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Kazakstan: Land Privatisation Prompts Fears

A bid by the Kazak authorities to sell-off state-owned land may put farmers out of business.
By Medet Ibragimov

A proposed land privatisation law debated in parliament has prompted protests from analysts and farmers.


The new legislation, which is being pushed by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, is expected to gain parliamentary approval, despite the fact that existing land laws categorically rule out the possibility of private ownership.


Earlier this month, Nazarbaev told parliament that the sell-off would be one of the country's most important socio-economic acts, which would touch the lives of almost all its citizens.


"The purpose of this draft law is to provide confidence to those who work on land, so they can invest without fear. The state will be helping business by making land more attractive," explained Toleukhan Nurtianov, deputy director at the Kazak agricultural ministry.


Armands Pupols, economic and ecology analyst for the Kazak office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, pointed out, "Land is being sold everywhere in the world. Since Kazakstan is pursuing reforms and has already privatised many industrial assets, why not land?"


But some academics and analysts are concerned that the legislation is being rushed through without sufficient thought and are worried about its social impact.


Rakhimjan Eleshev, director of the Institute of Agrobiology and Ecology, argues the proposed reforms should be debated publicly and further refined before going before parliament. "Talk of selling off land and introducing private ownership is premature," he told IWPR.


Leonid Leutski, head of the department of economic sciences at the Kazakstan Academy of Law and International Affairs, warned, "This law itself will resolve nothing. What is needed is a state programme of development in rural areas."


"According to forecasts from agricultural scientists, if private ownership of land is adopted in Kazakstan, 70 per cent of the rural people will lose their jobs," said Saya Issa, a member of the Kazakstan Union of Writers.


"The law is raw, scientifically unsupported and anti-people," added activist Sapabek Asipuly. "Discussion of it should be stopped, otherwise up to 90 per cent of good ploughing land will be sold off to 'money bags' and ordinary people will be left with nothing."


Many large agricultural enterprises have already been sold off, in many instances to former Communist Party officials and to certain Kazak businessmen. However, the legitimacy of these sales has been questioned, and the new law is designed to legalise the purchases.


Vasilina Vasilieva of the Russian daily newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta believes the vested interests of the Kazak elite are behind the new laws.


"Lobbying for private ownership of land started last year after legalisation of assets held outside the country brought some 500 million US dollars into the economy. Those influential people, those behind the legalisation, started to ask - where to invest the money?" Vasilieva said.


A Kazak businessman, who wished to remain anonymous, said, "The scandal surrounding Swiss bank accounts belonging to the Kazak political elite - 'Kazakgate' - has added impetus to the push for private ownership of land.


"That disgrace alerted the authorities to the fact that their money is not safe, even in Switzerland. It became more profitable and sensible to invest their money in the land, not in banks."


Meanwhile, Kazakstan's many small-scale peasant farmers fear they will not be able to afford their plots or to keep farming under the reformed system.


"I've heard that the rough price for agricultural land has already been set at around 300 dollars a hectare. Where am I to find that sort of money?" asked Almaz Sarsenov, a farmer from the Almaty region.


Another farmer, Adil Riashev, believes the move will force him to abandon his home and more to the city to find work. "Let's imagine I am able to find or borrow cash to buy land. In our country, rents for agricultural equipment and fuel are so high that only the largest landowners can justify the expense," he said.


Analysts are in no doubt Kazakstan's parliament will pass Nazarbaev's land privatisation law at the end of the month, as the assembly rarely opposes legislation he proposes.


Again, it would appear that the interests of a narrow elite will be served while the Kazak public - and especially the rural population - see no benefit at all.


Medet Ibragimov is the pseudonym for a journalist in Kazakstan


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