ALMATY — Around 100 people demonstrated in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s financial capital, over the rising cost of servicing US dollar mortgages, an indicator of growing discontent over the worsening state of the Kazakh economy (Jan. 12).
The protesters targeted two banks — ATF and Forte Bank — which they said were refusing to help homeowners with US dollar mortgages despite a 50% drop in the value of the Kazakh tenge. They carried a symbolic coffin filled with underwear and ripped up mortgage statements.
Sulubike Zhaksylykova was on the march. She is head of an NGO which is lobbying for banks to help mortgage owners.
“One of the main goals of the protest is to refinance mortgages in dollars according to people’s ability to pay,” she told The Conway Bulletin.
“There are many disabled people of first and second category who receive 26,000 tenge per ($71) month [of government benefits] and these banks require them to pay 100,000 tenge a month [in mortgage repayments].”
The Kazakh government last year released a 130b tenge ($355m) cash-pot which it handed to commercial banks to help them refinance homeowners’ mortgages. Ms Zhaksylykova, though, accused the banks of not doing enough to help people.
After the protest both ATF Bank and Forte Bank said they would work to improve individual mortgage repayments.
Public protests in Almaty are rare but as the economy worsens, emotions are running high.
The Kazakh economy has always had relatively high levels of household debt and after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008/9, Kazakhstan had one of the highest proportions of non-performing loans.
Analysts have now warned that bad mortgages may be the source of another debt crisis.
>>This story was first published in issue 263 of The Conway Bulletin newspaper