New Mayor in Town: Almaty’s Contingency Plan

By Dmitry Lee

almatyWith the rise of Astana, Kazakhstan’s new capital, and the hype surrounding the city’s EXPO 2017, heaps of international projects and Abu Dhabi Plaza, the tallest sky scraper in Central Asia, what will happen to Kazakhstan’s former capital?

The largest city by population, Almaty accommodates almost 1.5 million of the country’s 17 million people and some of its largest corporations, like telecommunication companies and banks. If Astana is often referred to as the administrative capital, Almaty is still considered by many to be the financial heart of the country – but for how long?

Although the two major cities are only separated by a one-and-a-half hour flight, important businesses are slowly moving to the capital, closer to the decision makers, and soon Almaty could slip in growth. The question is – is there a contingency plan?

There is. With Bauyrzhan Baibek, the new mayor in town, the city has outlined its top priorities for the next four years. Almaty 2020, his proposed programme, is expected to thrust the city into a position to at least walk in line with the big dogs. Or so it is hoped.

The New Mayor in Town

bauyrzhan Baibek

Almaty Mayor Bauyrzhan Baibek

The mayor’s appointment in August 2015 was supposed to breathe new life into the city. Headlines in the local mass media outlets seemed to signal the changes: Baibek introduces Instagram for city administration (Akimat_Almaty); Baibek visits local green bazaar to monitor prices; Baibek fires head of children’s hospital after complaints on Facebook; Baibek outraged by students in expensive cars; Baibek encourages hosting unpretentious Universiade 2017; Baibek wants to ride a bicycle to work. The press service for the mayor has been doing a good job staying in touch with the media.

Baibek has held various posts throughout his career, such as attaché at the Kazakh Consulate General in Frankfurt and numerous positions in the President’s office and other government institutions, including that of the President’s chief of protocol. In 2013, he was appointed first deputy chairman of the Nur Otan People’s Democratic Party, where he spent two years prior to his mayoral appointment.

In addition, Baibek has received numerous state awards, such as the President’s personal references and letters of gratitude and the Parasat Order (the Order of Nobility).

Universiade 2017

The year 2015 was a roller coaster ride for the national currency, which reflected the slowdown of the entire economy in the country of the Great Steppe. A number of national companies have reviewed their budgets, while others, bluntly speaking, cut them following the President’s appeal to “live within means.”

The request was picked up quickly by both the upcoming EXPO 2017 in Astana and Winter Universiade in Almaty.

At the end of January, Baibek called on those concerned to host a “modest” but “with good taste” international sporting event. The budget saw an almost twofold cut from 32 billion tenge ($90.8 million) to 17 billion tenge ($48.2 million).

“We will only do what’s necessary for the Universiade without pompous [side] events,” Baibek told the local media. “Over 50 percent from the $17 billion budget will be the commodities and services of Kazakhstan’s producers. A significant part of the budget will be spent on international television broadcasting.”

Authorities are expecting some 2,000 athletes from more than 60 countries to compete in 13 events. Approximately 30,000 tourists will visit Universiade, with about one billion viewers are expected to be watching it on television.

Almaty 2020

With Universiade 2017, one of the major activities in the nation’s history in its pocket, the city administration is looking beyond to solve a few of the urban conundrums. Among them, the pointiest and stickiest is pollution.

Baibek recently called on every citizen to keep the city as tidy as possible and even made up a motto, “Almaty – City for Pedestrians.”

The mayor also wants to introduce light rail transit (LRT) in the near future and has encouraged Almaty residents to use bicycles as their main means of transportation.

The key priorities outlined in the mayor’s and administration’s Almaty 2020 programme are:

-          Comfortable for living;

-          Safe;

-          Socially-oriented;

-          Economically-stable;

-          Business-oriented;

-          Integrated.

bauyrzhan Baibek with nazarbayev

Mayor Baibek (standing) in a meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev (center)

Among the programme’s top focal points are crucial city issues such as the gross regionalproduct per capita, which is currently 5.25 million tenge ($14,898). By 2020, the programme aims to raise this to 7.9 million tenge ($22,419). Another item is labour productivity, which is currently 10.7 million tenge ($30,365) and should be 16.4 million tenge ($46,541). Longevity is presently 74 years for the average citizen; by 2020, it should be upped to 77 years. The unemployment rate is currently 5.6 percent and is hoped to be reduced to 5 percent. Foreign in vestmentat the moment totals approximately $420 million a year and should be nearly $500 million. Economic development includes small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the industrial sector and trade, with emphasis on tourism, transportation, logistics and innovations. Its shares should total nearly 92 percent, while the budget from such businesses could increase to 55 percent. As for crime – about 221 cases of robbery are reported per every 100,000 residents ,an indicator which will hopefully drop to 150. Other issues include the conditions of roads and public transportation, housing and ecology.

Only time will tell whether the plan will be effective. But these days, time is a luxury people can’t afford. The young Central Asian country saw better times before the fall of crude oil prices last year. Next year will show just how the nation copes with the challenges and if it can handle the worldwide, large-scale events bestowed upon its shoulders.

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