Kazakhstan to liberalize rules on protests and political parties

Kazakhstan to liberalize rules on protests and political parties
Hundreds of people were detained at protests during and after the June presidential election, which Tokayev won with Nazarbayev’s backing. (File/AFP)
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Updated 20 December 2019

Kazakhstan to liberalize rules on protests and political parties

Kazakhstan to liberalize rules on protests and political parties
  • President Tokayev established a National Council of Public Trust earlier
  • New provisions also state that the minimum number of people required to start a party will be halved to 20,000

NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan will drop a requirement for public protests to be approved by authorities, make it easier to form political parties, and reduce punishments for hate speech and libel, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Friday.
The reform package would ease some of the most widely criticized restrictions on political freedoms in a country which has no real opposition parties in parliament and where government critics have often faced criminal charges.
Tokayev, who took over the former Soviet republic in March when Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned after almost 30 years in power, announced his plans at a meeting of the National Council of Public Trust, an advisory body he established this year.
“We are making a serious step toward reforming the existing political system,” Tokayev said.
A new draft law on public rallies excludes provisions requiring official approval, which have effectively served as a blanket ban on protests.
Hundreds of people were detained at protests during and after the June presidential election, which Tokayev won with Nazarbayev’s backing. Dozens are also routinely held by police at smaller rallies.
In another move easing political restrictions, the minimum number of people required to start a party will be halved to 20,000, Tokayev said.
Tokayev also said offenses such as slander and libel would be removed from the criminal code and the article on hate speech would become more specific and less harsh. Both have often been used against opposition activists and government critics.
Kazakhstan’s parliament is dominated by the ruling Nur Otan party which Nazarbayev continues to lead while also remaining the head of the powerful security council and carrying the title of Yelbasy, or national leader. A parliamentary election is scheduled for 2021.


World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

Updated 33 min 16 sec ago

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row
  • Letter sent to Afghan president comes amid corruption claims linked to new government controls on public-private partnerships

KABUL: The World Bank has threatened to close the taps on $200 million worth of aid to Afghanistan if Kabul fails to share banking sector data.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance on Wednesday said that the World Bank had warned the country’s President Ashraf Ghani that it would halt its assistance if the information was not forthcoming.
In a letter dated Nov. 23, Henry G. Kerali, the World Bank’s country director for Afghanistan, mentioned issues that “remain to be resolved” and “may impact” the bank’s capacity to disburse the full amount of $200 million.
The issues included the World Bank’s inability to obtain banking data from Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), the country’s central bank.
“The letter has actually been addressed to the president, and copies of it have been sent to relevant offices. The issue will be resolved in the coming week,” finance ministry spokesman, Shamroz Khan Masjidi, told Arab News.
“In the past, we would have shared a number of non-sensitive banking data with the World Bank. Now, a misunderstanding has appeared with the central bank which has not shared it with it (the World Bank) … the issue will be resolved.” The World Bank’s Kabul office declined to comment on whether the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Arab News, was a warning to Ghani. In an equivocal statement issued on Wednesday, the lender said: “No letter from the World Bank to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has been released to the public.” Ghani’s spokesman declined comment.
The World Bank’s purported threat comes amid complaints over increasing corruption after the presidential palace in recent months took control of public-private partnerships (PPP) from the Ministry of Finance through amendments to the country’s PPP law.
Reliant on international assistance, Afghanistan is considered one of the most corrupt countries.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the US government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction, in a letter on Nov. 11 said that the Afghan government “often makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.” Even Ghani’s brother, Hashmat Ghani, spoke against the PPP law move. “Taking away PPP office and authority from the finance ministry has been a mistake. It should be reversed immediately,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.
Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan and International Monetary Fund adviser, said the World Bank’s letter was “not a good signal” for Afghanistan.
“The reason for which it is interrupting the payment is that the president wants to move a number of important state-owned enterprises and the management of PPP to the palace where there is no oversight of the parliament at the palace as opposed to the ministry (Finance Ministry),” he told Arab News.
“So, this is how corruption creeps in, and the international community is worried about what is going on and the World Bank expresses it in a diplomatic language in this letter.” Sediq Ahmad Usmani, a lawmaker from the parliamentary financial affairs committee, said: “The executive power, particularly, the presidency, has created another government of its special circle which deals with appointments and budget’s expenses. All the power lies with the president and without his knowledge they cannot do anything.” “This has been our concern and we have shared it with the donors and have asked them to prevent such wayward acts,” he added.
Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, denied the existence of any “circle” under the president. “These MPs, I am sure they know the whole process and the authority of government officials and the president on budget spending. Budget issues must not be politicized.
“The government sends details of the budget to the parliament in a very transparent way and they have the legal right to oversee the spending. It is an open budget system, there is no circle.”