Kazakhstan investigating stalled Chinese-funded light rail project

Caravanserai and AFP

Kazakhstan is investigating delays in construction of a Chinese-financed light railway in Nur-Sultan. [Pexels]

Kazakhstan is investigating delays in construction of a Chinese-financed light railway in Nur-Sultan. [Pexels]

NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called Tuesday (October 8) for officials to investigate delays in a troubled $1.9 billion (740.6 billion KZT) light railway system financed by China.

Construction of a light railway network set to ease congestion in the capital, Nur-Sultan, ceased after China delayed financing for the project, the Kazakh National Economy Ministry said in April.

Project chief a fugitive

In July, Kazakhstan issued a warrant for the arrest of the former head of the state company managing the project, Talgat Ardan, as reports of embezzlement emerged. He is still at large and suspected to have fled abroad.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Tokayev ordered the anti-corruption agency to deepen the investigation into misdeeds at the project and asked the government to set specific deadlines for the resumption of work and for completion of the light railway's first phase.

Tokayev called for top officials who oversaw the signature of agreements for the railway to be held to account.

The project Tokayev has called "the saddest song" was originally expected to be completed by next year.

Oil-rich Kazakhstan, which has the biggest economy in ex-Soviet Central Asia, has positioned itself as the "buckle" of China's Belt and Road Initiative -- a trillion-dollar trade and infrastructure drive designed to ramp up Beijing's overland trade.

China facilitates corruption

But Chinese investments in the region have often met criticism for facilitating corruption in countries where it is endemic.

Two former prime ministers and other officials are standing trial on corruption charges in Kazakhstan's neighbour Kyrgyzstan after a power plant modernised with Chinese credit collapsed in freezing temperatures in January 2018.

Many observers have also noted that Beijing's increasing influence in Central Asia -- not only in economic spheres but also in ensuring security -- is causing friction with Moscow, the previous so-called guarantor of regional security.

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