Access to information and public participation
in decisionmaking in Kazakhstan


Currently there are several reports and research papers covering the role and development of the non-governmental sector in the Republic of Kazakhstan. The role of ecological non-governmental organizations (NGO) is mainly reviewed in the overall context of NGO development. Only a handful of organizations conducted specific assessments of ecological NGO development. Greenwomen Association carries out these types of research projects on a regular basis.

Nowadays we focus on two key aspects of the partnership model involving ecological non-governmental organizations and national governments:

  • As related to access to information and public participation in ecological decision-making
  • As related to human rights

    Developed countries

    In democratic societies public ecological organizations and governmental agencies cooperate with each other based on supremacy of the law. In Europe parliaments adopted laws, executive branch ensured their implementation, while police and courts were overseeing enforcement. Within last several decades the concept of democratic society has been modified:

    It is widely recognized that public ecological organizations have the right to express their own opinions and are entrusted with representing public interests.


    Throughout the world cooperation among official power structures and the general public serves as the precondition for effective policy making in the environmental sphere.

    This premise has been continuously stressed in the international environmental law. Practically all recently adopted international legal instruments refer to the need for guarantees related to ACCESS TO INFORMATION AND PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN DECISION-MAKING. The XXI Century Agenda (adopted in Rio-de-Janeiro in 1992) contains a developed provision outlining recommendations regarding mechanisms and procedures for cooperation among governmental entities and public ecological organizations, as well as means of support:
    • Develop partnership relations
    • Support independence of NGOs
    • Develop mechanisms and procedures for cooperation
    • Effectively support NGOs (including appropriate financial means)
    • Facilitate policy making and programming
    • Ensure access to databases, information
    (Appropriate provisions of the XXI Century Agenda are included in Chapter 8 “Environmental consolidation and development in the decision-making process” and in Part III «Empowerment of key public groups and organizations”, and, particularly, in Chapter 27 “Empowerment of non-governmental organizations partnering for sustainable development”).

    Public right to access information and participate in decision-making can be perceived as the fundamental standard of international ecological law. In addition to the XXI Century Agenda several international agreements and conventions contain related provisions.

    • Governing principles of EEC: before making decisions governments must develop measures to ensure accounting for positions of non-governmental organizations
    • Ministerial Declaration or OECD guidelines related to “Registries of pollutants emission and transfer”.

    In developed countries cooperation between government entities and public ecological organizations in the sphere of environmental protection is based on traditions acknowledging important community role and high potential of non-governmental organizations:

    • Clear transparent laws defining status of non-profit entities:
    • Adequate financial support of public ecological organizations (including general public, donor agencies and government funding).

    Eastern Europe

    In countries in transition there are almost no developed models of relations between governments and public ecological organizations. The role of the third sector is still poorly defined.

    Ecological non-governmental organizations are rarely involved in ecological decision-making processes. NGO involvement is primarily (but not exclusively considering diversity of NGOs and methods used to carry out actions) confined to involvement in arguments and conflicts following arbitrary decisions made by authorities. The root cause of this situation is defined by the fact that Eastern European countries continue to follow the dominant classical liberal theory allowing for rapid development of independent civil organizations, which, nevertheless, disturb internal democratic balance of these systems. Classical theory postulates that authorities must try to represent interests of the public at large ignoring particular interest groups because legitimacy of power is defined by democratic elections. Thus, the model assigns higher values to votes of certain individuals perceived by authorities as key partners ensuring stability of legally-defined democratic governance structures.

    Current situation in which NGOs are treated as opponents rather than important partners in the decision-making process leads to a number of negative consequences in the sphere of ecological policy-making. Social expenses increase hindering effectiveness as a result of redirecting efforts at conflict resolution as opposed to environmental issues. Consequently, all parties feel deceived and disappointed. NGOs continue to mistrust government agencies and formal procedures inherited from previous systems.
    However, within last three years a number of Eastern European countries introduced amendments and improvements to their respective legal acts facilitating greater NGO access to information and participation in resolving ecological issues.

    From the standpoint of international law financial issues are still a novelty for Eastern European countries. With regard to financing principles the XXI Century Agenda postulates that resources of the organizations are not adequate for their full-scale operations. EEC Governing Principles, Ministerial Declaration and Orhus Convention all call for adequate financial support for ecological NGOs.

    The Republic of Kazakhstan

    Status of ecological non-governmental organizations

    Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan defines key provisions related to the legal status of NGO activities. However, even in the Constitution the rights of NGOs are infringed by provisions stipulating that general public can not interfere with government actions and that NGOs can not receive funding form the country’s budget.

    Currently the State starts to address NGO-related issues by developing to draft laws “On non-governmental organizations” and “On state social orders”.

    However, the draft law “On non-governmental organizations”, developed by a task force of the Ministry of culture, information and public accord, has become a target for sharp criticism by some non-governmental organizations. Several organizations have expressed outright disagreement with the draft law, others requested significant modifications to be introduced into the document. Those opposing the draft law insist that it will lead to significant deterioration of the legal status of non-governmental non-profit organizations. Fundamental disagreements result from the provision introducing a direct ban on NGO involvement in policy-making. However, a number of experts believe that, for example, ecological and disabilities issues often forgotten by authorities can, also, be viewed as political ones making activities of a number of NGOs illegal on “perfectly legal grounds”.

    There are more than four thousand ecological non-governmental organizations registered in Kazakhstan. However, only about 300 organizations carry out regular coordinated actions implemented in different regions and at various professional levels.

    Three groups of factors lead to differentiation of NGOs in Kazakhstan:

    Historical and cultural: characteristic for key industrial centers, such as Almaty, Karaganda, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Astana and resulting from historical environmental protection traditions, unity and continuity of traditions, strong ecology-related professional networks.

    Ecological: depends on environmental threat levels in affected areas and educational levels of local communities with particular leaders and specialists professionally involved in dealing with environmental protection issues: Semipalatinsk, Aralsk, Kzyl-Orda, Pavlodar.

    Organizational: based on internal spontaneous developmental mechanisms and nation-wide targeted actions, opportunities to gain experience and undertake actions.

    In 2003 overall approach to cooperation between authorities and NGOs is profoundly different as compared to 1999 model.
    Significant improvements have taken place in relations between NGOs and Environmental Protection Ministry. In 1999 a working meeting of the Forum of ecological organizations was organized with participation of the representatives of the Ministry leading to development of a set of documents and an action plan outlining specific areas for cooperation, such as: radiation security, industrial pollution, preservation of biodiversity and prevention of soils degradation, as well as ecological education. In these areas cooperation between NGOs and the Ministry has been developing up till now. Hence, the Ministry expressed its willingness to cooperate with NGOs and recognized the role of the ecological movement.

    Following an initiative of Environmental Protection Ministry, in 2000 NGOs, Parliament and the Ministry signed a Memorandum on cooperation. The Memorandum recognizes the need for cooperation and definition of the key principles for interaction. Within last several years several Ministries have been searching for ways to interact with NGOs, however, it is too early to discuss any major practical results.

    Since 1999 gradual, but profound qualitative changes are taking place within Kazakhstan’s ecological movement leading to its development and specialization.

    A rational strategy is guiding “green” movement’s actions. Specific alternative proposals augment campaigns and actions.

    Specific coordination mechanisms have been established and develop in key topical areas.

    These areas include:

    Radioactive security;

    Water resources;


    Forestry campaign;

    Raising NGO profile in implementing key environmental protection conventions:

    NGO involvement in the global process aimed at liquidation of persistent organic pollutats (POPs);

    Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) etc.

    In a number of instances government agencies have recognized groups of NGO representatives working in these areas as civil partners for policy discussions and development of actions, projects and commentaries to appropriate legislative acts. However, currently ecological non-governmental organizations are not fully involved in the process of cooperation. A lot remains to be done to make sure that government agencies treat ecological non-governmental organizations as real partners capable3 of being involved, for example in parliamentary hearings, national and international governmental forums. Cooperation between NGOs and governmental agencies is particularly important at the local level in dealing with local and regional authorities to improve ecological situation and resolve issues at the local level ensuring more effective and rapid responses to existing challenges.

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