Who Benefits from Natalia Godunova Leaving Post of SAC Head?

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On April 1, President Qasym-Jomart Toqayev dismissed Natalia Godunova, Chairman of the Supreme Audit Chamber (SAC) of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Godunova had been the most influential woman in Kazakhstan's politics. Orda.kz looked into the matter.

Most Influential 

Natalia Godunova led the Supreme Audit Chamber since November 2022. She worked her way up to this position for many years, consistently holding various positions related to economic analysis and audit in the civil service.

In 2004-2005, Godunova worked as director of the Department of Economics and Budget Planning of the West Kazakhstan Region. She later worked at the trade mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Russia, managed to be deputy akim of the Kyzylorda region, secretary of the Nur Otan party, and a member of the Central Electoral Commission.

In February 2018, she became the chairman of the Accounts Committee for Control over the Execution of the republican Budget. In March 2018, she started engaging in the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Being the SAC head does not imply publicity and popularity but the country's chief auditor has considerable power. Indeed, Natalia Godunova took first place in the ranking of the most influential women in Kazakhstan for 2024 compiled by political commentator Yerbol Yedilov. Minister of Culture and Information Aida Balayeva, Deputy Prime Minister Tamara Duissenova, and Chairman of the Constitutional Court Yelvira Azimova, yielded to her.

Guarding The Treasury

Natalia Godunova's duties included checking all budget expenditures. Under her leadership, the Supreme Audit Chamber analyzed how officials spent public money. In 2023, she reported that for the first time in a long time, Kazakhstan had a problem with budget utilization. 262 billion tenge remained unused.

The bulk of it was saved resources. According to Godunova, violations in the work of official departments in 2022 were revealed by all state audit bodies. The total - 238 billion tenge. KZT 421 billion (2.3% of all expenditures from the treasury) was used inefficiently.

Natalia Godunova, meanwhile, proposed to increase fines for officials for excessive and ineffective borrowing. For such violations, a penalty of 100 MCI is provided, but the chief auditor believed this was not sufficient.

In June 2023, Godunova made another ground-shaking statement, saying that the Arqalyq thermal power plant in the Kostanay region was only put into operation formally.

The Regional Housing and Communal Services Department has taken on two reconstruction projects for the facility for a total of 7.4 billion tenge, although the CHPP's repairs are incomplete. The failure to do the necessary work forced the company to buy electricity. It, however, was supposed to produce it.

Majilis Speaker Yerlan Koshanov confirmed that there had been heating problems in Arqalyq all winter. The regional Akimat had to urgently report on the extension of the contract and the remedying of the identified defects.

It was received from Godunova and regional officials who implement investment projects. She noted that the ministries pour money into the regions without monitoring the spending.

If we gave resources, then we should have given responsibility. And there was nothing to send. The Ministry, even transferring targeted transfers to the region, absolved itself of any responsibility for the result of their use,
 Natalia Godunova argued.

The SAC head recalled the example of the national project "Comfortable School". 2.6 trillion tenge was allocated from the republican budget for it. Samruk-Kazyna Construction JSC supervises the construction, yet it does so without a hint of complying with public procurement regulations, Godunova emphasized.

Godunova emphasized the striking difference in schools appearing in the regions of Kazakhstan. Some have leather sofas and luxurious office equipment, while others do not even have substandard restrooms. Godunova's harsh criticism brought about a reaction from the Samruk-Kazyna Foundation.

In December 2023, Natalia Godunova laid out fresh criticism for Kazvodkhoz, pointing out that the financial stability of the enterprise leaves much to be desired. Almost half of its revenues come from the republican budget.

The financial stability of the enterprise is imaginary since the indicators are distorted due to the remaining free funds in the cash control account. At the time of the audit conducted on June 1, 2023, it amounted to almost 19 billion, or 57% of all funds. These funds have been accumulating since 2018, Natalia Godunova said.

She stressed the difficulty in finding the responsible person for the enterprise's financial instability, as new heads constantly came to the SAC sessions. Godunova highlighted the need for a variety of decisive measures to stabilize the situation at the enterprise.

As the head of the Supreme Audit Chamber, Natalia Godunova consistently pointed out the numerous problems with financial reporting that Kazakh government organizations have in the quasi-public sector. She noted that government agencies continue to use escrow accounts without actually performing work. Godunova also pointed out the lack of openness in the field of public-private partnership and the remaining high corruption risks. Godunova advocated for tougher responsibility for officials for irrational budget money spending:

Until we reliably associate budget funds with the achievement of national goals, there will be no serious positive effect. Moreover, in our opinion, it is necessary to introduce joint responsibility of the heads of central government agencies and regions for failure to achieve the goals set in the development plans and budget.

Under Natalia Godunova, the Supreme Audit Chamber regularly and thoroughly checked the activities of the OSMS Foundation and other government agencies. Godunova also called for expanding the rights and powers of the SAC to more effectively monitor how officials spend budget money.

Such initiatives may have made her an undesirable person in the eyes of many Kazakhstani civil servants and the quasi-public sector.

"Time For Change Is Over"

Kazakhstani journalists and political scientists were indeed taken aback by Godunova's dismissal.

Journalist Denis Krivosheev suggests that the SAC head could have fallen victim to actors who lobbied for her dismissal.

I wonder what Godunova and her team have dug up that she was dismissed on April 1? Natalia Nikolaevna has said more than once that it is easier to enter an inspection than to exit it. This has always been the case, as I understand it. I know she tried to leave more than once, but they wouldn't let her go. I know that she has more ill-wishers than anyone else, as well as knowledge about the country as a whole. All the dirt of public administration, the whole quasi-business. Godunova is the last of the audit Mohicans, a person of legend, and her departure means one thing: the time for change is over, it's time for redrawing, Denis Krivosheev believes.
Natalia Godunova. Photo: Gov.kz

Political scientist Daniyar Ashimbayev emphasizes that Natalia Godunov was dismissed just before the SAC was supposed to submit a report on the implementation of the 2023 budget and assess the implementation of national projects. In the coming weeks, the SAC is also to check the efficiency of several ministries, government agencies, and concession projects, including the work of the Ministry of Emergency Situations and Kazspetsexport. The latter has recently been mired in controversy.

The resignation of the head of the Supreme Audit Chamber Natalia Godunova raises many questions. Her term of office would have expired only in November 2027 (Incidentally, it is interesting that the Constitution and legislation did not really prescribe the procedure for dismissing the chairman of the SAC from office). Godunova is one of the most respected figures in the country. According to the CSPI "Strategy" rating for the fourth quarter of last year, she got second place in the performance rating and the fourth place in the credibility rating,
 Daniyar Ashimbayev points out.

According to the political scientist, the resignation of Natalia Godunova, famous for her principles, "does not make the most pleasant impression."

Majilis deputy Yermurat Bapi did not express his opinion on the decision to appoint former Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov as the SAC's head. He admitted that the choice of the President in this case surprised him, as a person from the government will now look for violations in the work of government officials.

The logic of replacing a professional specialist, principal auditor Godunova, is unclear... For me, this appointment feels like it smells like "Old Kazakhstan". Even if Godunova's resignation was as necessary as air, would it have been difficult to find a new, young person to replace her? says Yermurat Bapi.

Natalia Godunova herself chose not to comment on her resignation.

Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov has replaced Godunova. Smailov is well acquainted with the internal mechanics of government and near-government structures. Only time will tell what awaits Kazakhstan. One can, however, assume that many officials breathed a sigh of relief after learning about Godunova's resignation.

Original Author: Nikita Drobny

DISCLAIMER: This is a translated piece. The text has been modified, the content is the same. Please refer to the original piece in Russian for accuracy.

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