AzVision.az presents the interview.
- Mr. President, good day!
- The DOST centers today are one of the components of the social policy being implemented in Azerbaijan. You have just attended the opening of a new DOST Center. What is your overall assessment of the opening of DOST centers?
- This is a great social initiative. As you know, Azerbaijan is showing leadership in this area, and the launch of DOST centers is a clear manifestation of the work carried out in the social sphere and the ongoing reforms. The third center is already opening and the first two centers are also very successful. The popular approval rating has reached 96 percent. The services provided here are, of course, a major innovation in the area of social security. It is no coincidence that several countries have already contacted us in connection with this experience and Azerbaijan is ready to share it.
In general, there are plans to launch about 30 centers. I do hope that DOST centers will begin to operate in Baku and throughout the country in the next few years. At the same time, jobs are being created here. I am told that more than 130 jobs are being created in this DOST center, including volunteers involved in the work. The more than 130 services provided here cover, one might say, all services in the social sphere. Thus, the activities of these centers will bring people comfort. At the same time, the important steps in the field of transparency have justified themselves. In addition, the innovations used here are fully consistent with our views on the future, because innovative development is one of the main directions of our policy. Of course, DOST centers operate on the basis of these innovations and there are plans to take additional steps in this direction in the future.
- Mr. President, as is the case in other centers, the vast majority of employees at the DOST Center you have just attended the opening of are young people. In your speeches, you often emphasize the role of young people in the development of Azerbaijan. How would you assess the role of youth in today's development of Azerbaijan?
- I have always assessed the role of youth very highly. Azerbaijani youth plays an active role in the successful development of the country today. I can say that youth is the most active segment of our society. Broad opportunities are being created for young people now. Young people are appointed to senior positions – the posts of minister, head of the executive authority. At the same time, we have enough youth in the Milli Majlis. We can say that all employees of the DOST Center are young people. It was the interest in innovation, the activity of young people, their advanced knowledge that have allowed Azerbaijan the opportunity to introduce such centers using our own intellectual resources and, as I said, share experience with other countries. Therefore, in the course of numerous meetings with young people, I always urge them to aspire to knowledge, to make sure that they study well, become professionals and, through their activities, make an even greater contribution to the development of our country. I am glad that our youth today meets the highest criteria in terms of knowledge, professionalism, innovation and modernity. At the same time, I must note that young people provide us with great support in the fight against negative phenomena. In general, the people who will run Azerbaijan in the future are today's youth. Therefore, their knowledge and patriotism will always strengthen our independence and ensure the sustainable development of our country for many years and decades to come.
- Mr. President, comprehensive measures have been taken in the field of social security in Azerbaijan in recent years, which can be found only in a handful of countries around the world. What can you say about the projects being implemented in this area?
- The social sphere has always been a priority. I always spoke extensively about this issue in previous years. This is particularly the case recently – last year and this year, the social sphere has been on the agenda as an even higher priority. It is no coincidence that the broadest social package in the years of independence was introduced and successfully implemented last year. The scope of this social package is quite wide – 4.2 million people were covered by the state package. This included the almost doubling of the minimum wage and the increase of the minimum pension by more than 70 percent. Azerbaijan is the leading state in the CIS today in terms of the purchasing power of the minimum pension. Benefits were raised, some by 50 percent and some were doubled. The issue related to problem loans was resolved. In other words, we allocated billions of manats for these purposes and, as I have already said, the well-being of 4.2 million people was significantly improved.
Since the beginning of the year, these trends further intensified. The increase in the minimum and average wages and the average pension is obvious. Given that the manat rate is stable, the real incomes of the population are growing and inflation is low. Therefore, the work carried out in this area this year is a logical continuation of the work done last year. This year’s peculiarity is that we currently live in a pandemic and our response to the pandemic was comprehensive. Very serious operational and socially targeted steps were taken to achieve the goal. It is no secret that the salaries of 900,000 people employed in the public sector were fully paid. The state also paid a significant part of the salaries of almost 700,000 people working in the private sector. Considering that people working in this sector lost their jobs, social security was organized for the unemployed, low-income groups, including those employed informally. Each of them received 190 manats. There are many people in this category – 600,000 people. All this work, of course, requires major financial resources. If we add to this the targeted social assistance program, the number of people covered by this program will grow significantly. Currently, this program covers 80,000 families. Each family receives more than 220 manats per month on average.
At the same time, there are plans to create public jobs – 90,000 of them. The self-employment program covers 12,000 people. We are already implementing a part of this program together with the World Bank. In other words, if we take into account the attention being paid to this area and the funds allocated, we can see that this is our priority today. It should be the case because the whole world is suffering from a pandemic, all countries are faced with great difficulties. In some developed countries, the economic downturn is at 7-10 percent. These are preliminary figures. Azerbaijan is taking all steps necessary to maintain financial stability. Everyone should know that if financial stability is disrupted, we will not be able to implement social programs.
At the beginning of the year and during the outbreak of the pandemic, I said that not a single social program would be reduced, and we are doing exactly that. Also, not a single project of social infrastructure has been reduced. The attention being paid to this area and the tangible steps we are taking demonstrate the essence of our policy once again. They also show that our policy is centered on the citizens of Azerbaijan.
- Mr. President, the development of information and communication technologies and the application of innovations are among the priority areas of your activity. At a recent meeting with the management of CISCO, your leadership and the work carried out in Azerbaijan were also highly appreciated. It would be interesting to find out your opinion on this matter.
- You know, this sector started to gain momentum on my initiative a few years ago. I remember that when we started creating a space industry, some were surprised. They thought: Azerbaijan is not such a big country and the club of space-faring nations is very limited global club, so it will be difficult for Azerbaijan to find a place there. However, life has shown that we are on the right track because the creation of the space industry, the launch of three satellites into orbit not only provide for our economic and other interests but have also been very important from the point of view of personnel training and the development of new technologies by young people. Without training, modern technology cannot develop in any country. Therefore, we attracted government resources to this area and drew up a very specific program. At the same time, we began to take practical steps aimed at training personnel. Using the example of this beautiful DOST Center, we can see that if there were no professional personnel here, the center would not be able to operate. Azerbaijan, like most countries, imports technology. However, to use these technologies, to master them, to create a new intellectual product on their basis depends purely on the professionalism of our personnel and their training.
Therefore, all our actions related to the development of information and communication technologies were correct, and this was confirmed again by my meeting with CISCO executives in the videoconference format. We work not only with CISCO. We work closely with all the leading companies of the world operating in the field of information and communication technologies. With CISCO, I can say, we are already approaching a strategic partnership. Of course, the intellectual product they are offering is necessary for our further development. For example, we are currently working on a “Smart City” project. The first manifestations of this project are already visible. We went even further and began working on a “Smart Nation” program. Digitalization of our country, the use of information technology in all areas is our priority.
During the pandemic, in the conditions of self-isolation it is impossible to work without information technology. For example, my meetings and summits held in the format of video conferences would have been impossible without modern technologies. Therefore, at present, a question has been raised related both to the economic sphere, to the sphere of education, healthcare, agriculture, etc., including the field of control over our water resources, formation of a water balance and reduction of losses. Everyone should know that this area is a step into the future. We cannot be late or procrastinate here. If we are late, we will lose. Therefore, we have mobilized all our resources, including financial, intellectual and human. I am sure that in the coming years, Azerbaijan will further strengthen its leading positions in the field of information and communication technologies.
- Mr. President, comprehensive measures have been taken in our country to solve social problems of martyr families and further improve their living conditions. I would like to know your opinion about this.
- This is an area that is always in the spotlight. To date, the state has provided 7,600 martyr families with houses and apartments. The number of apartments and houses provided to the families of martyrs this year has reached a record high – houses and apartments will be provided to 1,500 families of martyrs. Thus the number of registered martyr families will be less than 2,000. I hope that within a maximum of two years the state will provide homes to all martyr families.
At the same time, we also provide cars – both to the families of martyrs and to veterans of the Karabakh war. To date, more than 6,000 cars have been provided and there are plans to provide 400 cars this year. I can say that Azerbaijan is also a leader in this area. In many parts of the world there were wars, conflicts, human loss. Of course, I would not like to compare Azerbaijan with any country, but the truth is that state support for families affected by the war, those who have lost their loved ones, is, as it seems to me, at the highest level in Azerbaijan.
I want to say again: I do not want to compare Azerbaijan with anyone else, but just have a look – there were those killed in the war in Armenia. Are their families provided with apartments? Cars? No! They are spending money on erecting monuments to the Nazis. We are doing this work and must continue doing it. This is our moral duty. My numerous meetings with martyr families, of course, are very important for society and for martyr families. We bow our heads to the memory of martyrs and must support our words with deeds. Therefore, the houses that have already been provided to 7,600 martyr families — this year their number will reach 9,000 — are an excellent result of our tangible work.
- Mr. President, what can you say about the ongoing work and forthcoming measures in relation to the prevention of coronavirus infection in Azerbaijan?
- The work related to the coronavirus has been carried out in the right direction in Azerbaijan from the very beginning. This is approved and acknowledged by both the Azerbaijani people and international organizations. I am still receiving hundreds of letters from citizens every day, and all these are letters of gratitude because the adoption of preventive measures indeed saved us from serious problems. Again, everything is relative. What is the situation like in developed countries with about the same population as Azerbaijan’s? In some of them, about 10,000 people have died to date. There are very few deaths in Azerbaijan. At the same time, preventive and restrictive measures have enabled us to prevent the extensive spread of the pandemic and we succeeded in that. It is no coincidence that the World Health Organization appreciates our work in this area and describes Azerbaijan as an exemplary country. This is a high assessment of our work. I do not know if any other country has received such an assessment. This is truly a logical result of the work done, because our main goal since the very beginning has been to protect our citizens from this disease. All other economic issues, the economic downturn, possible problems have been put on a backburner even though we seriously dealt with these issues as well. However, the first priority was people's health and the second their social security. We organized both.
I can say that we have been able to quickly rebuild our healthcare system. I have a particularly positive assessment of the Mandatory Health Insurance Agency and the Management Union of Medical Territorial Units. There, too, the vast majority of workers are young people who have shown what they are capable of doing. After all, in such difficult conditions, the healthcare system of no country was ready for this. To do all the organizational work in such difficult conditions is really a great achievement. The identification of hospitals, the implementation of logistical work, the distribution of patients by region, the organization of quarantine care, the solution of all these organizational and logistical issues, the evacuation of citizens from abroad – we were able to solve all this within the framework of the Task Force, including the active participation of doctors and the Management Union of Medical Territorial Units. Therefore, at the end of April, we already saw that the dynamics of three weeks were positive, the number of infections was lower than those recovering and we switched to mitigation measures. Unfortunately, mitigating measures had an adverse impact on the number of infections. However, the situation is completely under control now and all countries are already opening up – even those countries where the pandemic was quite rampant. We are gradually opening up, but we are in full control of the situation.
Currently, more than 20 hospitals in our country operate exclusively in connection with coronavirus. Only those infected with coronavirus are treated there – we currently have 19 hospitals engaged because there are no more patients in some hospitals today. However, more than 20 hospitals are ready, the construction of 10 modular hospitals has begun and I took part in the opening of one of them. This will provide us with an extra 2,000 beds. All medical equipment is provided, artificial respiration equipment has been delivered, there is enough room in intensive care units, there are enough beds. The number of quarantined persons is directly related to the number of arrivals from abroad, because we keep our citizens evacuated from abroad in quarantine for two weeks. I must say that more than 20,000 Azerbaijani citizens were evacuated from abroad in an organized manner. We cannot carry out this work spontaneously. We are doing all this in an organized manner, according to schedule and distribution by country: from which country, when and how many citizens of Azerbaijan will arrive. This work will be continued in the same fashion. The largest number of our evacuees came from Russia. To date, 6,500 Azerbaijani citizens have arrived from Russia, and this process continues but, as I said, in an organized manner. Everyone must register, there is a special portal - “Going home”. Therefore, evacuation work will also be carried out in an organized manner.
The quarantine conditions are excellent, I receive numerous letters from those in quarantine, we keep them in four to five star hotels. Currently, we have begun the production of medical masks, overalls and disinfectants. This is why these comprehensive measures, of course, saved us from major problems. In the current circumstances, when the mitigation process is under way, the main factor will be the responsibility of citizens. I want to say again that citizens should realize this responsibility: the pandemic has not ended, the virus has not disappeared and will spread. Therefore, everyone should take care of themselves and their loved ones, be aware of their responsibility and observe discipline.
- Mr. President, in such difficult conditions, Azerbaijan, along with social security of the population and elimination of the economic consequences of the pandemic, is providing assistance to several foreign countries. I would like to know your opinion on this issue.
- I believe that this is an integral part of our policy because, as far as foreign policy is concerned, we have always preferred cooperation and have seen the benefits of that. If we had opportunities, we tried to help and helped. Several of our important transnational projects are built on the basis of this principle and success is achieved precisely thanks to this principle. Therefore, mutual support in foreign policy should not be in word but in deed. Solidarity must be shown in practice.
We are currently chairing two organizations – the Turkic Council and the Non-Aligned Movement. And we have held summits of these organizations at the highest level. Azerbaijan’s special role was noted in the final declarations of the summits of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Turkic Council. We very responsibly approach all issues, our chairmanship should not be and is not formal in nature. Therefore, in difficult times, everyone who has the opportunity must help – both in life and in politics. This, as they say, is consistent with our customs and traditions. Therefore, I believe that provision of this assistance today is the right step. To date, we have provided assistance to 13 countries and talk about this only recently. We sent hundreds of tons of help via airplanes. We sent disinfectants, protective equipment and other items made in Azerbaijan, but did not advertise ourselves. We did this considering it our moral duty and for the countries that asked us for help. We know that the financial situation of these countries does not allow them to take the necessary measures. I am sure that this help has saved many human lives. This is the main thing. Thus, assistance was provided to 13 countries and three international organizations. This once again demonstrates our responsibility.
It is no coincidence that Azerbaijan is a country that is highly respected and has a great authority on a global scale. Otherwise, eight years ago we would not have been elected to the UN Security Council with the support of 155 countries, would not have been elected chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement by a unanimous decision of 120 countries. As I said, many countries that do not get along with each other. But they all supported Azerbaijan. Why? Because we are a responsible country, respect ourselves, maintain dignity and respect our partners. When providing assistance, we do this in a way that is acceptable to the recipient of this assistance. And we will continue our work in this direction.
During the pandemic, both people and countries showed their true face. There are people it would be a great sin to shake hands with during the pandemic. There are countries that withdrew into themselves during the pandemic. In particular, at the initial stage they took steps they are probably ashamed of now. Azerbaijan has always been a dignified country and the pandemic has once again confirmed this.
- Mr. President, thank you for the detailed answers to our questions. Thank you very much!
- Thank you!
More about: Ilham-Aliyev