Opening speech by Ilham Aliyev at the conference dedicated to results of fourth year implementation of the State Program on socio-economic development in 2014-2018
29 january 2018, 09:45
Today we will discuss the implementation of the State Program on the Socioeconomic Development of the regions of Azerbaijan and talk about the work to be done this year. The execution of the third state program will be completed this year, and we need to start working on the fourth program.
In general, the implementation of state programs on the socioeconomic development of the regions of Azerbaijan has been very successful. The third program is also being executed successfully. All the goals on our agenda are being met, in fact ahead of time.
I have to say that the adoption of the first program was a historic event. Life has vividly confirmed that. The program adopted in early 2004 practically created a watershed in the regions of Azerbaijan. Their rapid development has been associated with the execution of the first program.
On the eve of the 2003 presidential election, I said that if the Azerbaijani people showed their confidence in me, I would, first of all, tackle the problems of the regions of Azerbaijan. I gave my word that the socioeconomic development of the regions of Azerbaijan would go at a high pace. The realities of the last 14 years show that all these promises have been overfulfilled.
In the past 14 years, Azerbaijan has covered a great and glorious road. Our country has made great strides in all areas. The international authority of Azerbaijan has enhanced. The political and economic reforms conducted in our country are receiving good feedback of the international community. Azerbaijan has advanced to leading positions in the ratings of all influential international organizations. There is security and stability in our country. The source of this stability is the will of the Azerbaijani people and the unity between the people and the government.
There is no investment where there is no stability. The situation develops in a negative direction in the absence of development. This is the truth which is confirmed by recent history and the crisis situation in our region. Azerbaijan is successfully following the chosen path in the conditions of security, peace and stability. In terms of development parameters and civil accord, Azerbaijan today is one of the exemplary countries of the world.
Profound economic reforms have been carried out in our country. Infrastructure projects have been implemented in the regions, giving a strong impetus to the overall development of our country. At the same time, our giant transnational infrastructure projects have redrawn the energy and transport map of Eurasia.
At the same time, tangible steps have been taken in our daily life to improve the living standards of the Azerbaijani people. I have repeatedly said this and I want to reiterate that again: the interests of Azerbaijani people are at the heart of our policy. At the same time, our main strategic goal is to further strengthen the country, build the power of the Azerbaijani state and reinforce our independence.
The results of regional development programs over the past 14 years are also obvious. Of course, back in 2004 we had to start with infrastructure projects because there could be no development in the absence of that. Major investment was made in our electrical infrastructure. Over the past 14 years, a total of 30 power plants have been built in the country. The generation capacity of these stations is 2,500 megawatts. I should note that up to 2004, there were only nine power stations built in Azerbaijan. They had a large generation capacity – their potential is 3,900 megawatts. In the past 14 years, we have achieved an increase in our generation capacity by 2,500 megawatts. This figure will be brought to 2,900 megawatts this year.
In particular, whereas in 2004 we imported electricity and paid currency for that, at present not only do we fully provide ourselves, but we have also begun to export electricity. To this end, we, of course, have connected the electricity lines both on the territory of our country and with three neighboring countries – Russia, Iran and Georgia. In addition, there are good opportunities for exporting electricity to Turkey via Georgia.
Energy is the backbone and the main pillar of any economy. Therefore, we began to deal with these issues as a priority. The present-day successful and rapid development of our country is associated with the operation of these power plants. At present, we are increasing our industrial production and economic power. New enterprises and new residential estates are emerging, the population is growing. How can we feed them with energy?! This is why this issue has been resolved in the first place. I am sure that we should use electricity more rationally in the coming years. Steps will be taken related to the development of renewable energy.
In 2004, gasification in Azerbaijan was at the level of 51 per cent. There was practically no gas in the regions. Neither was there gas in the cities, and there was no gas at all in the villages. At present, gasification in Azerbaijan has reached 93 per cent. All our cities are now fully gasified. This process will be continued in many of our villages. We will talk about the future work a little later.
Drinking water and sanitation were very serious problems which disturbed our people a lot. Although this sphere does not have a direct impact on our economic and industrial development, it is a very serious social issue. Therefore, we have started to seriously deal with this issue.
Uninterrupted supply of drinking water throughout the country in 2004 was at 26 per cent. It has now been brought to 67 per cent. In Baku, it is at 81 per cent and in the regions at 43 per cent. Therefore, major investments are to be made in this sphere this year and in the coming years, so that we could resolve this issue. It is possible to say that drinking water and sanitation projects have been successfully completed in many of our cities. Such a giant water line as Oguz-Gabala-Baku has been constructed. This is also a historic event. The world's biggest water treatment plant has been built in Jeyranbatan. The water passing through this facility meets the standards of the World Health Organization in terms of its quality.
Major land reclamation measures have been taken to develop agriculture. In the last 14 years, four water reservoirs have been built - Takhtakorpu, Shamkirchay, Goytapa and Tovuzchay. Of particular importance among them in terms of the size and impact on agriculture are the reservoirs of Takhtakorpu and Shamkirchay, of course. These are giant and historic infrastructure projects. These reservoirs and the canals being paved play a decisive role in the irrigation of tens of thousands of hectares of arable land. Land reclamation measures are infrastructure projects that have a direct impact on the development of agriculture. The large funds invested in this sphere are also evidence of the regular support the state provides to entrepreneurs. These reservoirs will have a very positive impact on the development of agriculture, and we are already seeing this.
We are currently working on new projects. Last year, water lines and canals were extended to non-irrigated lands of more than 100,000 hectares. The goal for this year is also 100,000 hectares. Thus, we are giving life and water to non-irrigated lands, creating conditions for farmers and entrepreneurs, and achieve the development of agriculture.
The construction of highways is an area that holds an important place among infrastructure projects. This is both an economic and social sphere. Comfortable and smooth roads bring people comfort. At the same time, regions can't develop in the absence of roads. Tourism and industrial production can't develop. This will create problems for the development of agriculture. The construction of rural roads has now gained momentum. We can see that where a new road is being built, there is quick revival in this region and agricultural production grows. Why? Because there is a convenient access to the markets. Therefore, the road infrastructure is not just a social project. In the past 14 years, we have built 12,300 kilometers of roads. This year, the figure will reach about 15,000 kilometers. In the last 14 years, a total of 443 bridges have been built.
Thus, these key infrastructure projects have been implemented to facilitate the development of the country's economy and regions. I also have to say that if we look at the first program adopted in 2004, we can see that a significant portion of this work was not reflected in it, because we made additions to this program and to the subsequent second and third programs afterwards. As part of my numerous trips to the regions, new proposals were made during my meetings with local people. Every year I travel to dozens of districts. I visited more than 30 districts last year. Every time I take interest in the work done, exercise control over it and receive suggestions from the ground. So whenever it is necessary, these programs are amended. Therefore, when we analyze these programs, we should also take into account the additions being made to them.
Of course, our goal is to implement these programs. But the main goal is to further accelerate the development of Azerbaijan, achieve sustainable and long-term growth, and we have managed to achieve that. The present-day realities, the prosperity of our regions, the creative and improvement work in all our cities show that we are on the right track.
Our economic indicators for the last 14 years also clearly demonstrate the good momentum of overall development. Over the 14 years, our economy grew 3.2 times. I believe this is a record figure on a global scale. Our non-oil economy has grown 2.8 times. This shows that our economic development is associated not only with the production of oil and gas. Our economic development is diversified. Therefore, the growth of the non-oil sector by 2.8 times is the result of ongoing reforms. In the industrial sphere, there is growth of 2.6 times and in agriculture 1.7 times. Our non-oil exports have increased 4.1 times.
In 2004, our foreign exchange reserves amounted to 1.8 billion dollars. With this figure, we launched our program on large-scale development of the regions. At that time, I knew perfectly well that this program would require major funds. Our financial capabilities were not very broad. We had only 1.8 billion dollars of foreign exchange reserves. Despite this, we allocated large funds for the first regional development program. So this shows once again that the development of the regions of Azerbaijan, the well-being and the standard of living of our rural population have always been a priority for us.
Our foreign exchange reserves are equal to 42 billion dollars. Over the course of 14 years, we have increased them 23 times. We have also invested heavily in major investment projects, infrastructure projects, and the construction of oil and gas pipelines. These projects require a lot of money. At the same time, we have increased our currency reserves 23 times. For their volume per capita, Azerbaijan holds one of the leading places in the world today. Our foreign exchange reserves are equal to the country's gross domestic product. Economists will know quite well what this indicator reflects.
Therefore, foreign exchange reserves are our greatest asset. At the same time, it gives us economic independence. Economic independence, for its part, preconditions political independence. Economically dependent countries can't or find it difficult to pursue an independent policy. We, in turn, are pursuing an absolutely independent policy. We have our own position on all issues and express it with confidence. We speak from international tribunes on all issues of principle, advocate and uphold justice and the rule of law.
Last year, serious steps were taken to increase our foreign exchange reserves. Although our budget last year was not the same as in the current year, it was less than now, and the oil price was still low, we managed increased foreign exchange reserves by 4.5 billion dollars thanks to our prudent policies and better financial discipline. I am confident that our foreign exchange reserves will significantly increase this year.
Over the course of 14 years, investment in the amount of 231 billion dollars was made in the country's economy. Half of this was foreign and half domestic. In terms of investment per capita, Azerbaijan is also among leading countries of the world. Foreign investment, of course, is one of the most important factors for any country. At the same time, it shows that the country enjoys confidence, its policies are supported and there are great hopes for the country's future, because no-one, not a single entrepreneur, state and company will ever invest in a country with an uncertain or bleak future. Therefore, the investment of 231 billion dollars is the result of our successful policies. I should also note that 93 per cent of investments made in Azerbaijan in the period of independence was made in the last 14 years. This process continues. Last year, investment in the amount of 14.6 billion dollars was made. At least as much will be invested this year.
In 14 years, our population has increased by 1.5 million people. This is an excellent indicator. This shows that our population is growing and our country is becoming stronger. Of course, this growth is closely intertwined with our overall economic development. I think we can be proud of this indicator. Of course, population growth is an important factor for any country. At the same time, this should prompt us to work even harder, because an increasing population also requires adequate economic development. In 14 years, we have created 1.9 million jobs in the country, of which 1.4 million are permanent. At the same time, the population has increased by 1.5 million people. True, these people are still teenagers and kids, but they should be provided with jobs in a few years.
Therefore, the creation of jobs should become an ongoing process in Azerbaijan. If we take into account the current high rates of technological development in the world, as well as the fact that it leads to job losses, we should pay great attention to this area, so that unemployment in Azerbaijan always stays low. In particular, as a result of the work done, unemployment in Azerbaijan is at the level of 5 per cent and poverty 5.4 per cent today. When we started the execution of the first program, the poverty level was 50 per cent, but today it is 5.4 per cent.
These are our key economic indicators. At the same time, great attention has been paid to the social sphere. In 14 years, salaries have increased more than five times and pensions more than eight times. Many important social projects have been implemented.
We have done a lot of work related to the social infrastructure. Over 3,100 schools and 642 medical institutions have been built or repaired. A total of 43 Olympic centers have been built. These projects also require major funds. But they are socially oriented, which is why they are always part of our investment program. The investment program for this year envisages the implementation of many social projects.
Serious steps have been taken to create conditions for business development. Entrepreneurs have been granted low-interest loans worth over 2 billion manats. It should be noted that for much of the 14-year period the rate of the manat was higher than that of the dollar. Therefore, these 2 billion manats mean at least 2 billion dollars. The low-interest loans were appreciated by entrepreneurs who benefited from them. They created new enterprises and jobs. The repaid money allows us the opportunity to provide low-interest loans to other entrepreneurs, as envisaged this year as well.
Recent years have seen a revolutionary turnaround in the field of public services. The creation of "ASAN xidmət" centers has revolutionized this area. Over the past five years, these centers have received about 20 million applications, and the approval rate of "ASAN xidmət" is close to 100 per cent. A serious struggle against bribery, corruption and bureaucracy is under way. This struggle also involves institutional measures. I can say that institutional measures are the most effective. Of course, punitive measures have also been and will continue to be applied. But the institutional measures, the steps being taken to narrow room for bribery and corruption, so to speak, are the most effective.
In parallel with this work, we have taken significant steps for the technological development of our country. Azerbaijan has become a space-faring state. This was hard to imagine just a few years ago. At present, we have two satellites – a telecommunications satellite and a satellite for monitoring the territories. The third satellite will be put into orbit this year. Azerbaijan is a member of the limited club of space-faring nations. It means technology, education, business and development.
Of course, the huge transport and energy projects being implemented in our country required major funds. At the same time, these are projects that precondition long-term successful development of the country.
On transport. Seven airports have been built in our country, six of which are international. Prior to the adoption of the first program, we had only one international airport – in Baku. The other airports were of local importance. Six international airports have been reconstructed – in Baku, Nakhchivan, Ganja, Lankaran, Gabala, Zagatala and Yevlakh. They are fully operational today. They operate international flights. This paves the way for the influx of tourists to our country and brings comfort to our people. When we were launching these projects, some thought that we were perhaps wasting this money and they it would not work. Life shows that our international airports operate flights to various parts of the world today.
I have already talked about highways.
A large shipyard has been built in Azerbaijan. We can produce all types of vessels now. At present, the shipyard is already performing important and large orders. The Alat commercial seaport should be put into operation this year. It is the largest international commercial seaport in the Caspian basin. Without this port, we could not become a transport corridor and a transport center. The commissioning of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is a historic event. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is a historic achievement for the Azerbaijani state and people. A lot has been said about this and the public is also aware of the significance of this project. This railway is indeed the most important project in the field of creating a transport corridor in the region, Eurasia, in recent years. It is of great importance to us. Cargoes from Asia and Europe have been passing in various directions through Azerbaijan for several months now.
In a short time, we have resolved all the issues related to the creation of the North-South transport corridor on our territory. Thus, we have created excellent conditions for international cooperation. Work on the reconstruction of the railway has been carried out and will be continued. We will talk about that.
The construction of oil and gas pipelines Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum provides for a large inflow of currency into the economy. If we did not have these pipelines, where would we export our oil and gas? It would be impossible. And no-one would invest in our oil and gas fields in the absence of export opportunities. The domestic market is too small for the fields we have. Therefore, these pipelines had to be built, and they were built in very difficult conditions and under pressure. Campaigns were conducted against us. Hard as the anti-Azerbaijani forces tried to prevent the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project, they failed. We stood firm, showed strong will and implemented these projects together with neighboring states. Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan has been operating for more than 10 years now. For more than 10 years, our gas pipeline has been transporting gas to Erzurum. If these projects were not there, neither would Baku-Tbilisi-Kars. There would be no Shah Deniz-2 either. There would be no Southern Gas Corridor, a project worth more than 40 billion dollars. What would our life be like then? What would our economic situation be like? It is not too difficult to imagine.
Therefore, all these projects are a historic contribution to our nation. We are proud to have realized them. These projects also create the conditions for our long-term development. Currently, we have foreign exchange reserves of 42 billion dollars. How have we earned them? By exporting our energy resources. If Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan had not been built, this would not have happened either.
Therefore, it is impossible to list all the work we have done over the course of these 14 years. It would probably take days to do that. I have simply mentioned some of the key figures today. All the work done and the results achieved suggest that Azerbaijan is a successfully developing country today. But we should not feel complacent with the results achieved. We should constantly look ahead and properly build our work in the years to come.