One brick at a time from the wall of red tape: what we’ve learned while making public services easier and more accessible

02 Aug 2017

By: Bakhytzhan Kurmanov, UNDP manager of project Assistance in improving the system of public administration assessment and provision of public services in the Republic of Kazakhstan


To get up to speed with the changes of the post-Soviet time shortly after it gained independence Kazakhstan launched a presidential scholarship program “Bolashak” for international study. Its goal was to train the country’s young people at best universities in the world to help bring about major reforms in the key development areas. However, Bolashak scholars were only a tiny drop in the sea of Kazakhstan’s youth who went to study abroad. Like sea turtles many came back to contribute to Kazakhstan’s growth and development. Others muddled along on a shore, facing bureaucratic hurdles which I will describe in my own story.

When I went on a university-sponsored scholarship to do a Master’s degree in Public Administration at the Australian National University I found that my diploma was not officially recognized at home. I had to wait for five months to have my completion certificate recognized in Kazakhstan. In some cases, other graduates couldn’t start working. They simply had to wait for a whole year in order to sign a contract with the company that offered them a job and sometimes lost those offers. I feared that the same thing might happen but my patience paid off. Fortunately, I got a job and worked off my scholarship in the next 5 years. Such delays can prevent a graduate from getting a job and leave them experiencing immense pressure and isolation. Sometimes I compare these obstacles with bricks in a wall and I think that they should be removed.

I am now working at UNDP on a project to modernize the system of public services in Kazakhstan.

At UNDP, we understand that this is not a minor issue that we are dealing with here. It concerns everyone who wishes to get a good educational degree and knowledge from abroad. That´s why understanding the problem and fixing it as best as we can with various solutions is a factor that drives us forward as well as our joint work with the government.

The result of our joint project with the Ministry of Education and Science resulted in a decree in March 2016 that helped to further modernize public services in this area.

What exactly did the decree change?

  • Time needed to recognize international diplomas has been reduced from five to two months;
  • Regular updates are now being made on the ranking of world’s top 200 universities whose diplomas are recognized with immediate effect;
  • A single approach was established to the pricing of such services.

How did we do this?

First, in the cities of Ust-Kamenogorsk, Shymkent, Almaty, Aktau and Kostanay we identified and analyzed 20 different public services. We gathered all stakeholders involved in the process, making sure that no question was left unanswered. Secondly, all current and possible problems had to be identified.

Firstly, what we found was that the number of experts reviewing the documents could be cut from six to three people. This was mainly achieved by removing work duplication.

Secondly, the time needed to get a series of approvals was reduced from five separate validations to a single endorsement.

Thirdly, around 20% of the time when papers are with the verifying agency is used to pile up other similar requests over a period of 3 months before wheels start rolling. By helping re-arrange the workload of staff and re-consider their working hours we were able to suggest how to halve this time.

We managed to cut red tape by about 50 percent and improvements were made towards a more customer-oriented service. Importantly, we helped to concentrate government resources and efforts at high value processes increasing its internal efficiency. We hope that this method will be useful in our future projects to help streamline other services, make people’s lives more comfortable and enhance public trust in governance. 

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