad powers. Make the most of it, make decisions in a fast-track manner,” Tokayev told the new Cabinet’s first meeting.

“You have to work without waiting for instructions from above, or for complaints from the public, or deterioration of the situation,” he added.

The outgoing premier Smailov was appointed to the job after the January 2022 unrest, which is seen as a failed anti-Tokayev coup by former president Nazarbayev’s associates. Smailov was seen as a transition figure needed by Tokayev until he had strengthened his grip on power.

Bektenov, 43, previously headed Tokayev’s administration and before that led the anti-corruption agency. As a figure not associated with the Nazarbayev regime, Bektenov is Tokayev’s first “own” premier.

It means that Bektenov’s performance as prime minister will be a major test of Tokayev’s declared intentions to revamp the national economic system to make it fairer and more efficient.

Tokayev on Wednesday said Kazakhstan needed to make “a quality developmental breakthrough which will require well-considered and decisive actions”.

“There is a clear target – to grow the economy by 2029 to 450bn dollars. To get there, the country’s GDP will need to increase by at least 6 percent annually. At the same time, it is important to make sure that the macroeconomic indicators also result in a rise in citizens’ real income,” he said.

Tokayev also said it was necessary “to take systemic measures towards comprehensive economic liberalisation”.

“It is an extremely important reform which will allow a phased departure from large-scale state interference in economic processes,” he said.

“Uncontrolled monopolies, unequal access to resources and unfair competition must be rooted out completely,” Tokayev said.

Tokayev told the government to increase the efficiency of the budget and tax policies.

He said the budget policy must be oriented not towards solving current problems, but towards stimulating economic activity and strategic goals.

Tokayev said a new tax code was being drafted currently with the aim of setting “a sensible balance between creating favourable conditions for investors and ensuring the necessary level of tax payments to the national budget”.

The president also expects Bektenov’s government to fix the current slump in investment in order to maintain “at least” the current level of economic growth.

He said an Investment Headquarters has been created to that end — the body will work on “creating a comprehensive ecosystem for attracting investment”.

New investment will come in part from the recovery of the assets that have been taken out of the country illegally, Tokayev said.

However, he warned law-enforcement bodies against “overreaching” in recovering such funds to avoid “discrediting” the initiative which is “of great importance for ensuring social justice and solving serious economic tasks”.

Tokayev also pledged to double, “if possible”, funding for the agricultural sector, with a focus on launching enterprises for processing agricultural produce.

Among other priority areas for the government to work on, Tokayev mentioned the introduction of water-saving technologies, and modernisation of the country’s public utilities infrastructure (with 19 thermal power stations to be upgraded this year) and roads.

Tokayev also instructed the government to “fully review” and increase the efficiency of social welfare mechanisms.

The president said he wanted “less bureaucracy, more results”, and “a systemic approach, which would combine the capacity to rapidly respond to current issues and move towards long-term economic development goals”.

He emphasised to his new government the urgency of the tasks facing it.

“Get down to implementing them without delay”, he said.

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