Clearing the air Kazakhstan style
With the oil price high and large new oil finds in the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan has attracted plenty of interest from foreign investors. But tensions have grown up between foreign multinationals and the Kazakhstan government over previously agreed deals. The government feels it has been overly generous in the past, raising fears among foreign investors that old contracts will be redrafted. The president has convened a special council to discuss these issues.
There's a unique forum in Kazakhstan that allows foreign investors to sit down with president Nursultan Nazarbaev, listen while the president expresses his opinion about them - often in full and frank terms - and then respond with their view, good or bad, about the country's prevailing investment climate. It's called the Foreign Investors Council (FIC).
The Council was Nazarbaev's idea. He wanted open dialogue with the international business community to hear their views and gripes about Kazakhstan's commercial scene and "clear the air". That was in 1998. The idea was co-sponsored by the European Bank for Reconstruction&Development (EBRD) and the council was quickly established and meets at least once a year.
The most recent meeting of the FIC was in December. As always, there was an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation among foreign investors preceding the important encounter because, although most of the briefs had been written, read and digested by members, the president's remarks are often subject to last-minute changes.