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Kazakhstan’s former central bank chief says he quit voluntarily

October 21 2013, 11:14

Kazakhstan’s former central bank chief Grigory Marchenko said his surprise exit this month was due to family reasons and a desire to work in the private sector.

Kazakhstan’s former central bank chief Grigory Marchenko said his surprise exit this month was due to family reasons and a desire to work in the private sector.

The departure of Mr. Marchenko, a respected two-time central bank governor and former candidate to head the International Monetary Fund, followed criticism of the central bank in June from President Nursultan Nazarbayev over its proposal to raise the retirement age for women.

The central bank had called for the retirement age to be raised to 63 from 58 over the next decade, a move backed by the government and parliament. But Mr. Nazarbayev returned draft legislation to parliament for revision after popular protests, saying the increase should start in 2018, not 2014.

In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Marchenko acknowledged a difference of opinion but said his exit was not connected, adding that Mr. Nazarbayev’s decision was political and understandable.

He said, however, that delaying the rise in retirement age would cost the country $7.5 billion over the next four years.

Mr. Marchenko returned for a second stint as central bank chief in 2009 as Kazakhstan faced a severe financial crisis. He oversaw a devaluation of the national currency, the tenge, and the nationalization of two of the country’s largest banks.

Kazakhstan has now returned to steady growth, forecast by the IMF at 5% this year.

Mr. Marchenko said he’d given notice a few months ago that he wanted to leave his post, and was informed by telephone that he could on Oct. 1.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Kairat Kelimbetov was announced as the new central bank governor in a terse statement that didn’t give a reason for the change.

Mr. Marchenko’s exit came as the central bank is set to take control of the country’s private pension assets.

If the central bank takes over the pension funds by the end of the year as planned, it will be managing some $120 billion of assets, including its gold and foreign-currency reserves and a windfall fund for revenues from oil.

Some analysts have said that the new governor Mr. Kelimbetov is closer to Mr. Nazarbayev and may direct more of the funds, particularly the pension assets, toward infrastructure projects.

Mr. Marchenko said it was too early to tell what path Mr. Kelimbetov will take, but that major changes were unlikely.

“Central banks are like a big boat. You can’t turn them around in a few minutes,” Mr. Marchenko said.

He said one important task for the new governor was to fight to keep the bank based in the old capital of Almaty, rather than Astana, where the government is based. This would protect its independence, Mr. Marchenko said.

The Wall Street Journal

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