Kazakhstan hires Blair as star consultant
Kazakhstan said Monday it has hired Britain's ex-prime minister Tony Blair as a consultant to attract new investment to the Central Asian state, on a contract reportedly worth millions of dollars.
The hire marks a major coup for strongman President Nursultan Nazarbayev's bid to promote Kazakhstan as an economic powerhouse despite complaints from critics that the country pays little heed to Western democratic standards.
The Daily Telegraph earlier said Blair had signed a one-year contract worth eight million pounds ($12.7 million) with the government of Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan since even before the Soviet collapse.
The foreign ministry refused to confirm the figure but said Blair was one of several foreign officials contracted by the Kazakh state.
"A number of prominent foreign government officials responded to the invitation of the government of Kazakhstan to provide advice on economic policy, on issues of public administration and international politics," foreign ministry spokesman Altai Abibbulayev told reporters.
"Among them are several former heads of state, including former prime minister Tony Blair," the spokesman said.
"Getting such politicians involved is already yielding important practical results that improve the attractiveness of Kazakhstan for investors and help adopt modern law for country's further development."
Nazarbayev's top advisor Yermukhamet Yertysbayev said Blair would probably deal with "the question of social-economic modernisation of Kazakhstan."
"He has extensive ties. He himself worked on modernisation of such a well developed country as the United Kingdom," Yertysbayev told AFP.
Since leaving office in 2007, Blair became an official special envoy in the Middle East, launched the Blair Faith Foundation, and offered consulting services to foreign governments.
Blair, 58, has been criticised over his role as envoy for the Middle East Quartet, with his detractors alleging that he has been almost invisible and in any case hugely compromised by his role in the Iraq war.
Britain and Kazakhstan enjoy strong relations, and Queen Elizabeth II's second son Prince Andrew built sometimes controversially close ties to the Kazakh elite during his work as British trade representative.
Nazarbayev first met Blair when the leader of the vast steppe nation visited Britain in 2000. Such was the rapport between the two men that Nazarbayev was reportedly allowed to hold Blair's baby son Leo, then aged six months.
Yertysbayev declined to be drawn on the size of the contract but confirmed the former British prime minister would not be working for free.
"The amount can be confirmed only by the man who signed the contract. I can confirm that no one consults anyone for free and a person of Blair's level naturally works for money," he said.
"Our president has hired consultants before. I don't see anything sensational in this," he added.
The Financial Times said Blair's high-powered team advising the Kazakh government in Astana would also include his former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and former chief of staff Jonathan Powell.
Kazakhstan has been a darling of the foreign investment community, averaging almost 10 percent annual growth over the past decade, but remains an authoritarian regime with effective one-party rule and an all-powerful presidency.
It is keen to promote itself as a modern glitzy nation and forever rid its image of associations to Borat, the fictional politically incorrect Kazakh journalist whose mishaps were the subject of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's hit 2006 mockumentary about the country.
© 2011 AFP