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Corruption in Azerbaijan 'must not reach danger levels'
News.Az interviews Bakhtiyar Aliyev, a member of the State Commission to Combat Corruption and a non-partisan member of the Milli Majlis.
What is the current state of the fight against corruption in Azerbaijan?
Azerbaijan has already ended the transitional period in its development and deepened political reforms in creating a law-governed state. Azerbaijan already intends to be considered one of the developed countries, which gives rise to the need to reliably protect the political system and economy from both internal and external threats.
Azerbaijan is fighting money laundering and terrorism. Dirty money in the form of investments is sent to different parts of the world and money is laundered in this way. In order to prevent this, Azerbaijan has ratified the convention to fight money laundering, while the Milli Majlis has adopted the relevant law.
Azerbaijan is an attractive country for investment. For this reason, foreign companies, firms make huge investments in Azerbaijan’s economy. If dirty money does flow into Azerbaijan, this will damage primarily the economy and pave the way for criminality. This is axiomatic, since dirty money cannot be laundered legally. The Azerbaijani authorities are taking major steps to avert such threats from abroad. The government has created a body in the Finance Ministry to work on financial intelligence. This body ensures that dirty money does not flow into Azerbaijan, though maintaining banking confidentiality, and at the same time prevents money laundering by Azerbaijani individuals and legal entities. The fight against corruption also involves the Accounting Chamber, which prepares annual reports and submits them to the Milli Majlis. This structure does not only prevent corruption, but also monitors the effective use of budget resources. I should say in listing these mechanisms that the state is constantly improving the fight against corruption.
Is the necessary legal basis for fighting bribery and corruption in place in Azerbaijan?
Corruption is a broad concept and cannot be restricted only to bribery. Not only state bodies, municipalities and judicial authorities but businessmen too can be party to corruption, since in business there are people accountable for assets, cases of tax evasion, violation of employee rights, illegal competition. In addition, representative offices of international organizations can also become party to corruption.
Azerbaijan is constantly fighting corruption. This consistent fight was launched on the orders of the country’s president in 1995. This decree created the right conditions for entrepreneurs, for free market relations. The law "On combating corruption" was adopted in 2004 and the convention on combating corruption ratified. The state program for combating corruption in 2004-2006 was implemented. An action plan was also followed as part of this program: reforms were carried out, including a reduction in the number of state institutions which were duplicating each other. The number of licences for business was also reduced. The president's decree set 25 areas of business for which a licence is a requirement. The length of time and documents required to obtain a licence were reduced, which also raised transparency. On completion of the state program, the president signed a decree in 2006 to ratify the National Strategy to Raise Transparency and the Fight Against Corruption for 2007-2011. An action plan of 59 paragraphs was ratified in line with this document. The action plan sets timescales and stages for work to be done by state bodies and makes recommendations to the judicial authorities and municipalities, aimed at ensuring transparency.
What is the workload of the state commission?
We receive many complaints which have to be considered. Local or central bodies of the executive authorities break the law, and we consider these cases and take administrative measures or the law-enforcement agencies institute criminal cases. Of course, some of the complaints are well founded and some are not, but we study all of them. I would like to say that the existence of complaints, especially if some are well-founded, is cause for concern. The state position is that if there is only one complaint and it is well-founded, it must be given consideration. It can be concluded from complaints about customs duties, import and export operations, the work of the Ministry of Social Protection, and other structures that legislation in this area needs to be enforced.
The State Commission to Combat Corruption prepares annual reports and submits them to the head of state. At the same time, the Cabinet of Ministers prepares an annual report on execution of the action plan based on the National Strategy for Raising Transparency and Fighting Corruption. Of course, these reports are analysed, reasons are established for what has not been done and the results of what has been done are set out, after which issues are raised with the appropriate authorities. When the state commission discovers a crime, it refers it to the anti-corruption department at the Prosecutor General's Office. This department institutes criminal proceedings and conducts investigations while the courts take the final decisions.
Are the Azerbaijani authorities determined to fight corruption?
In declaring the fight against corruption, the state is showing political will, since corruption breaks the political and economic foundations of the state. A country that is determined to build a democratic and law-governed state must fight corruption constantly.
Of course, it is impossible to eliminate corruption completely in any country, as it is connected with the human factor. It's impossible to be certain that someone in state bodies, private structures or international organizations will not use their position to favour someone else. However, the state's job is to uncover these cases and fight them and improve the law in this sphere. Our state, in turn, is fulfilling this objective.
What is behind the recent statements by the country’s leaders about the need to step up the fight against corruption?
All issues related to combating this evil were discussed at the session of the State Commission to Combat Corruption, chaired by the head of the Presidential Administration, Ramiz Mehdiyev, on 27 January 2011. As for the statement of the head of state about the need to step up the fight against corruption, it is caused by illegal inspections and other negative instances. At the same time, the role of the public and media in the fight against corruption must grow. In other words, people themselves must raise these issues and put up resistance, that is show intolerance, to corruption. Unfortunately, citizens or legal entities sometimes tend to meet their interests beyond the law. Certainly, this is inadmissible.
You have talked about corruption in business. What should business do to tackle this?
Businessmen themselves have to change their attitude to their work. They need to strengthen fiscal discipline, comply with licensing requirements, comply with employment requirements. In addition, businesses should stop the practice of paying their employees sums which are not recorded officially. There are serious failings in this area. Citizens should be aware that if their wages are not properly recorded, the Social Protection Fund will not receive the appropriate resources and, as a result, they will not receive benefits when retired. This can be seen in the statistics that show a large number of people unemployed. However, in reality, this is latent unemployment. The reality is that people who are listed as unemployed are working, but they are not officially registered in their workplaces. In other words, citizens themselves must fight to ensure their rights.
What do you think about the assessments of international organizations of the level of corruption in Azerbaijan?
According to international organizations, Azerbaijan has achieved great results in this sphere. The State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan is one of two structures in the world to have received an international certificate on transparency in its work.
There should be no corruption in Azerbaijan, considering the favourable conditions created. If there is any, then it should be in isolated instances and at a minimum level. I would like to say that the world has a level of tolerance of corruption and the effectiveness of a state is measured by the gap between corruption and the accepted level.
Is the current level of corruption in Azerbaijan a threat to the state?
Corruption can be a threat not only to Azerbaijan but to any state. Corruption is a disease that can penetrate the state system. I would not say that corruption today has reached a dangerous level in Azerbaijan, but we must do our utmost to ensure it does not reach the danger level. And the main work of the state is aimed at preventing this.
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