Opening speech by Ilham Aliyev at the meeting on the socio-economic results of the first quarter of 2020 through videoconference.

14 april 2020, 16:15

Today we will discuss the results of the first quarter of the year and talk about the upcoming work. I can say that 2020 got off to a good start. The indicators for the beginning of the year suggest that the continuation of reforms in Azerbaijan is producing good results. In particular, our economic and social indicators in January-February were very positive. However, we experienced a certain recession in March. And this is natural because coronavirus is a big disaster for the whole world and a major problem for the global economy. If we take three months of the year as a whole, we can see that there is still development and progress. But everyone should know that the world has entered a new stage today and even the most developed countries are faced with big problems.

Coronavirus is a major scourge that has put an end to the lives of more than 100,000 people. We can say that all countries of the world are experiencing problems associated with coronavirus. Azerbaijan is also a part of the world. However, I can say that as a result of the preventive measures and a thought-out policy, we are keeping the situation under control. I believe that all steps taken so far have been in the right direction. Thanks to these actions, the situation in Azerbaijan is under control. If these steps had not been taken in a timely manner and we had not gradually tightened the restrictive regime as part of a sound strategy, there would be not a thousand, but perhaps 10,000, 20,000 patients today. The experience of the most developed countries shows that no country can consider itself fully insured. The health system of no country can withstand the growing dynamics of these patients. Therefore, this should serve as a lesson for us. I have already said this but want to say it again that we must learn a lesson. All our steps are balanced, it is no coincidence that several countries are taking advantage of our experience and taking similar actions. We are seeing that.

Therefore, our further steps should be such that we can protect the health of the people, their lives. As I noted earlier, we will take action in accordance with the situation. All of us, of course, want the quarantine regime to end soon and citizens to return to normal life. But I want to say once again that the key thing for us is the health of our citizens, the lives of our people. The hundreds and thousands of letters, emails and messages addressed to me recently testify to the fact that people highly appreciate the steps we have taken.

However, I want to say again that no-one knows when the coronavirus pandemic will end, no-one can give a forecast. Therefore, we must simply keep the situation in the country under full control, conduct monitoring, as we are doing that now. At the same time, by carefully monitoring the processes taking place in the world, we must be fully convinced that the coronavirus pandemic is no longer a threat. I believe that only after that can mitigating actions be taken. It's too early to say this but the figures of recent days are encouraging. I do hope that the positive dynamics, i.e. the positive dynamics associated with the number of patients, will be continued. But let me repeat that we will take steps in accordance with the situation.

As for the negative impact of the pandemic on the country's economy, this is also inevitable. Leading international financial institutions already note that the crisis that may arise and is arising in the aftermath of the pandemic will be even harsher than the one of 2008-2009. This was stated by the leaders of the International Monetary Fund. At the same time, we know that more than 150 countries have turned to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for help. That is, the absolute majority of the world community already feels the need for help and has applied for it. Azerbaijan is not on this list. I believe that we will come out of this situation with dignity – I am sure of that – and this will once again show that all our steps are thought-out and meet the interests of the people and the state.

But I want to say once again that the impact of the pandemic on the economic situation is inevitable. We are already seeing it. Therefore, I ask the government, especially the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Economy, to review government spending and reduce non-priority spending. At the same time, it is necessary to apply the mechanism of rigorous control over spending. I expressed my opinion on this issue earlier. Recently, there has been a positive trend in this direction, as a result of which, both last year and in the three months of this year, we managed to transfer additional financial resources into the budget. But I think that there are still reserves, and it is necessary to review both investment and current expenses. Because sometimes running costs are inflated. In particular, unfortunately, the running costs of state organizations, state companies are inflated, so very serious attention should be paid to this area. Additional steps must be taken to ensure full transparency in this area. I believe that thanks to this, of course, we will maintain the stability of our financial and economic situation. At the same time, I am asking the government to find new sources of revenue. I want to say this again: there are reserves, there are ample reserves. Some of these reserves have already been identified recently, and budget revenues are growing - both last year and in 2020. Last year, more than one billion manats was transferred into the budget in excess of the forecast, and over three hundred million manats over the three months of this year. Therefore, it is necessary to seriously examine this issue and prepare proposals. I want to say this again: we do not know how much longer this situation will last. Therefore, we must take steps so as to ensure economic, macroeconomic stability. Of course, first of all, we need to solve the problems of citizens suffering from this situation, and we are solving them. Major funds were allocated for this purpose, the state provides support to more than 600,000 people who have temporarily lost their jobs due to the pandemic. A significant part of the salaries of these people is paid by the state. At the same time, problems related to unemployment are being resolved and people who have lost their jobs are being registered collectively. We must be very careful in this so that there are no abuses. This applies to both citizens and government agencies. People who have truly lost their jobs or who are unemployed should be given assistance. As I was informed, the dynamics of appeals in recent days has been very high and this causes some doubts. State bodies have enough opportunities to study this issue so that people in need receive help from the state.

I should also note that, on my instruction, the number of people receiving targeted social assistance has been increased in recent months. There are more than 70,000 such people now. Of course, each issue must be examined separately, common and understandable criteria should be applied, so that there are no doubts in this regard.

Of course, life does not stand still, it continues, and I am sure that 2020 will also be a year of deep and broad reforms – just like a significant part of reforms was implemented in 2019. In fact, a new phase of reform began after the 2018 presidential election. In my speech at the inauguration ceremony, all directions of our development and reforms were clearly identified. After that, we began to engage in the consistent implementation of these reforms, and I can say today that there is a better situation in our country – politically, in the economic sphere and in addressing social problems. Of course, if the coronavirus pandemic had not intervened, our success would have been even more tangible. But I am sure that we will overcome this difficult situation, our economy and jobs will be restored.

The pandemic has once again shown that successful development requires a sustainable economy. To achieve this, reforms must certainly be carried out in all areas – both in the socioeconomic and political spheres. I believe that the implementation of political reforms will continue to expand our capabilities. We see excellent results from these reforms. Azerbaijan will continue to take important steps towards democratic development. We have a fairly strong political will. We see that by carrying out political and economic reforms in parallel, we can really achieve great success.

Structural reforms have been carried out, and I believe that we should once again consider prolonging them. Political reforms are evident, personnel reforms have been carried out. Major personnel transformations were carried out in the Presidential Administration, the Cabinet of Ministers and parliament. The reforms carried out in all branches of government pursue one goal: to further improve the governance mechanism, of course, to pursue a rejuvenation policy and to appoint qualified professionals to senior posts. I believe that our words, as always, are consistent with our actions. We are providing everything I declared. I believe that as a result of serious reforms carried out in the Presidential Administration, the Cabinet of Ministers and the Milli Majlis, our country is confidently entering a new stage of development today, and improvement in governance is obvious. At the same time, personnel reforms carried out in local executive authorities are in full view, in particular, the serious struggle against negative phenomena. This is our conscious choice. A serious struggle will continue to be waged against all negative phenomena. I believe that the warning made by the President should be a lesson to everyone. If someone has not learned the lesson, they will only have themselves to blame.

The parliamentary elections held in February this year have been a logical continuation of these reforms. The parliamentary elections once again expressed the will of our people, showed again that the citizens of Azerbaijan approve and support our policy. Parliamentary elections are yet another step towards democratic development. After the elections, the composition of the parliament was changed significantly and its governing bodies completely. For the first time in history, an opposition representative was elected to the post of deputy chairman of the Milli Majlis. I believe that this is an important step aimed at improving the political system and building political relations on a sound footing. At the same time, for the first time in history, representatives of the opposition are leading parliamentary committees – in the positions of both chairman and deputy chairman. I believe that this is also a very important step as it, first of all, opens the way for a new configuration of the political system. At the same time, it will have a positive impact on the processes taking place in the Milli Majlis. In the current conditions, we clearly see that for the vast majority of political forces the principles of statehood are above all, and this is our main goal. Our goal is to create a political system in which one idea remains sacred for all political forces regardless of their views – statehood, independence, freedom, prosperity and development. Under such circumstances, things on the political plane will go in a positive direction and problems existing in the country will be resolved faster because opposition representatives sometimes see miscalculations that the authorities don’t, talk about them, bring them to attention, and this is a very positive phenomenon. But at the same time, I want to say again that one thing should remain untouched for all political forces – our independence, statehood and state interests.

I believe that the steps taken by the authorities, the beginning of political dialogue and the positive reaction of the opposition parties to this have led to the emergence of a completely new situation during the period of independence. Never before has there been such a positive picture in the period of independence.

Of course, perhaps I am somewhat ahead of the curve because this process is only beginning. But I am ahead probably because I want this process to go quickly. I am glad that all opposition parties have responded positively to our proposal for dialogue and the political dialogue is already beginning. I am sure that this will bring great benefits to our country.

As for those who rejected the dialogue idea, it would be wrong to call them a political force. Because the people gathered in this camp have for many years been struggling not with the authorities, but with our state and people. Their main goal is to aggravate the situation. The worse it is for our country and people, the better for them. This is confirmed by the history of their activities. We have not forgotten this history. In the early 1990s, these forces put Azerbaijan in a difficult situation, committed treason and preconditioned the occupation of our lands. And after that they cowardly fled and went into hiding. These people dealt a serious blow to Azerbaijan, unleashed a civil war. When our lands were under occupation, brotherly blood was shed here. This group created chaos and anarchy in our country, corruption became state policy, incompetence, bad manners, lack of culture turned into a symbol of the PFPA-Musavat government. As a result of the negligent and treacherous activities of the people who represented that government, the country was actually on the verge of collapse.

Therefore, this grouping cannot be described as a political force in the current conditions. I must say that they are always waiting for something, always hoping for an external factor. Remember 2005, when revolutions were taking place in post-Soviet republics. Inspired by this, they decided to stage an “Orange Revolution” in Azerbaijan. They did not even bother to choose a different color for themselves, they wanted to adopt the orange color from Ukraine and applied it here. They ordered and imported orange T-shirts and ribbons into the country. But they did not take into account one thing: at that time, in 2005, parliamentary elections were held in November, when it was already getting cold. I remember this funny picture when they took to the streets wearing orange shirts over their jackets and coats. Some wore them around the neck, others tied them around their heads. This created a comical picture. That's what they are capable of. And it didn’t work out. After that, when the “Arab spring” began, they were inspired again, believing that they had the opportunity. In 2011-2012, they wanted a repeat of the “Arab spring” in Azerbaijan. It didn’t work either. Everyone remembers what ugly steps they took on the eve of the 2013 presidential election. Coronavirus for them is a gift from the skies. Today, only this anti-national group is happy about coronavirus. I am certainly aware of current events and know that their dirty intentions create a monstrous picture. They want an increase in the number of the dead, they want an increase in the number of patients, they are glad that people are dying. So this is a hostility not against the government, but against the state. I call things by their proper names. If someone is hostile to our people and state, then he has only one name – an enemy. Everyone should call them that. Their current dreams will not come true either. But I am not talking about that. I want to say that political reforms have created a completely new configuration. I am sure that there is no and should not be a place for any marginal groups in the new configuration. The people of Azerbaijan threw them into the dustbin of history 27 years ago.

I believe that our activities on the international plane have also been successful since the beginning of this year. My participation in the Davos Forum and the Munich Conference, I believe, has led to very positive results. The Davos World Economic Forum is the main international economic event of the world, which brings together the world’s political and economic elite. Once again, I saw a great interest in Azerbaijan. I witnessed this. Giant companies of the world want to work with Azerbaijan. Good conditions were created for further steps and the signing of new agreements. Many of the meetings I held at the Davos Forum lead to specific results. Investments are being made in Azerbaijan, large companies actively cooperate with Azerbaijan, etc.

As for the Munich Security Conference, this is the main global security conference. This time, there was an opportunity to communicate both historical and the overall truth about the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to a wide audience in a live format. This audience includes millions of people. Given that the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia conducted live debates for the first time in history, there was a great interest in them. The debates once again showed that Armenian propaganda is built on falsification, lies and mythology. Our words are based on history, historical documents, historical realities and international law. Therefore, the results of the Munich Security Conference blew the Armenian propaganda to the smithereens and put an end to the false information they had been circulating for years. Of course, it is possible that such attempts will continue to be made, but no-one will believe this.

Therefore, I consider that the event related to the conflict and the history of the South Caucasus was a great success for us. In tens of thousands of messages addressed to me, the Azerbaijani people once again expressed their support.

In connection with the conflict, I should also note that another major blow was recently dealt to Armenian propaganda and Armenia’s position on the conflict as a whole. In fact, they dealt this blow themselves. Of course, our focused activity and relations with international organizations have intensified this blow. We are talking about the so-called “election” of the so-called “president” in the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh republic”. These “elections” once again showed that no-one would recognize this illegal junta. After the “elections”, leading international organizations did not recognize them and made open statements about this. A statement was made by co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group – America, France and Russia. A statement was made by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. A statement was made by the European Union and even the European Parliament, which is biased against us. NATO, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Turkic Council – all these organizations represent the absolute majority of the world. The Non-Aligned Movement includes 120, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation more than 50, the European Union about 30, the OSCE about 50 countries. All these organizations did not recognize the “election” and once again showed that Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan. This has once again demonstrated – as I said earlier and want to say again – that Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijan, an exclamation mark!

But I want the people of Azerbaijan to know that one organization is not among these international organizations. I believe that everyone understands this – it is the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which has been doing everything possible for many years, for over 20 years, to denigrate and slander on Azerbaijan and undermine its authority.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is silent. Notice that all organizations, including European ones, have said that they do not recognize these elections. The unambiguous meaning of this is that Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijan. Why is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe silent? Why doesn’t it talk about that? The answer is clear. Because the anti-Azerbaijani forces gathered there, the pro-Armenian forces look at Azerbaijan as an enemy. All claims coming to us from this organization are irrelevant. I have said this before and I want to say it again: the decisions and resolutions adopted by them are nothing more than a piece of paper for me. I am not and never will be interested in the opinion of this organization about Azerbaijan.

I want to draw your attention to another issue. There are rapporteurs on Azerbaijan, and they are also tight-lipped, they are not saying anything. As soon as an insignificant event takes place here, they sprinkle our country with lies and slander with foam at the mouth. Why are they silent now? After that, they have lost the moral right to be rapporteurs for Azerbaijan. The people of Azerbaijan see everything perfectly well. They see that their ugly statements are not at all underpinned by the issue of democracy and the protection of human rights in Azerbaijan. The purpose of this organization is to denigrate and blackmail Azerbaijan, undermine its authority, and thus inflict a blow to the interests of our country.

We are going our own way. I want to say this again: there is one way to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it is the restoration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The reaction of the entire international community to these far-fetched “elections” further strengthens our position.

Speaking about international events, of course, I should note the extraordinary summit of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States held on the initiative of Azerbaijan in the form of a video conference. Last October, Azerbaijan assumed chairmanship of this organization. Such an initiative was put forward. I must say that the Turkic Council is the only organization today that held a summit at the level of heads of state related to the coronavirus. The thoughts expressed at the meeting, the mutual support, the solidarity and the Final Declaration adopted once again showed that our organization has a very solid foundation and we stand by each other on a difficult day. I believe that Azerbaijan’s initiative is a very appropriate and timely step, all my colleagues emphasized this.

Growth in the non-oil industry is at 23 percent. This indicates that the attention paid to this area in recent years and the investments made are producing excellent results. Inflation is at 3 percent, in the first two months of the year it was at 2.8 percent, and now it has increased slightly. And household incomes grew by almost 7 percent. In three months, tax and customs authorities transferred more than 310 million manats into our budget in excess of the forecast. I believe that this is a good result, which is a clear example of the measures related to transparency, especially considering that economic activity has now subsided.

I must note that not a single program in the social sphere will be reduced until the end of the year. On the contrary, the total support package for coronavirus is provided in the amount of 2.5 billion manats. But there will be more. Recently, only 97 million manats was allocated from the Contingency Fund of the President for the purchase of necessary equipment and supplies. And further by the end of the year, there are plans to allocate as much as necessary, another 150 million manats. This is not part of 2.5 billion manats. All social payments are being made. I believe that an increase in the average monthly wage by 28 percent and the average pension by about 27 percent indicates that positive work is being done in this direction. Now our average monthly salary is 712 manats and the average pension is 295 manats. Age-based pension is close to 330 manats. So we increase wages and pensions every year. Of course, there was a very large increase last year, as 4.2 million people benefited from the programs adopted by the state. This year, all social infrastructure facilities will be built without any reductions. At least 7,000 IDP families will be resettled to new apartments and at least 1,500 martyr families will be provided with new apartments.

In a nutshell, I want to say that the results of three months can, in principle, be evaluated positively. However, I want to say again that no-one knows how long the pandemic will last and when economic activity will recover. We must take all steps in accordance with the situation.