Addressing the meeting, President Ilham Aliyev said:
- Personnel reforms are under way in our country. They are an integral part of overall reforms. After last year's presidential election, a new period of reforms begun, and it is currently ongoing. The question may arise: if the country registers dynamic development, then why are reforms necessary? I can unequivocally answer that reforms are needed. Reforms mean improvement, adaptation to a new time, progress. If we pay attention to the experience of countries that have achieved success on a global scale, we can see that did that precisely due to progress.
Over the past 16 years, Azerbaijan has been experiencing a period of dynamic development. It manifests itself in all areas. The international authority of our country has significantly enhanced. Today we carry out our activities as a country that enjoys respect on a global scale. This was once again confirmed by the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement recently held in Baku. We are already chairing the Non-Aligned Movement, the second largest organization after the UN on a global scale, and this chairmanship will last for three years. It was reached by a unanimous decision of 120 countries. In other words, this indicates that at least two-thirds of the world community support Azerbaijan and highly value our policy.
At the same time, political reforms are under way. In recent years, great strides have been made in the field of developing democracy and protecting human rights. I have always said that political and economic reforms go hand in hand in Azerbaijan.
As for the economic sphere, I think that the results Azerbaijan has achieved is a record indicator on a global scale – over 15 years, in 2003-2018, our economy has more than tripled. All other indicators confirm that economic growth has also has a positive effect on the social well-being of our citizens. Thus, poverty in Azerbaijan has dropped from about 50 to 5 percent. Our external public debt is at the lowest level, accounting for only 17 percent of the gross domestic product. We are in ninth place on a global scale for this indicator.
Major infrastructure projects have been implemented. The rate of gas supply in our country is 96 percent today. The Davos World Economic Forum awarded Azerbaijan second place in the world in terms of the access to electricity. This is a great achievement. Road construction – over 15 years, 15,000 kilometers of roads have been built, including trunk, intercity and rural roads. Other infrastructure projects, including those related to social infrastructure, have been successfully implemented, more than 3,200 schools and over 640 medical institutions have been built, reconstructed or repaired. It would take hours to list all the results achieved.
I should note that great successes have been achieved in the field of technological development. Azerbaijan today is a member of the space club. We have three satellites. I can say that as a result of an extremely close competition recently, Azerbaijan will host the International Astronautical Congress in 2022. I want to inform you that our rivals were Rio de Janeiro, Delhi and Singapore. In other words, it is needless to say about how developed these cities are. Azerbaijan won this competition. Due to what? Due to the fact that our policy enjoys tremendous support and approval on a global scale. We practice what we preach. Azerbaijan has already established itself as a highly responsible country on a global scale.
At the same time, social reforms are successfully continuing. The decrease in the poverty rate is explained by the fact that there is a strong focus on economic reforms, including the social sphere. This year, a broad social package has covered more than 4.2 million people. The minimum wage and minimum pension have significantly gone up. The minimum wage has almost doubled, the minimum pension has been increased by more than 70 percent, allowances have doubled. The average wage has grown by 35 percent this year. According to the statistics provided to me recently, the average salary in Azerbaijan is currently 723 manats. I am sure that this figure will increase in the coming years. First of all, because wages will increase. In addition, while waging a serious struggle against the shadow economy, we have already legalized more than 100,000 jobs, and this process will be continued. We are still at the beginning of this journey. But raising the average wage by 35 percent and bringing it up to 723 manats is a clear example of our social policy, of course.
In recent years, all the tasks we were facing in the field of energy and transport have been completed. Enormous effort was made to complete these tasks. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum oil and gas pipelines were commissioned in extremely difficult geopolitical circumstances. Such a historic project as TANAP is already in operation, and it is possible to say that only a year is left for the completion of the Southern Gas Corridor. Inshallah, we will successfully complete this project as well.
Azerbaijan is modernizing its transport infrastructure. I want to go back to the latest report of the Davos World Economic Forum. It states that Azerbaijan is in 12th place in the world in terms of railway efficiency. In terms of the efficiency of air transport we are in 11th place. Azerbaijan is in 27th place in the world and first in the CIS for the quality of roads. In other words, the operation of the North-South and East-West transport corridors also depended to a large extent on our successful policy. These projects have already been started. In the long term, Azerbaijan will receive major political and economic dividends from these projects.
Of course, in order to maintain and improve all these positive results, personnel reforms must certainly be carried out. Serious personnel reforms are under way in Azerbaijan with this aim. On the one hand, experienced personnel build their work more efficiently, and on the other, there is a vast field of activity for young people. And this is natural because our country will be run by today's youth in the future. They must gain experience, be professional and at the same time attached to their homeland. Therefore, each of us must instill a sense of patriotism in young people, so that they are is attached to the Motherland and are free from any external influence. The authority of our country is growing, its opportunities are expanding. Not a single regional initiative or project can be implemented without our participation and approval. Of course, under such circumstances, interest in our country is growing. At the same time, attempts to exert pressure on us may also increase. True, the experience of the past 16 years indicates that Azerbaijan is very skillfully and worthily coping with outside pressure. We have managed to give a fitting rebuff to all these arrows and weapons pointed at us. The essence of this response is that the unity of the people and the government is the main guarantee of today's stability and independent life. But let me repeat that young people should certainly be educated and gain experience precisely in the spirit of patriotism. Therefore, one of the goals of the latest personnel reforms is to create ample opportunities for young people, provide them with a wide field of activity, so that they gain experience on the one hand and make further contributions to our common cause, on the other.
We are at a new stage of personnel reforms now. Heads of executive authority are being appointed to several districts. Some of them have held the positions of heads of executive authority for many years, others are being appointed to this responsible post today. We are seeing a synthesis here, a combination of experience and renewal, which forms the basis of our successes.
I want to say to the newly appointed-heads of executive authority: first of all, you need to correctly assess the situation, conduct a serious analysis, identify shortcomings and make efforts to resolve existing problems. If the solution to problems depends on central executive bodies, you should certainly contact central executive bodies, the Presidential Administration, the Cabinet of Ministers and other relevant agencies. The questions you can resolve yourself should be resolved. The main thing is to adopt basic principles in your work. First, you must serve the people with dignity. This applies to both newly-appointed heads of executive authority and those who have already worked in this capacity and are now being sent to other districts and cities. Serving the people is the duty of every government official, I have repeatedly said that I see my task as President precisely in serving the people. It is thanks to this service that the people of Azerbaijan provide us with tremendous support.
I want to go back to the report of the Davos Economic Forum. It indicates that Azerbaijan is among top 10 countries on a global scale for the government tendency towards changes, reforms and popular support for the leadership. What is the source of this support? Public service is my duty, and it will continue to be my main duty.
On the other hand, heads of executive authority must be professional, knowledgeable and enjoy authority in the districts and cities where they work. It depends solely on their work. The confidence of the President is already a message to the people that the President trusts these people. However, such trust is not absolute; it may exist today and may not exist tomorrow. It depends on your work. You need to achieve popular support by your work, people should be your support. If you do something wrong, we will find out about it right away and you will be punished, of course. You should work so that people are satisfied. First of all, your duty is to serve the people and professionally cope with your duties. On the other hand, you must seriously fight negative facts in the cities and districts you will be leading. Corruption and bribery should be removed from the agenda of Azerbaijan. True, there is no country where this problem does not exist. But the most important thing is what attitude leaders and authorities, including local executive authorities, have towards this issue. If they turn a blind eye to that or participate in these shady dealings themselves, then, of course, they should and will be held to account. I want to appeal to our people again: if you see that the authorities are going the wrong way, do inform us, and after checking all the signals, we will make the right decision, of course. However, some unjustified charges are brought against government officials for personal reasons. In particular, in the forefront of this are the anti-national and completely miserable and cowardly people who call themselves the opposition because they can’t do anything. They can only engage in campaigns of slander and try to interfere with our work. But history and reality testify that this anti-national and cowardly group of people, trying to impede our work, can never stop us. Today, using only social networks and some Internet resources, they are conducting a campaign of slander against government officials. Therefore, all signals from the ground will be objectively examined and your activity will receive an objective assessment. Therefore, you need to work in such a way that citizens are satisfied, that things in the cities and districts will be leading go well. You should try to attract investment to the districts, make effort to convince investors. In other words, you should not wait for the state to come and do something, we are already doing that. Currently, the implementation of the fourth regional development program is under way. I am sure that in the next four years all outstanding issues will be resolved. However, you need to pay attention to the problems existing in each district, respond to them and try to resolve these issues.
Therefore, your main tasks should be patriotism, accuracy, transparency, public service, adherence to the principles of statehood, attraction of investors and ensuring the socioeconomic development of districts. I repeat that the state provides great support for both industrial and agricultural production. It is no coincidence that in the first nine months of this year, our non-oil industry grew by more than 15 and agriculture by 7 percent. The cotton-picking season is ending. I am told that we have achieved a record figure this year. Compared to last year, we have reduced the area under cultivation from 132,000 to 100,000 hectares, because in some places lands were chosen incorrectly. But the yield has increased. Currently, the picking continues, the yield per hectare has reached 27 quintals, last year it was 17 quintals. Whereas last year we picked 233,000 tons from 132,000 hectares, this year more than 270,000 tons of cotton were picked from 100,000 hectares. I am only talking about cotton. Great progress is also observed in grain growing. The total figure has reached 32 quintals. This is a very high indicator, but it will grow further. Yields in fruit growing and hazelnut production are also growing. In other words, the state is doing a lot in the field of agriculture. You should also provide support and pay attention to entrepreneurs, not cause them any inconveniences. If an entrepreneur wants to invest or start some kind of work, you need to provide immediate support. Sometimes entrepreneurs are treated unfairly, attempts are made to get something from them. This should never be allowed. I want to tell entrepreneurs that if they encounter such a negative fact, they should immediately notify us.
The overall development of our country is positive, and I do not see any serious problem in the future because our country is quite strong politically. Stability is one of the main factors for the successful development of Azerbaijan. The guarantors of stability are the Azerbaijani people and our policy. Anyone who denigrates our policies will be punished. We are making such efforts and doing such work, and if some worthless officials commit negative acts for personal interests, they will certainly be punished, and history already confirms this.
I am sure that you will justify this high confidence and will work in such a way as to achieve even more dynamic development in the districts and cities you will lead.
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