Old tales in a new way

Shortly after Umirzak Shukeyev was appointed as the Minister of Agriculture, a less significant event happened: Asylzhan Mamytbekov left the position in the Board of Directors of the Bank of Astana. Is it a coincidence? I do not think so.

As you know, Mamytbekov is a man from Shukeyev’s team. They worked together in Kostanay region, in Astana and in the South Kazakhstan region, the expert recalled in the pages of “KazakhZerno.kz” publication. Probably, not without the help of his patron Mamytbekov realized his idea – he founded and headed “KazAgro” holding company, a kind of “Samruk” in a single industry, combining all state assets in the agricultural sector.

And soon, in addition to this, he occupied the position of the Minister of Agriculture, combining in his hands both financial and administrative controls of the AIC.

The criticism of Mamytbekov’s work was constant throughout his time as minister. Moreover, it was from the very top – once the Head of State described the result of the minister’s efforts with the straight-from-the-shoulder phrase “Mountain gave birth to a mouse.” After that, the nickname “GRM” firmly stuck to Mamytbekov. However, despite everything, Asylzhan Sarybayevich stood as a minister of agriculture for a record period of five years. And we all understand, thanks to whose support.

And, at the end of 2017, Umirzak Shukeyev became the Minister of Agriculture. Was this appointment in the interests of the head of “Samruk-Kazyna” holding company? There is much doubt. To manage the sweetest assets of the state, and then suddenly to find yourself in a “rural deportation” … In addition, at a time when the industry needs reforms, since it is impossible to work on the same principles laid down just in the time of Mamytbekov …

It is clear that Umirzak Shukeyev has no work experience in the agricultural sector. He is an official, an economist, a financier, but certainly not an agriculturist. So he needs someone who somehow knows the matter and is able to bring the chief up to speed, or even to set this course by himself. It is desirable that the course is correct, because the responsibility directed by the Head of State is enormous.

Here comes information from the sources in the Ministry of Agriculture that it is no coincidence that Asylzhan Mamytbekov left the bank – now he is an adviser to Umirzak Shukeyev.

At first glance, this invitation can be considered logical and even expected. Five-year experience of Mamytbekov as head of the MOA is a solid baggage. But on the other hand – is this that very experience that is necessary now?

We recall that Mamytbekov is not an agriculturist, but a financier too. And according to the results of its activities, he showed only one strong point – the distribution of budget funds in such a way that they flowed in the right directions. When he was a minister, they flowed in a well-known way – to the very grain giants of the country, which in the end became so indebted, that the President of Kazakhstan had to intervene in the situation and instruct the successor of Mamytbekov, Askar Myrzakhmetov, to take emergency measures to prevent failure of sowing of crops on a third of arable lands of the country.

So, let’s dare to assume: it is unlikely that Mamytbekov will be able to offer Umirzak Shukeyev the decisions that the Head of the State expects from the Ministry of Agriculture. These instructions the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan clearly defined in the recent Address to the people of Kazakhstan: increase in labour productivity and growth of export of processed products in two and a half times.

Mamytbekov’s principles of that period, when he worked as minister, are well known – and directly opposite to the actual tasks facing the industry.

If anyone forgot, we recall: at presence of Asylzhan Sarybayevich, the Ministry of Agriculture was always aimed at exporting raw materials, and did not think about the development of processing. Even when adopting a program to increase the export potential for cattle meat, the tasks were to ship raw meat abroad, rather than processed products from it. And why? Everything is simple (from the point of view of financier Mamytbekov): the sale of raw materials abroad allows you to quickly turn over public money through the numerous subsidiary companies of “KazAgro” – and thereby get a quick profit.

The interests of the processors were openly ignored. Moreover, decisions were taken that were detrimental to domestic agricultural processing. Namely – the state periodically allocated public money for grain transportation. At the same time, not only was not the transportation of flour supported, but also the administrative barriers imposed by Central Asian countries (defensive duties, etc.) on the products of domestic flour mills remained unanswered by our authorities. As a result, it was during Mamytbekov’s day that Kazakhstan lost the world’s leadership in the export of flour and has now dropped out of the top five.

Now the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan needs to do just the opposite – to develop processing, and not to trade raw materials. So, what good advice can you expect from Asylzhan Mamytbekov in this respect? The conclusion is obvious – no. That is why we see that the new head of the Ministry of Agriculture has already made the first serious mistake – he agreed to purchase 2 million tons of grain in the resources of the Food Corporation and at prices higher than market prices. What is this, if not return to the support of the grain farmers, from what did Askar Myrzakhmetov consistently leave?

What to expect next? The announcement of credit conditions for the spring sowing of 2018 is just round the corner. If Umirzak Shukeyev continues to listen to Asylzhan Mamytbekov (and if he is his adviser- he will continue), then the grain growers will again get state support, which means that the diversification will stop. The movement in an endless circle will begin again: the production of grain, its sale for export at the expense of the state (or even sale to the state itself, as this year). That is, there will be no improvement in the situation in the agricultural sector.

In what areas, besides grain production, should we wait for “harmful advice” from Asylzhan Mamytbekov? It can be assumed that the search for ways to master budgetary money with the maximum speed (but not for the benefit) will begin in the livestock sector as well. Previously, it was a useless purchase of an overseas thoroughbred livestock for lots of money. Askar Myrzakhmetov and his team have designated a very different vector – the development of feed production, as livestock in Kazakhstan is starving. But if the Ministry of Agriculture returns to support the grain giants, there will simply not be money left to stimulate the expansion of forage and feed crops. So, the AIC will suffer a new failure in animal husbandry, similar to the unfulfilled promises on the growth of beef exports.

The plan for the development of own production of agricultural machinery, designated in one of the Maps of Development of the AIC, will be forgotten as well. Asylzhan Mamytbekov has always severely delimited responsibilities of the Ministry of Agriculture and other departments. He considered the development of agricultural machinery industry to be the task of the Ministry of Industry and New Technologies of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and not his own. At the same time, he safely left out of account the fact that it will be impossible to increase labour productivity without mechanization and automation in the industry.

So, I sum up: Umirazak Shukeev plays with fire, listening to the advice of Asylzhan Mamytbekov. The President’s order was clearly formulated. And the AIC is now under the spotlight. It is expected that the agriculture will become the driver of the economy. If the result is not achieved, then the reputation of the minister will be severely damaged.

Akyn Aulov

“KazakhZerno.kz” newspaper

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