09ASTANA90, KAZAKHSTAN: LIFE ON THE STEPPE, JANUARY 10-16

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09ASTANA90 2009-01-16 10:39 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO8816
OO RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW
RUEHLA RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNEH RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHPW RUEHROV
RUEHSK RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #0090/01 0161039
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 161039Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4359
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 1042
RUCNCLS/SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHVV/ISLAMIC COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0441
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1147
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFAAA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC 0615
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC 0530
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 000090 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR SCA/CEN, SCA/PPD, IIP 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV ECON SOCI SCUL KPAO KCRM KZ
SUBJECT:  KAZAKHSTAN:  LIFE ON THE STEPPE, JANUARY 10-16 
 
1. The following is the first in a new series of weekly cables from 
Embassy Astana with tidbits on daily life in Kazakhstan. 
 
MASIMOV JOINS BLOGOSPHERE 
 
2. Prime Minister Karim Masimov has joined the Kazakhstani 
blogosphere by starting his very own weblog ("primeminister. 
government.kz").  In a bid to connect with the people -- or at least 
those 14 percent who have Internet access -- Masimov started 
"blogging" on New Year's Eve, and his first post attracted wide 
attention from fellow Kazakhstani bloggers.  With the hope that the 
blog provides the "end user interested in the doings of the 
Government and the socio-economic situation" with interesting, 
useful information, Masimov announced that "in the future, the blog 
will be filled with practically all necessary information." 
 
3. Masimov asked his readers and fellow bloggers to leave comments 
which he promised to read in full.  A number of people responded; at 
last count, the first post has received almost three hundred 
comments.  The contributions ranged from wishes of wellness to 
questions about the status of the economy and complaints about the 
quality of tap water in villages.  Masimov has since ordered the 
cabinet to investigate the criticisms, Reuters reported.  One topic 
that received specific attention was the case of LiveJournal, a 
popular blogging platform which has reportedly been blocked in 
Kazakhstan.  A number of readers asked why it has been blocked, when 
the blockage would be lifted, and what the Prime Minister himself 
(as a fellow blogger) intends to do about it. 
 
4. The blog launch certainly generated a buzz and won approval among 
Internet users in Kazakhstan.  Obviously happy with this step, 
Masimov told his ministers on January 12 to start their own personal 
blogs to get closer to the people.  "I have opened a blog on the 
government website," Masimov told a government meeting, "so I order 
all ministers to start personal blogs where people will be able to 
ask you questions that you must answer." 
 
"INTELLECTUAL SCHOOL" OPENED TO EDUCATE FUTURE ELITE 
 
5. On January 12, President Nursultan Nazarbayev officially opened a 
new school for gifted children in Astana.  As part of the 
President's project, "20 Intellectual Schools of the First 
President", 19 other schools are soon to follow in all Kazakhstani 
major cities.  The government allocated 5 billion tenge 
(approximately $42 million) from the 2009-10 budget to fund the 
project.  Astana's first "intellectual school" will focus on natural 
sciences and will provide an education to 1,200 students.  Each of 
these students will be provided with a laptop computer and access to 
a broadband wireless network.  Moreover, the school will have its 
own online education portal through which parents will be able to 
check on their children's progress and participate in the 
educational process. 
 
6. According to preliminary information, the government will foot 
part of the bill, while the rest will be paid by the parents of the 
"young intellectuals."  The schools are to provide an experimental 
platform to test new learning programs and modern educational 
technologies.  "We are confident that the best children in all of 
Kazakhstan showing exceptional talent in these fields (i.e., 
mathematics and physics) will find themselves in these schools, in 
which we will raise the future elite of our country," Nazarbayev 
said at the opening ceremony. 
 
COURT BRIBES MOST EXPENSIVE, SURVEY FINDS 
 
7. In a survey conducted by the Association of Political and Social 
Scientists (APSS), 71.7 percent of respondents reported that they 
were at least one time involved in corruption during the last three 
months of 2008, Interfax reported.  Courts topped the list as 
requiring the most expensive bribes (an average bribe of nearly 
$3,746), followed by military enlistment offices ($1,591).  The 
average bribe for purchasing and registering land was $1,415, and 
for employment and career advancement $776.  The survey showed that 
people consider customs and police to be the most corrupt government 
agencies.  The courts, education and healthcare institutions, and 
procurator's offices do not fare much better in the survey. 
 
GOVERNMENT APPARENTLY READY TO DITCH "TALON" SYSTEM 
 
ASTANA 00000090  002 OF 003 
 
 
 
8. Several years ago, ostensibly in response to the increasing 
n
umber of traffic violations, Kazakhstan's lawmakers came up with an 
idea to force greater accountability on the part of the local 
drivers.  In addition to their driver's licenses, each driver would 
be issued a card called a "talon" (which can be translated as 
"voucher") with an electronic chip that would store a driver's 
traffic violation history.  The traffic police would then be 
equipped with mobile terminals to read the information stored on the 
talons.  In fact, drivers would even have the option to deposit a 
balance on their talons and use them to pay their fines 
electronically at the scene of a violation.  A local company called 
Kazakhstan Processing Center was selected, without a bidding 
process, to produce the talons and distribute them among the driving 
population.  The deadline for introduction of the talon system was 
set for January 1, 2009. 
 
9. "Talonization", as the process has been dubbed in the local 
media, has received considerable attention among the public, most of 
it negative.  Questions focused mostly on the opaqueness of the 
entire process.  Why does one need to introduce a card with 
information almost identical to already existing driver's licenses? 
Why is the entire process, including the management of the personal 
information of millions of citizens, to be controlled by a virtually 
unknown business entity? 
 
10. Critics did not have to wait long to be justified in their 
skepticism.  Kazakhstan Processing Center, which was supposed to 
issue the talons, showed itself not up to the task.  As requests for 
talons started coming in, the backlog grew, and as early as the 
summer of 2008, when only about 10 percent of all drivers turned in 
their applications, the wait time was several months to receive a 
talon.  Questions about how the company would be able to handle the 
expected rush leading up to the deadline of January 1, 2009, became 
more pressing.  A "solution" came from Kazakhstan Processing Center 
itself, which announced that due to the high demand, talons would be 
sold for 1,200 tenge (approximately $10).  Only after thousands of 
drivers had paid did the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) finally 
insist that all talons had to be issued for free.  Kazakhstan 
Processing Center itself never removed the price information from 
its website, despite promises that it would return money it received 
for the talons. 
 
11. However, with the deadline fast approaching, it became clear 
that the company would be unable to provide all drivers with their 
talons in time.  At first, the MVD took a hard stance and announced 
that every driver would be required to have a talon by New Year's 
Day 2009 and would be fined if they did not obtain one.  Later, the 
MVD softened its tone, and suggested a six-month transition period 
when drivers would only be warned and asked to get their talons. 
Soon rumors began to spread that the entire talon system would be 
brought to an end before it even took effect.  It finally appears 
that the "talonization" idea will be put out of its misery. 
Purportedly relying on high-ranking MVD sources, Mazhilis 
(parliament) member Sat Topkapbayev announced on January 14 that 
talons would, in fact, be abolished.  An official MVD announcement 
has yet to be made, but it seems that the majority of Kazakhstanis, 
already used to similar schemes, chose the right strategy to wait 
out the talon. 
 
BALLET DANCERS ON STRIKE 
 
12. Ballet dancers from the National Opera and Ballet Theater in 
Astana protested their poor living conditions and miserable salaries 
by canceling a January 9 performance.  Most of the 60 dancers live 
in dormitories, four to five per room, though some of them have 
spouses and children.  The dancers, who were invited to join the 
theatre when it was started nine years ago, were promised apartments 
in Astana.  Since then, only one of them was able to secure an 
apartment, and recently the theater management announced that no 
apartments will be given out.  With salaries of around 50,000 tenge 
(approximately $420) a month, the dancers find that buying 
apartments in Astana with their own financial resources is out of 
the question.  The theater has national status, and thus falls under 
the competency of the Ministry of Information and Culture. 
Therefore, the Astana akimat (mayor's office) does not provide 
housing to the theater's employees as it does to the employees of 
municipal theaters. 
 
ASTANA 00000090  003 OF 003 
 
 
 
HOAGLAND

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