The London Post: Robust Parliamentary reforms linked to snap elections in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is on the stage of the rapid reforms. A wide set of reforms has been implemented in the shortest period of time in the executive and judiciary branches of power. And recently, in order to ensure the effective transition of the policy of consistent reforms and transformations also to the legislative branch, it was decided on the initiative of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party to hold the snap parliamentary elections for the first time in the modern history of Azerbaijan, to which I will return later in the text.
o understand the whole scale and essence of the ongoing transformations undertaken under the leadership of the President Ilham Aliyev, I invite our readers to take a brief look at the main impact, aims and tools of the reforms implemented after April 2018.
The social welfare is the key objective of the reforms
Only this year, the wages and the labor pensions of the population were significantly increased. We witnessed the 40% raise in the wages, and the 72% raise in the labor pensions.
As a result of the taken measures, the labor pension’s purchasing power in Azerbaijan became the first in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), while the same indicator of the wages is ranked 2nd in the CIS area.
It should also be highlighted that in accordance with the 28 February 2019 Decree of the President Ilham Aliyev, the state paid off the increased value of the Dollar-denominated loans of more than 800 thousand people which emerged due to the devaluation of the state currency in 2015.
Only these 2 facts already represent the scope of decisions which are yet unprecedented for many developed European countries.
It should be mentioned that the social reforms adopted this year covered 4.2 million of Azerbaijani population. Their overall value is 5.3 billion AZN (3.1 billion USD).
Along with that, in order to raise the effectiveness and promptness of state services’ provision in the fields of labour relations and social protection, it was decided by the initiative of the First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva to establish the DOST Agency (The Agency for Sustainable and Operational Social Security). The DOST Center, the first of which was opened in May 2019, offers “one stop shop” of more than 130 services provided by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population and other relevant state institutions. To this day, more than 50 thousand citizens of Azerbaijan used the services of the DOST Center.
Azerbaijan enters into the new stage of economic development by strengthening the non-oil sector and making the country a favorable and reliable destination for foreign partners and investments.
The positive dynamics of development is observed in the production and processing of agricultural products, in the industrial sector and other spheres.
According to the Davos Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report, Azerbaijan holds 8th position in the “Time to start a business” indicator – only 3.5 days were needed to start a business in Azerbaijan. However, it should be noted that after decisive reforms undertaken this year, registration of legal entities has been even further simplified:
(1) the number of demanded procedures has been decreased from 3 to 1, with no payments;
(2) the amount of financial resources and the number of documents for starting a business is reduced to zero;
(3) all information is collected in a single database and the process of registration takes only 0.5 days (submission of documents and necessary information takes 20 minutes).
Definitely, this step will also find its reflection in the future reports to be prepared both by the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.
The implementation of e-declaration in the customs system also significantly facilitates the relevant procedures for local and foreign entrepreneurs. Azerbaijan has been broadly implementing the “Single window” principle through which all the necessary documents are submitted online with no need to spend any additional resources.
The recent reforms implemented by Azerbaijan in the tax and other relevant sectors aimed at elimination of the “shadow” economy made it possible to bring nearly 800 million AZN (471,6 million USD) of additional income to the State budget already in the first 10 months of 2019. Undoubtedly, larger State Budget also makes a tremendous contribution to the wider implementation of the reforms.
We may definitely say that Azerbaijan provides the smooth State-Private sector communication ensuring the highest level of favorable conditions for business development.
This year, the share of the private sector in Azerbaijan’s GDP has reached 85%, which is also the indication of the healthy environment created for the business as a result of the complex reforms. It also attracts attention that the foreign debt of Azerbaijan, which is approximately 8.9 billion USD, accounts for only 17 percent of the GDP.
Today, the currency reserve of Azerbaijan is more than 50 billion USD.
Azerbaijan accounts for 80 percent of the GDP of the entire South Caucasus region.
Azerbaijan has been ranked 45th among the 80 countries by the US News rating of the most powerful countries.
The objective of Azerbaijan is to join the ranks of the 37 developed countries and it raises no doubt that this aim becomes closer with every reform and innovative steps implemented by the State.
Institutional reforms in the Executive power
Azerbaijan managed to restructure and modernize the Executive branch of power and ensure its full compliance with modern demands:
Formation of mobile and flexible Executive branch of power:
Special attention is paid to mobilization and optimization of state apparatus. A number of state institutions were not capable to fulfill their duties and set ultimate goals. All of them were dissolved or re-structured in order to achieve the maximum mobility and effectiveness.
All these steps taken by President Aliyev managed to transform the state apparatus into modern and efficient mechanism, ensuring timely reaction to all the emerging situations and unavoidable demands.
The all-embracing institutional reforms were implemented in the Presidential Administration and the Cabinet of Ministers. Several new departments with specific tasks and scopes of activities were created within their structure for efficient implementation of their activities. Besides that, the younger people were appointed to the leading positions in the state institutions.
b) Personnel policy:
Rejuvenation of the state apparatus became one of the cornerstones for effective state reforms in Azerbaijan.
Prior to April 2018, the average age of the Cabinet of Ministers was 61, there were two high-ranking officials in 80s and several in their 70s in the Cabinet and the Presidential Administration. As a result of the relevant measures aimed at rejuvenation of the state apparatus, in December 2019 the major part of the Presidential Administration personnel and the Cabinet of Ministers members belong to the 30-50 years age group.
More young persons who studied at the leading foreign universities are attracted to work at the Governmental offices. As known, within the frameworks of the “State Program on education of Azerbaijani youth abroad in 2007-2015” more than 3500 representatives of Azerbaijani youth got an opportunity to study at the 379 universities in 32 countries all over the world.
The effective transitions also resulted in significant improvement of Azerbaijan’s position in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” reports – being the 98th in 2006, it became the 25th among the 190 countries in the 2019 Report.
In the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report of the Davos Economic Forum Azerbaijan was ranked 5th in terms of the “Government responsiveness to change” indicator, 10th on the “Government long-term vision” and 11th on “Government ensuring policy stability”.
Good governance and innovative solutions
It should be noted that the implementation of the latest achievements in e-government, strengthening of Azerbaijan’s position as the innovative center of the region and provision of the highest level of good governance, transparency, accountability, public scrutiny and participation in State-Citizen communication are core elements of reforms.
Azerbaijan has been implementing the consistent development in this scope for many years. For instance, the new innovative brand known as the ASAN Service became a genuinely new page in the international experience on efficient provision of state services. Nearly 300 services of state and private institutions are offered in the ASAN Centers.
At the moment, the ASAN received nearly 35 million citizen applications, which shows the high level of trust and frequent usage of the services of ASAN by the 10 million population of Azerbaijan.
The foreign citizens from 94 foreign countries can benefit from the ASAN Visa service, through which they can receive the visa by completing 3 simple steps (apply, pay and download e-Visa) in just 3 working days. It is also worth mentioning that tourists from 14 countries are eligible for receiving visa upon arrival to the International Airports of Azerbaijan within just 3 minutes.
Therefore, it is not a coincidence that the level of public satisfaction of ASAN’s services varies from 98% to 100%, showing the opinion of the end users of ASAN – the citizens of Azerbaijan. The ASAN experience, which received the UN Public Services Award, is now being widely shared with foreign countries, including Italy, South Korea and Afghanistan.
Guided by the relevant decrees and decisions on development of e-government in Azerbaijan, as well as wide spread and resource-effectiveness of e-government services and their tremendous impact on the main aspects of transparency, accountability and provision of the principles of accessibility and equality, nearly 50 state institutions of Azerbaijan have already integrated their services into the E-Gov Portal.
Among the successful examples of the initiatives put forward by the state institutions, it is possible to indicate the “SƏLİS” System for Fast Coordination and Project Management launched by the Council on State Support to NGOs under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, bringing together 20 e-services provided by the Council to NGOs.
The “SƏLİS” System is the first of a kind experience introducing several services for the first time in the civil society sector. Firstly, the Council ensures the highest level of public participation in its decision-making process on financing of NGO projects submitted for the grant competitions and enlarges the opportunities for public oversight over the allocation of the state funds for NGOs. Meanwhile, the second major innovation is the appeals system – NGOs not satisfied with results of the grant calls get an opportunity to send their appeals to the Council in order to prove the relevance of their project proposals.
Therefore, the “SƏLİS” System enables every NGO of our country, regardless of their political affiliation, to use the services of the Council and receive the state support online, providing the high level of public oversight, transparency and good governance, ensuring zero corruption, no space for bureaucracy or the human factor issues.
In accordance with the Decree of the President “On Deepening of the Reforms in the Judicial-Legal System” signed on 3 April 2019, Azerbaijan entered into the new stage of dynamic reforms in judiciary system.
It is important to consider the 6 below-mentioned points to fully understand the overall process:
Introduction of electronic systems in the courts:
The implementation and wider use of the electronic resources significantly reduce the workload of the judges, ensure faster court proceedings and less paperwork.
This year, the “Electronic Court” Information System was launched in order to improve the quality of justice, increase the transparency of court proceedings and improve the control over execution of the court decisions. It should also be mentioned that for almost 5 years economic disputes have been conducted only electronically.
Creation of the mediation institute in Azerbaijan:
In accordance with the law “On Mediation”, adopted in 2019, mediation is an alternative pre-court tool for dispute resolution. Starting from the 1 July 2020, the parties will attend the initial mediation session before bringing economic disputes, as well as the ones arising from family and labor relationships before relevant courts.
This institute not only helps the parties to significantly save the time and other relevant resources and get an opportunity to settle their disputes before going to the courts, but also helps the courts to reduce the time spent on review of the cases which could be solved in the mediation institution. It will not be an exaggeration, if we say that approximately 30-35% of the ongoing cases in the courts need only to be jointly reviewed and discussed by the mediators and the parties to find their solution.
Implementation of the alternatives to imprisonment. Pardoning of large groups of prisoners:
The Executive Order of the President “On improving work in the penitentiary system, humanization of the punishment policy and expansion of alternative punishments and procedural enforcement measures not associated with isolation from society” initiated a new stage in application of the penalties alternative to the imprisonment and further humanization of the penal policy.
In the last 2 years, 1065 prisoners were released from the places of detention in accordance with the Presidential decree. It should be emphasized that more than 50 people which were considered by some international organizations as the political prisoners were also released upon the 2019 decree.
Special judges working with media:
For the first time, the courts will have the special judges working with media in order to ensure the provision of the verified information “directly from the courtrooms” to the news agencies and wider public.
It is an additional instrument raising the level of transparency, public scrutiny and awareness on the activities of the courts.
Creation of the Administrative and Commercial Courts:
The establishment of the first instance Administrative and Commercial courts is the continuation of the state care provided for the entrepreneurship. It will ensure that the judges with deeper legal knowledge of the sphere will review the cases, providing even more effective resolution of disputes.
Activities of the Judicial-Legal Council and the measures aimed at the increase in the number of advocates:
Guided by the above-mentioned decree by the President Ilham Aliyev, the Judicial-Legal Council implements wide range of measures to apply the highest professional, disciplinary and moral criteria among the judges, as well as to ensure the just, comprehensive and reasoned decisions on each case submitted to the courts.
Azerbaijan’s being the first country that publishes CEPEJ’s reports that includes information on training of judges, analyses of judicial systems in Europe was especially appreciated.
The Bar Association of the Republic of Azerbaijan has also received new impetus to its activities in the last years. At the moment, the main upstanding mission of the Association is to increase the number of professional advocates (especially in the regions) to ensure the effective protection of the rights and freedoms of every person.
Next is the Legislative branch
In light of all the above-mentioned reforms, their further spread to the Legislative branch was inevitable. The modernization in the Executive and Judiciary branches demanded the composition of a mobile and renewed Legislative branch. Taking into account that according to the present legislation, the next Parliamentary elections were going to be organized in November 2020, the ruling New Azerbaijan Party initiated the dissolution of the Parliament.
Thus, the snap parliamentary elections are set to be held on 9 February 2020 and I do hope that formation of the new Parliament will ensure the full harmony among all the three branches of Power and that the reform-oriented parliament will facilitate the transition to the next stages of comprehensive reforms in Azerbaijan.
(Edited by Dr Shahid Qureshi – Chief Editor)