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Streamlining Kazakhstan’s $84B SWF

The real question I have about all of this: Will Team Astana be riding at next year’s Tour de France? TBD…

Kazakhstan’s $84 billion sovereign wealth fund has been, according to its new Chairman Umirzak Shukeyev, ‘hamstrung by a lack of strategic vision, excessive bureaucracy and overstaffing’. Shukeyev is even quoted as saying, "I am personally astounded that there has been no strategy until now." Ouch. Those are some pretty harsh words for the National Wealth Fund from its new leader.

That said, I admit to having wondered at times about the fund’s motivations. For example, I really never could figure out why a SWF would want to sponsor a professional bike team. Yeah, in case you weren’t aware, Samruk-Kazyna stepped in with $22 million to finance the operations of Team Astana when money was tight back in 2009 (and that team actually went on to win the TDF). I also have trouble understanding why a SWF would want to sponsor a Rally team (that, by the way, just got 3rd in Dakar). Why does a SWF need marketing exposure? Anyway, let’s just say that SK did some things that I hadn’t seen any other SWFs doing. And that was a bit perplexing (albeit entertaining).

But that may all be in the past now, as the President recently signed a new law on the national welfare funds that improves the legal framework for the SWF and provides some clarity of mission. In addition, the new Chairman seems quite dedicated to improve governance - by increasing the number of independent board members - and streamline its bureaucracy by downsizing.

So it looks as though SK is really going to get down to business. And that leaves one crucial question: Will Team Astana be lining up at next year’s TDF? TBD...

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