We are working to create a more attractive business environment in Azerbaijan, because our country was very poor after regaining independence in 1991. The situation was completely out of control. There was political crisis and civil war. Besides, there was Armenian aggression and the occupation of our lands – those were very difficult and tragic moments. We had to build a state. The economy experienced a recession. Inflation exceeded one thousand per cent. There was stagnation in industry. The country was isolated. No-one knew anything about Azerbaijan. In short, the only way forward was to declare the country open to foreign investment. It was the only way.
In 1994, our government signed a contract called the Contract of the Century, which discovered Azerbaijan to the world. This allowed us the opportunity to attract investment and stabilize the economy. Year 1996 was the first year when recession stopped. The country embarked on a period of economic growth in 1996. The most rapid growth was observed in the mid-2000s. This was mainly due to increased oil production and the prices on it. We spent the money to create a modern infrastructure, because we needed that. We create a social infrastructure. Over the past 10 years, we built more than 3,000 schools and over 500 hospitals in Azerbaijan. All these are social projects. Power plants were built. Over the past 10 years, we built more power generation facilities than in all previous years. Currently we export electricity. Gasification in our gas-rich country was just at 20 per cent. Now the figure is 90 per cent. Whereas we imported gas, we are exporting it now.
With regard to the road infrastructure, we have laid thousands and perhaps even more than ten thousand kilometers of roads. All this became the basis for development, reconstruction and the activities of local and foreign investment companies. Now is the time when we should pay unprecedented attention to the non-oil sector. We must make our country more attractive to foreign investors. Therefore, our accelerated and deep economic reforms pursue this goal.
What obstacles are foreign companies interested in investing in Azerbaijan faced with? What are the obstacles in the business environment? What are the customs regulations and taxes? What are the other obstacles to investment by foreign and local companies? We have made serious decisions in this regard. They are already proving effective. For example, we plan to limit the audits conducted by public institutions in the private sector. whereas in the first quarter of 2015 we had 20,000 audits, the figure dropped to just over 30 in the first quarter of 2016. Improving the business environment, transparency, the serious decisions made, the rating indicators in the “Doing Business” report of the World Bank ... According to the estimates of the Davos World Economic Forum, Azerbaijan's economy is ranked in 40th place in the world in terms of competitiveness. In short, some progress has been made. And now we have to do even more. Of course, the energy factor will continue to play an important role. Currently, we are implementing the Southern Gas Corridor project, which that requires huge funds. We should spend billions of our funds on its implementation. However, it is a long-term strategic project. At the same time, are important role is played by the projects that will create suitable conditions for business activity.