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Issues of state information order, consolidation of state media and access to information — development of information sphere of Kazakhstan

Friday, 23 October 2020, 18:49:22

At a briefing in the Central Communications Service under the President, Minister of Information and Social Development of Kazakhstan Aida Balayeva spoke about the implementation of the instructions given by the Head of State in the Address to the people of Kazakhstan.

On Sep. 1, 2020, the Head of State Kassym-Jomart Tokayev delivered an Address to the People "Kazakhstan in a New Reality: Time for Action." The Address consists of 11 directions, covering all important spheres of life of Kazakhstanis. The Ministry of Information and Social Development has started their active implementation.

The department has been assigned 5 key tasks within the framework of the Concept of Hearing State and the further development of civil society. They include:

1) expanding the powers of public councils;

2) ensuring public access to information from state bodies and quasi-state structures;

3) introduction of mechanisms of public control;

4) creation of a single legitimate institution of online petitions;

5) development of the sphere of mediation.

First. Creation of public councils in the quasi-public sector.

“The Institute of Public Councils under government bodies has been working in our country since 2015 — since the adoption of the Law 'On Public Councils.’ This work was carried out within the framework of Elbasy’s Nation Plan ‘100 Concrete Steps.’ Thus, across the country, under the central and local authorities, 234 public councils were created, which involved about 3.5 thousand active citizens representing the interests of various sectors of society. Basically, these are representatives of the scientific and creative intelligentsia, NGOs, the expert community, and simply activist citizens,” Balayeva informed.

For all these years they have considered more than 19 thousand draft regulations.

Today, all drafts of normative legal acts are subject to mandatory approval by public councils, which allows the public to be involved in the process of making state decisions and significantly improve the quality of the acts being developed.

In addition, Public Councils conduct independent monitoring and hearings on all socially significant topics.

“That is, all this not only showed the viability of the institution of public councils, but outlined its prospects. Therefore, the institute is currently going through a new stage in its development. In this regard, in 2018, the Ministry developed a draft law ‘On Amendments and Additions to Certain Legislative Acts on the Activities of Public Councils.’ The draft law is now under consideration in the Majilis of the Parliament, after having passed a broad discussion with NGOs and the public,” the minister said.

The changes mainly concern improving the mechanisms for forming councils, terminating the powers of members of the public councils, expanding the rights and powers of public councils.

According to the head of the ministry, it is especially important that in accordance with the instructions of the Head of State, the draft Law provides for the expansion of the powers of the Public Councils not only to state bodies, but also to organizations of other forms of ownership under the jurisdiction of the state. Moreover, the powers of public councils are expanding through their participation in tender commissions for public procurement of state bodies and organizations.

To date, these amendments are undergoing the approval procedure in state bodies, which will then be submitted for consideration by the deputies of the Majilis.

“Of course, there is a lot of positive in the adoption of these amendments, precisely from the point of view of the transparency of state processes. The key decision here, of course, is to increase the trust of citizens, which we have been striving for all these years,” Balayeva noted.

Second. Expanding access of the population to information from state bodies.

The Law "On Access to Information" has been in force since 2015, through which the constitutional right of citizens to freely receive and distribute information on the basis of the open government portal is implemented.

Within the framework of this portal there are 4 platforms — open data, open budgets, open legal acts and open dialogue.

Today, over 3.5 thousand sets of open data are posted on them, 74 thousand draft budget programs and 64 thousand draft laws and regulations have been published, to which more than 65 thousand comments were left, more than 367 thousand applications were submitted to the blogs of top managers.

“Despite this, the public has reasonable complaints about the relevance of the posted data. Often, when the data are posted by government agencies in an unreadable format, responses to comments are not posted in a timely manner,” the minister emphasized.

In this connection, the President of the country in his Address clearly outlined the need to amend the legislation on access to information.

These amendments provide for two main objectives.

First — strengthening control and responsibility.

For this, the Ministry of Information and Social Development will be endowed with the functions of an authorized body in the field of access to information.

Each government agency will have an authorized subdivision or official within the existing staffing levels.

To monitor the implementation of legislation at the highest level, the Head of State will be annually submitted a report on the state of the sphere of access to information.

The second task is to expand the scope of application of certain provisions of the Law on Access to Information. In particular, it is proposed to include business entities and their associations, self-regulatory and nongovernmental organizations performing the functions of state bodies among the owners of information. For example, the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs.

In addition, within the framework of the Draft Law, the organizations of the quasi-public sector, as owners of information, are obliged to post open data, as well as the opening by the first heads of blogs on the Open Dialogue portal.

“The developed amendments are included in the draft Law on Information Issues, which is currently being considered in the Majilis of the Parliament. By the end of the year the Draft Law will have to be submitted to the President for signature,” Balayeva assured.

Third. Development of the law "On Public Control’’

This is the next purposeful step towards maximum involvement of the population in the state decision-making processes.

“It is clear that the mechanisms for its implementation must be enshrined in legislation. Therefore, the Head of State instructed to develop a law ‘On public control’ aimed at increasing openness and accountability to society of state bodies and the quasi-public sector. I should note that today various forms of public control are regulated by a number of different legislative acts, such as on public councils, government services, in the field of ecology, subsoil use, etc.,” the minister said.

According to her, today there is no single structure-forming law that allows to systematize and increase the applicability of the principles of public control, enshrined both in the Constitution and constitutional laws, and in specific laws and regulations.

Therefore, today the relevant working group, which includes well-known public figures, human rights defenders, lawyers and representatives of the non-governmental sector, is actively discussing conceptual approaches.

“The bill will enshrine the most important principles of public control: the priority of human and civil rights, independence, objectivity and transparency of the subjects of public control, the inadmissibility of obstructing the implementation of public control, the availability of information about their activities, etc. Naturally, as soon as the draft document is ready, it will be presented for wide public discussion. In general, the adoption of the law is scheduled for June 2021,” said Balayeva.

Fourth. Creation of legitimate online petition mechanisms.

This is one of the most progressive solutions in line with the introduction of the concept of Hearing State.

Today the public interest in participating in the activities of the state is growing. More and more burning questions are raised every day. Therefore, in his Address, the President especially noted the need to provide an opportunity for expression of will for the broad masses of the population through online petitions.

In this regard, the ministry studied the experience of about 30 countries of the world, where the petition is applied in practice. In most countries, a petition is an electronic form of collective appeal and is regulated at the legislative level.

“With this in mind, we are developing an appropriate regulatory framework, which will fix the very concept of a petition, as well as regulate the procedure for its submission and consideration. It is also necessary to determine the threshold number of votes that a petition must collect for its mandatory consideration. In the world this figure varies from 10 to 100 thousand people,” the minister said.

In turn, the Ministry of Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace Industry will implement the technical part to create an online platform for submitting petitions. The developed block of amendments will be included in the accompanying bill to the draft Law "On Public Control.’’

Fifth. Development of alternative methods of dispute resolution by improving mediation mechanisms.

The analysis shows that in the society the court settlement of disputes is generally widespread. This is a problem for citizens and courts, takes a lot of time and money from the parties, and overloads the judicial system. In this regard, it is necessary to develop the institutions of out-of-court and pre-trial settlement of disputes, as the President spoke about in his Address.

“This step will make it possible to quickly resolve disputes without creating conflict situations between citizens, saving precious nerves, time and money. In this context, we intend to rely on the best traditions of advanced countries like the USA, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland in the field of mediation. Now this work is underway. Based on its results, proposals will be formed that will be sent to the Administration of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan,” Balayeva said.

In general, today the department, within the framework of the implementation of all the instructions of the President, faces the most important tasks, the quality of which essentially determines the contours of social development for the coming years.

“The main thing is that we have a clear understanding and a developed national plan, for the timely implementation of which we will make every effort,” the minister assured.


Concerning the issue of uniting state media

Answering journalists' questions about uniting state media, Balayeva noted that all state bodies, including the quasi-state sector, are working to optimize the budget. In general, the association assumes optimization in the field of economic, administrative activities and will not in any way relate to the creative part of the work.

“This is the imperative of the times today. We took into account all the previous shortcomings and developed a clear algorithm of actions. At the first stage, two newspapers merge: Egemen Qazaqstan and Kazakhstanskaya Pravda. After the new year, they are already being transformed into a separate LLP. And after that there will be a merger of JSC Kazakh Gazetteri, which will form a single holding Kazakh Gazetteri. A clear algorithm is spelled out, and once again I want to emphasize that this will not concern the creative part of the team. Such brands as Egemen Qazaqstan and Kazakhstanskaya Pravda will remain,” the minister said.


On the work on improving the state information order

“We have repeatedly held meetings with chief editors, round tables on the development of the media. All the problematic issues on the state information order were voiced there. Taking into account all the problematic issues, we are developing and practically at the stage of completion of new rules for the formation and distribution of the state information order. A working group is working in this part and all the media are taking part in it, with which consultations are held on a daily basis,” said the head of the ministry.

Aida Balayeva added that the ministry is doing marketing research that actualizes the pricing policy of media products.

“We will also work to ensure that there are more analytical materials and more money spent on them. Taking into account today's realities, I would like to set such a task for more multimedia products to appear. Based on the results of our work, we will specifically announce joint results on the formation and distribution of state information orders,” the minister said.


On the development of institutions for out-of-court and pre-trial resolution of disputes

“The analysis shows that in Kazakhstani society, judicial settlement of disputes is generally widespread. This is a problem for citizens and courts, takes a lot of time and money from the parties, and overloads the judicial system. In this regard, it is necessary to develop institutions for out-of-court and pre-trial settlement of disputes, as the President spoke about in his Address. This step will make it possible to quickly resolve disputes without creating conflict situations between citizens, saving precious nerves, time and money,” the minister said.

According to the minister, out of 2 million cases considered in 2019, only about 42 thousand were settled through mediation. In the field of mediation, the Ministry of Information and Social Development, as noted by Aida Balayeva, intends to rely on the best traditions of advanced countries such as the USA, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland.


On access to information

“We are just working on improving the legal framework in terms of access to information. Now in the Majilis there are amendments providing for the definition of an authorized body for access to information. The ministry will just coordinate and control this work, if this amendment is adopted and comes into effect. Each government agency within the existing staffing units will have an authorized department or an authorized representative who is responsible for this area. Importantly, the annual report addressed to the President on the issues of access to information will show all the problematic issues, disadvantages, and advantages of state bodies. This will contribute to the efficiency and openness of all state bodies,” Balayeva said.

According to her, the ministry, as an authorized body, will contribute to the systematic and continuous communication of all state bodies and the media.

“As for access to meetings of maslikhats, I know this issue very well and I myself was forced to react and contact the akim's office of Almaty. In this aspect, of course, this is unacceptable, all the more so now just the time requires openness and constructive dialogue. According to the law on mass media, press secretaries are appointed only in state bodies, therefore they are not provided for in maslikhats. Legislative measures and strict control will make it possible to avoid such issues,” the minister explained.


On the work of journalists during pandemic

“I never tire of repeating words of gratitude to our journalists, who showed professionalism and, risking their lives, covered practically the most difficult periods when the state of emergency was declared. They covered all the events that are taken by the state, and prevented panic in society. At the first stage, there was even distrust, people did not believe that there was a virus. Therefore, the professional work of journalists made it possible to make sure that people, first of all, at the time of an emergency, sit at home. I am very grateful and wish all journalists good health. Since the virus has not gone anywhere, and today, also risking their lives, journalists are working, bringing operational and reliable information to the population,” Aida Balayeva said during the online briefing.

Aida Balayeva also noted that thanks to the professionalism of journalists, Kazakhstan was included in the rating of the countries where the least number of fake news is observed.

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