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Legalised Lobbying

By News Briefing Central Asia
Plans by Kazakstan’s justice ministry to announce a new law that would define and legalise political lobbying has sparked a public debate on the issue. Some NBCentralAsia analysts argue that the proposed change would simply allow a small circle of oligarchs to influence the legislative process. Others, though, think non-government groups could benefit the most.

The law is currently being drafted by the justice ministry and should be submitted to the Kazak government and parliament shortly.

A first attempt to pass such a law foundered in 2002, and analysts believe this new draft will also face difficulties, since it will have many opponents, and President Nursultan Nazarbaev has not made his own views clear.

The draft states that Kazakstan nationals and legal entities can lobby for legislative change. They may do so with regard to legislation concerning civil rights and freedoms, property, taxation, education and the environment, but are barred from lobbying for changes to laws in the areas of defence, the institutions of state, the judiciary, and foreign policy.

Dosym Satpaev, the director of the Political Risk Assessment Group and an expert on the subject of lobbying, says the term is often – and erroneously - associated with corruption. In fact, he argues, lobbying can serve as a bridge between government and society; it also offers a legal channel for interested citizens and organizations to provide additional information to lawmakers.

Satpaev thinks the legalisation of lobbying activity will be counter to the interests of many influential industrial groups, since it will mean they come under greater scrutiny, and that could cost them money.

“It will provide [non-government] organisations with the kind of access to the [lawmaking process] which they have not really had for ages,” he said. “So civil society institutions will benefit the most.”

In contrast to Satpaev, Sergei Zolotnikov, executive director of the Transparency Kazakstan foundation, thinks “oligarchic groups will win out – they will gain a legal right to influence the creation of laws”.

Zolotnikov thinks the bill is flawed, and says that Kazakstan’s legislative system is ill-prepared to accommodate the changes it proposes. The law says the activity of lobbyists is “regulated by government decrees”, thus excluding the public from discussing the matter. In addition, the law does not properly define what lobbyists are or what they do. In short, he said, “The law fails to provide answers on the very issues that it addresses, and merely hands them over to the government to resolve.”

Other commentators, though, say that merely by offering a legal framework for lobbying, the law will help add transparency to the process of drawing up legislation and making decisions on important social issues - even if the bill itself is not perfect.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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