On the Civil Service and Civil Servants
The chairman of the Kazakh Civil Service Agency, Zautbek Turisbekov, answers questions from Kazakhstan international business magazine
Mr Turisbekov, how topical is the problem of corruption crimes committed by civil servants and what is your agency doing to solve it?
Our country has been carrying out consistent work to eradicate corruption in our society. The seminar organised by our agency and the Council of Foreign Investors on 11 May 2006 rated this process highly. The seminar's participants stressed that thanks to the Kazakh president's determination, much had been done to improve the investment climate, ease the rules for registering a business and limit the possibilities for committing corruption in the country. An opinion poll, carried out by the EBRD among companies, shows that the level of corruption fell significantly in Kazakhstan between 2002 and 2005 and that the country had the best standing in this sphere in the CIS.
Our agency has also taken bold steps to eliminate this antisocial phenomenon. Thus, additional restrictions were introduced to the Law On the Civil Service and now individuals who commit corruption crimes are banned from taking up government jobs. Disciplinary councils have been set up in all the Kazakh regions and Astana and Almaty. On 3 May 2006 the president issued a decree to adopt a document which is unique for the whole CIS – the Civil Servants' Ethics Code, and this code will make it possible to monitor the behaviour of civil servants and effectively bring violators to responsibility. I want to stress that this code generated interest from many CIS countries.
The text of the Ethics Code was displayed on noticeboards in all the state bodies so that the public can easily see it and hotline telephone numbers were displayed for people to report on violations of its requirements. In addition, each state body has a book of monitoring ethics in which citizens can write about violations of their rights and cases of violating the code by civil servants. All the records should be considered, and corresponding measures should be taken in each case.
One of the code's anticorruption measures is to force civil servants to take action to refute accusations of corruption made in public, including through the courts. A start has been made – there are cases of civil servants turning to the courts to refute accusations made against them.
In general, the code has increased the responsibility of civil servants and improved their image in society.
In addition, the president has decreed that reserves of the political civil service should be created now1. I am confident that being listed in these reserves will increase the responsibility of civil servants and will make them guard their reputation both in everyday life and in the civil service.
1. According to the Kazakh Law On the Civil Service, political servants are those civil servants whose appointment (election), retirement and activities bear policy-defining nature and who bear responsibility over implementing political aims and tasks.
Amendments were also made to the law that political civil servants should be rotated. We believe that heads of monitoring, controlling and regulating bodies should be rotated every three years because this is an effective measure to fight corruption.
At the moment, the agency is drafting a presidential decree which will create a new administrative post – head of compliance – in state bodies. This job will involve duties to directly monitor executive and labour discipline, adopt standards for offering civil services and take action to make civil servants observe the Ethics Code. This will help regulate the compliance of state bodies and improve the professionalism of their staff members.
A year ago regional disciplinary councils were transferred to your agency's administration. How do you assess the preliminary results of the move?
Time has shown that this decision was timely and correct. Disciplinary councils, focusing their attention on publicity, regularity and prevention in their activities, have reached a more qualitative level. They deal with strengthening discipline in state bodies and observing anticorruption legislation and the Civil Servants' Ethics Code. Since the code was adopted, these councils have considered 592 violations of the code's provisions and 456 civil servants have been made answerable for various disciplinary offences.
Disciplinary councils have been set up throughout the country and they include heads of regional state bodies (including law-enforcement agencies) and local public figures and journalists. I want to stress that involving the media widely, unconditionally, will help boost the efficiency of disciplinary councils. I believe that openness of their work to the public will become a powerful factor in preventing corruption crimes among civil servants.
If we compare the results of the work of the councils in the first half of 2005 with the same period of 2004, then we can say with confidence that their work has become more efficient, quick and fruitful. For example, given that the number of checks and sittings was more or less the same, 50% more disciplinary cases were launched and almost 100% more civil servants were made answerable in the given period.
Your agency's checks carried out in the tax and customs services have received wide resonance in the media. What was the reason for this, and will this practice be continued in the future?
This year our agency has carried out checks in the Finance Ministry's Customs and Tax Committees into observance of the Law On the Civil Service and the Civil Servants' Ethics Code and the state of personnel policy.
We established serious violations of civil service legislation in the sphere of recruiting staff members in the Customs Committee. These violations include gross breaches of the fair selection procedure, a formal approach to qualification requirements and infringements of citizens' constitutional right to equal access to the civil service.
This state of personnel policy brings the quality of customs specialists down and has a negative impact on their work and morale. In 2005 alone, 1,298 people, or one customs officer in five, were made answerable for disciplinary offences, including 38 for corruption crimes.
The management of the Customs Committee and our agency have agreed that from 1 September 2006 common qualification requirements will be set for job openings – obligatory selection to fill vacancies and tests for hopefuls to assess their knowledge of customs legislation.
As for the tax service, checks were carried out here in form of a large-scale action involving the public, political activists, NGOs, the media and other institutions of civil society. The media regularly informed the public on the course of the checks; news conferences and meetings were held for this purpose. We did it deliberately because the specifics of the tax service's work are that it directly touches the interests of all Kazakhs. This action would not have had sense without the public's assessment of the work of such an important state body.
A number of positive moments have emerged in the activities of tax bodies – the possibility of submitting tax declarations electronically, easing the procedure for submitting account reports and organising work to adopt the "all in one" principle. There also was much criticism of tax bodies: the complicated tax system, a large number of documents needed to receive services, long time to consider applications and red tape.
The main result of these checks, I think, was that entrepreneurs felt attention and support from the state. That is why we are going to continue this practice in the future. By the way, we are currently carrying out a scheduled check into observance of civil service legislation in the Justice Ministry departments, and we will report on its results in the media.
As of 1 April 2006 the total number of civil servants stood at 102,673 people in Kazakhstan, including 31,46 political civil servants. The average age of civil servants is 38 years. The average years in office is nine; 77% of civil servants have higher education and 57% are women.
Will the adoption of civil service standards initiated by your agency change the current situation?
In contrast to the private sector which in the conditions of fierce competition always tries to improve the services it offers, state bodies do not pay proper attention to this. Analyses carried out by local and foreign experts and the checks conducted show that documents regulating services offered by state bodies are worded quite loosely and confusingly. The qualitative and quantitative parameters of civil services have not been specified and this does not make it possible to keep records, assess and monitor the process of offering them.
Moreover, Kazakh legislation itself does not have such notions as "civil service" or "civil service standards": that is why civil servants often confuse civil services with the functions of state bodies.
Another serious problem we inherited from the Soviet system is the weak civil position of people in defending their rights and their juridical illiteracy.
Polls conducted by the agency show that most citizens regard the requirement to obtain a large number of documents, high charges for services, the long time taken to consider applications and red tape as the main administrative obstacles. In order to overcome these obstacles and not to waste time, citizens are ready to pay, thus provoking civil servants to commit crimes.
In addition, because of their mentality, civil servants wrongly believe that, above all, they have to govern people, but not render quality services to them. This leads to displeasure and unwillingness to offer advice and explanation.
In order to resolve these problems the agency suggests that civil services should be classified and a list of the functions of state bodies should be composed. Some functions irrelevant to the state should be transferred to the private sector (licensing, certifying, developing outsourcing services and so on) and other functions left for the state should be strictly monitored. This move will cut the state apparatus and the level of corruption. In other words, there should be a principle: fewer state functions-fewer bureaucrats-less corruption!
Quality standards should be adopted for all the state bodies. The agency and the European Commission are currently working on a project to draft standards for offering services to the public for the Justice, Health, and Labour and Social Protection Ministries, the Tax Committee and the Almaty city and South Kazakhstan Oblast executive bodies.
While adopting quality standards an effective system to monitor the observance of these standards should be created. To do this these standards should be made public and published in the media to enable people to monitor the quality of state bodies' work.
In addition, an ideology aiming to offer quality services to the public and support to entrepreneurs and to prevent abuse of office should be fostered among civil servants. For this purpose the Academy of the Civil Administration and regional civil service centres will offer special one-and-a-half-month courses for new civil servants.
Most state functions should be offered electronically to reduce direct contact between consumers of services and bureaucrats and therefore corruption possibilities. For example, Hungary has already started offering 24 civil services electronically, including registering cars and property operations.
I am confident that adopting civil service standards will enable us to solve two main problems – minimise corruption in the state apparatus and improve the quality of services offered by the state.
It is not a secret that the low level of wages is one of the factors encouraging corruption among civil servants.
Kazakhstan has been conducting huge work to improve the pay system for civil servants. As you well remember, in line with the president's 2005 state-of-the-nation address, in 2005 wages for all the civil servants grew by 32% and they will grow by a further 30% in 2007.
On 18 April 2006, the president set up a working group on administrative reforms headed by Deputy Prime Minister Karim Masimov. Within the framework of this group our agency was ordered to study and make proposals to improve the pay system for civil servants. Analyses show that the current system does not encourage civil servants to improve their services. Moreover, it provokes the drain of young talented specialists from the state sector to the private.
Judge for yourself, the average salary of Kazakh civil servants is almost the same as the average salary in the country, whereas, for example, it is 150% higher in Canada and Poland and 290% higher in Singapore.
We have proposed that a new system aiming to assess the work of each civil servant and encourage professional growth should be applied from 2007 to improve the current pay system and attract qualified specialists to state bodies.
Do you study the experiences of other countries and their best achievements in fighting corruption?
In December 2005, the Commission for Fighting Corruption and Observance of Civil Servants' Ethics under the Kazakh president set up a working group to study foreign anticorruption policies and draft proposals to improve state bodies' work in this sphere.
An analysis of the most successful anticorruption strategies and results achieved shows that Malaysia's experience is the most applicable to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan and Malaysia have comparable populations, state apparatuses and GDP. Successes achieved by Malaysia in fighting corruption are mainly linked to the fact that its Anticorruption Agency focuses its efforts on prevention measures, including an effective system of administrative fines for corruption crimes.
Studying Malaysia's experience we have concluded that a national system of preventing corruption crimes in the state apparatus should be set up. We suggest that the powers of the Civil Service Agency should be increased. The agency should be granted additional powers to issue orders to eliminate violations of law that should be fulfilled obligatorily.
The agency's disciplinary councils have a status of advisory bodies and this reduces the effect of their work. We believe that disciplinary councils should have powers to fine or even dismiss civil servants who are found guilty of violating law and quality standards in court. For example, Sweden fines civil servants for failing to fulfil clients' requests within terms set by its civil service standards.
Under work to improve the quality of civil services, the Civil Service Agency could act as an authorised body to adopt and monitor the observance of service standards. By the way, this and other proposals have been submitted for the working group's consideration.
Zautbek Turisbekov, PhD in economics. Born 15 December 1951 in the settlement of Sastobe in Tulkibas District, Shymkent (South Kazakhstan) Oblast; 1973 – graduated from the Kazakh Chemistry and Technology Institute; 1985 – graduated from the Almaty Higher Party School; May 1992 – deputy and later the first deputy head of the South Kazakhstan Oblast administration. December 1993 – head of the South Kazakhstan Oblast administration; October 1995 – governor of South Kazakhstan Oblast. December 1997 – chairman of the Kazakh Migration and Demography Agency; January 1999 – deputy head of the Kazakh presidential administration and head of the presidential administration's organisational and monitoring department. 2000-2003 – chairman of the Kazakh Civil Service Agency. 2003-2005 – Kazakh interior minister. October 2005 – chairman of the Kazakh Civil Service Agency.
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