Now, there is much talk on creating a business [political] party, what are your thoughts on the matter?
Without any leading on or dallying, I would like to say that I am quite far from politics, and they do not attract me at this stage in their development. Though, if speaking abstractly, the idea is very sound, and most importantly, it is the right time. If earlier, one could speak about the process of generating a national bourgeois class, now it is possible to state that the group has gained some sort of outline, and participates within the legislative life of our country in an evolutionary way. Now, there should come quality growth in our businesspeople. They should change from carrying out insignificant disputes, and instead focus on their own self-identification within society, pursuing not simply their own ambitions, but instead those of business as a whole, insomuch as it does not diverge from the national interests of the country as a whole. That is to say, we are talking here about a moderate conservative party. In the previous presidential election, my own exit poll showed 100% support by the population for the current president. All those in my surroundings, and I am familiar with those from the various layers of society, confirm that they all voted for the President. And, if we were to review growth statistics for bank deposits made by the population, we would see that neither before the election, during the event, nor afterwards, had there been any decrease in this rate. So, people proved with their wallets a demonstrative confidence and interests in the further political stability of the country.
The opposition failed to suggest a single emotionally saturated statement. In this case, I do not care who is the real owner of the airline, Air Astana, and by stating that the carrier’s service is very rude, the opposition did not say anything worthwhile. As a citizen, I am more concerned about the everyday corruption affecting the average person, and the tyranny resulting from this. Also, I am very scared about the behavior of children of high-ranking officials. Particularly I mean that incident involving the son of Rakhanov and that of the General Prosecutor. That is what I would vote against, and would support anybody who would speak against such activities.
Why do you think such things are happening?
The reason is a lack of spirituality. I am not talking about religion here. I mean the very low level of our personal morality. Civilized society is distinguished by a very emotional reaction to breaches in moral principles. As for our society, we are almost inured to such things. Following economic growth, we should pay more attention to propagandizing not only healthy lifestyles, but also ethics, art and literature. There is a lot of talk about finding the country’s place along the world’s axis, and probably one of the tasks of our government should be to define that level of participation by the state within private business at an acceptable level. Top officials should understand that there is a point beyond which liberalization of the market ends, and tyranny by officials begins, resulting in absolute corruption. The President set up a very fine target of entering the list of the 50 most developed nations, but considering the size of our economy private business will have difficulties in reaching this without state support.
In what way should this support be provided?
There exist standard ways, such as participation in capitalization, tax preferences, customs tariffs, and so on.
However, the state already clearly announced that nobody would receive any preferences, and I agree with this point of view. The giving of preferences could become simply another potential for corruption.
The Kazakhstan of 2006 is cardinally different from that of five years previously. It is now high time to speak about the country’s potential, and stop considering its past. Humanity could never have developed computers if it had remained fixated on the fact that the typewriter was already in existence. While listening to the last presidential speech before the new government, I see his attempt to move the relationship between business and state onto a new, more qualitative level. If earlier the state needed tax revenues and the entrepreneurial skills of businesspeople, now in the same way business needs the state’s help. I completely do not understand all these allusions to a political economy. There should be commonsense in everything, and let us stop being afraid of each other.
But any process requires a leader. The first wave of leaders was absorbed either by business or the authorities. And, the second wave has yet to produce any charismatic leaders. The point is not the lack of captivating leaders, but in understanding the new level of leadership between business and the authorities.
I think that when there was shortage of funds in the country, many gathered around a few people. Now since the economy has developed, the necessity to rally around one or a few persons has disappeared. A new generation of educated and competent mangers in various spheres has arrived. So if we already have built up some critical mass, then those people will form a new culture of interaction between business and the authorities in an evolutionary way, but not a revolutionary one. Through everyday work, and not through catchy slogans, will this culture be formed.
All this is wonderful. Yet, it all reminds me of placid complacency.
I agree with you. A satiated person does not like slogans. The more satisfied people there are in the country, the fewer radical speeches there will be.
You might here objections that the latest amendments to the law “On private entrepreneurship” increase administrative pressure by the state. The same reaction occurred to the new composition of the government, and in particular to Dunayev’s appointment, and the last statement of the Prime Minister on the banking system.
To me it seems that all this uproar is simply a remainder of old patterns that are disappearing. We will never be able to speak about the formation of a political party for business if, to repeat myself, we never listen to each other, but simply hear one another. Any actions by business representatives are seen by the authorities as an attempt to overthrow those in power. And, any actions by the government are seen by business as a threat to itself. This is complete nonsense. We have to stop being suspicious. I would like to offer an example on what I have just said. At the very dawn of the banking system’s formation, there was an active decrease in the number of banks due to the introduction of strict requirements. A huge scandal occurred. What do we have as a result? Something to be proud of for the whole country. There will not be any dialogue until people stop being afraid of the oligarchs. Oligarchs being frightened by the authorities. And, people being afraid those in power.
Nevertheless, you contradict yourself. When you were saying we need to develop ethics and personal morality, you said that we need to do such first within [the sphere of] business, but to do this we would require an ideological leader. The whole [business] class cannot achieve this. The country needs leaders.
We already have an ideological leader. This is our president. We simply have not learned to hear him. I am afraid to look like a person who speaks in an opportunistic way. In our country there is a prejudice that to praise the President is considered to be bad taste. Our being patriotic is a contemporary concept. Outside the country we are very proud of our nation, but inside of it we are ashamed of ourselves. We need to learn to respect those leaders who have made achievements. Nihilism towards power creates nothing but anarchy.
The President is a leader by definition. There should be others besides him?
Any other charismatic leader will come across such a [Kazakh] proverb: two sheep’s heads cannot fit into one cooking pan. We do not require another leader. However, we do need such personalities as those who will not only pursue their own ambitions, but who will have “real personalities”. They should not become part of the fight for power, should bring in only positivity, and be concerned about the fate of the nation – not just their own. One more important idea is the existence of old and new money in the country. Old money does not wish to recognize new money. Segregation is a very sad parody for a notion that died a long time ago. Castes are possible only in those countries having a history of more than a thousand years.
All this is fine, but the problem in my opinion is that so far business and the authorities are one and the same. There are very few lucky exceptions of when some huge and successful business does not have a very influential stakeholder in Astana. At present, all efforts are directed at eliminating such guardianship, which is sometimes too obtrusive. Not long ago, I spoke with the president of one quite large corporation, and he confided that his official payments to the budget could not even be closely compared with his unofficial payments.
My experience proves the reverse to be true. There exist all conditions in the country for carrying out business in an honest way, which excludes any necessity to give bribes. Earlier I spoke on civilized forms of relationships between business and the authorities, instead of corruption. Business and authorities are not one and the same. These castes and limiting of competitiveness are very harmful to the economy of the nation. Besides, I spoke not about present times, but about those prospects, which could be both positive and tragic. If we do not defeat corruption, we will never solve those issues related to developing personal morality, and thus will become so-called “imitation Arabs”, in such a way as the world perceives them. I am not trying to offend that nation in any way.
Everybody likes to say that the state should support its own companies, just like America supports Boeing. What is that – a more civilized manner of the same corruption?
No. Corruption in any of its forms is harmful. Every citizen should take the initiative. A better example would be South Korea. Over a few decades this country has turned from a poor nation into a prosperous one. The crisis occurred only after cooperation between business and the authorities turned into corruption. At that moment when both officials and businessmen could not refuse from temptations, and thus lost their citizens respect.
Recently, the concept of a banking cartel for financing certain large infrastructure projects has been proposed. How real is this, and in what way could this occur?
There are no such plans. All interesting projects do not require our money. They can all be offered up to the international capital markets. Kazakhstani bank’s rates are uncompetitive due to existing circumstances. And, where there are too many politics, there exists too little common sense. Sometimes it seems to me that some people conceal their incompetence, passiveness in thought, or laziness with political reasons. There is nothing easier than referring to political currents, which most likely only occur in their own heads.
How do you understand political modernization?
The first thing that comes to mind is the elections of akims (editor’s note: local and regional chief administrators). But, I am against this idea. As the director of a company that has many branches, I have a very vague idea of how to report to shareholders and clients in case my employees, rather than me, would appoint branch managers. I am even scared to think about what kind of director my staff might elect. That person might be kind and flexible, but I could not accept ineffectiveness. How am I supposed to manage such a person after this? The scariest thing is that I would be responsible for that person’s actions. The same might happen with the country. The President would again be accountable for everything.
But the point is that nobody holds him [the President] responsible for what happens.
One cannot base on the past in his deliberations and actions, without noticing present, while ignoring the future. The country is changing. The profile of the average citizen of the country is changing. The President is changing. And, everybody should be held responsible, including an internal sense of culpability. One should never forget that aside from personal power, the President holds a huge responsibility – first of all before himself. One should not create the image of an enemy out of the President and the authorities, trying to find some dirty trick within each of their actions. I would also not recommend that those in power look for enemies among businesspeople. All of this might seem too idealistic, and even on the verge of political infantilism, but only under these conditions will we build a great country. A really great country, without any irony. If we are to speak about a new and developing country, we should strictly feel our commonalities and participation in creating a renowned nation. The President should say, “Let us build a great country. I am ready to do anything for this. But, for this I need your support and understanding.” This might become our national idea. The most difficult trial is achieving success. And, to overcome this task is what we all need now.