Kazakhstan to overhaul $84 billion wealth fund

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By PETER LEONARD, Associated Press

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) — Kazakhstan's $84 billion sovereign wealth fund has been hamstrung by a lack of strategic vision, excessive bureaucracy and overstaffing, its recently appointed chairman said in an interview published Thursday in Russian business daily Kommersant.

Umirzak Shukeyev's criticisms come as a pointed attack on the fund's management under his influential billionaire predecessor Timur Kulibayev, who is the son-in-law of the energy-rich Central Asian nation's president.

Kulibayev was abruptly fired as fund chairman by President Nursultan Nazarbayev in December after deadly riots broke out in the western town of Zhanaozen, where striking oil workers had been protesting for months over salary terms.

Shukeyev said a new law regulating the running of the fund will lead to an increase in the proportion of independent board members to 40 percent, up from 33 percent currently.

Shukeyev and fund managing director Peter House have in recent days spoken for an urgent need to form a clear strategy for the fund.

"I am personally astounded that there has been no strategy until now," Shukeyev told Kommersant. "Now, it is clearly stated that the main goal of the fund is to increase the market value of the companies that belong to it."

The national wealth fund, Samruk-Kazyna, controls vast areas of Kazakhstan's economy. Its assets include the state energy company, the national railways operator and uranium producer Kazatomprom. It is currently preparing a series of share floats in the companies under its control to help finance ambitious investment plans.

Shukeyev said corporate governance, which is notoriously weak in Kazakhstan, was boosted after a major assessment of the fund's companies carried out last year by international auditor KPMG.

"But we only reached a level that is considered a baseline for companies listed on international stock exchanges. Our goal by 2015 is to achieve a rating of at least 75 percent," he said.

Shukeyev said Samruk-Kazyna's worth will be enhanced by cutting down on bureaucracy and downsizing.

The size of the work force at state oil company KazMunaiGaz is currently being slashed by 25 percent and state railway monopoly Temir Zholy will have its staff reduced by 17 percent over the next two years, Shukeyev said.

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