Ilham Aliyev: "We managed to achieve economic diversification"
On April 11, the presidential election will be held in Azerbaijan. A few days before the vote, TASS Deputy Director-General Mikhail Gusman interviewed the incumbent President Ilham Aliyev. Answering the question about the development of the republic over the past five years, Ilham Aliyev said: "I think that the most important thing is that Azerbaijan has continued to develop successfully over these years. A lot of programs related to social and economic development of our country have been implemented. Everything we have planned has been successfully accomplished. Our achievements were also highlighted by international structures.
According to the latest assessment of the World Economic Forum, Azerbaijan is on 35th place in terms of global competitiveness. And according to index of inclusive development, also evaluated by the Davos forum, we're third among developing countries. Only 30 developed countries and two developing ones are ahead of us. In other words, this assessment truly demonstrates what we managed to achieve. We managed to achieve economic diversification. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were created. Unemployment rate in Azerbaijan is around 5%. We also managed to significantly reduce poverty rate, which is around 5.4% today. All of this is the result of social and economic policy that we have been implementing in recent years and which brought significant results.
Speaking about the country's political reforms, the incumbent president noted: "It will be impossible to achieve sustainable development in economic sphere without reformation of political system. A lot has been done in this direction lately. Azerbaijan is a country open to the world. All democratic institutions are functioning in our country and freedom of the press is fully guaranteed. Azerbaijan is a country where the Internet is free. The number of Internet users is growing and approaching 80% of the population. The freedom of assembly and political activity is also fully guaranteed. As a member of the Council of Europe with considerable experience, we committed to further democratize our society, and I think we are confidently and successfully coping with that. Although, of course, there are still issues that require additional efforts, and we are working in this direction. We try to give a sensible assessment to the level of political reforms and achievements. We believe that the maximum possible has been done in 26 years of independence - considering our history and the emergence of Azerbaijan as a newly-independent state, the geographical location, the existing and possible risks in our region. Among the areas we still need to develop, I would point to the strengthening of public oversight. I have spoken on this topic on a few occasions and urged our people to take more active steps in exercising control over the implementation of reforms. A lot is being done in terms of socioeconomic development and infrastructure in Azerbaijan, and inadequate public oversight sometimes leads to violations and delays in our plans. Also, we will certainly continue to work on further democratization of Azerbaijan. We are an open country. We have consciously embarked on this path and will continue to deepen both political and economic reforms.
Ilham Aliyev also noted that one of the main directions of activity has been to ensure complete economic independence, which forms the basis of political independence. "If a country is economically dependent, it can and often does experience great difficulties in implementing its independent policy. Today Azerbaijan a fully self-supporting country from an economic point of view and has no economic difficulties. I can also quote a few figures. Over the past 15 years, the Azerbaijani economy has grown 3.2 times, which I think is a world record. Also, despite the huge investment projects, we have carried out work to stabilize the external debt, which currently accounts for about 20% of the GDP. I have issued instructions to significantly reduce it in the coming years. Azerbaijan’s currency reserves constitute the same volume as the gross domestic product. In other words, we can pay off all our debts in a matter of a few days or months if we want. Azerbaijan’s financial position is quite stable, and the investment projects we are implementing will certainly bring additional profit. I should also note that more than 230 billion dollars have been invested in the Azerbaijani economy over the past 15 years. One half is foreign and the other internal, which also speaks about the active investment policy of both the state and the Azerbaijani private sector. Of the significant achievements of recent years, I would note the progress in the energy sector. We have become a country exporting electricity. We used to import it. We are an exporter of gas, although we also imported gas just recently. We have implemented major oil and gas projects enabling us to accumulate major financial resources. We have invested heavily in the transport infrastructure both in the country and in the region, thus laying the foundations for sustainable development for the future."
Of the things that still remain to be done, the president stressed the continuation of the policy to diversify their economy. "I mean reducing the certain dependence on the oil and gas factor and increasing non-oil exports. We're actively working on this and results of the past two or three years are very impressive. We have increased non-oil exports by 20-30%, and this issue will be one of the highest priorities in the future. Unlike some countries, we should constantly work on creation of new jobs. Over the past 15 years, we have created 1.4 million jobs. But over these years, the population of Azerbaijan has grown by 1.5 million people. Therefore, our economy should always be ahead of demographics. I put this task before the government and we are working in this direction. Therefore, the creation of new industries and social infrastructure designed for a bigger population will be our top priority for the coming years."