Is the State Budget of Azerbaijan Transparent?
Published on Wed, 2013-10-23 11:25
Radio Liberty discussed Azerbaijan’s place in the Open Budget Index (OBI) last week, as part of the “Joint Advocacy Platform” project, just on the eve of 2014 budget discussions in Parliament.
Kenan Aslanli, National Budget Group (NBG) member (and Social Watch member in Azerbaijan) and social and youth activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev participated in the program.
To the anchor’s question on Azerbaijan’s place in the Open Budget Index, Mr. Aslanli responded that OBI -- which is based on open budget surveys -- is the only international index evaluating the openness of state budgets. “OBI estimates transparency and openness of budgets in 100 countries and Azerbaijan is one of them. The last report was prepared for the year 2012 when Azerbaijan scored 42 and took 59th place. Georgia, for example scored much higher – 55,” said Mr. Aslanli.
“The most interesting is the case of Russia. Russia’s score was the highest in our region, which is surprising. However, this shows that even in authoritarian regimes budget transparency is something possible and not dangerous for governments. Russia’s good showing in the OBI indicates that the governing party there does not see any risk in budget transparency. We are trying to bring this truth to our officials,” he added.
“There are certain improvements in Azerbaijan as well. For example, in the last few years, the Ministry of Finance published a draft of the state budget on its web site. And this is an achievement. The government determined improvement of the country’s rank in the OBI as a priority and was mentioned as medium-term target in the budget package for 2013. There are certain steps that could improve the country’s position in the OBI. One of the indicators of OBI is the existence of a pre-budget statement. We actually have this document, but it is not published a month before budget discussions in Parliament, as required. The second important point is citizen budget. At present, the National Budget Group prepares such a document, but this should be done by the government. The quality of mid-year and year-end reports should also be enhanced. Our reports are just one page long, Georgia’s reports are 165 pages long, just to compare,” stated the expert.
Bakhtiyar Hajiyev mentioned that the main problem with budget transparency in Azerbaijan is related to the fact that citizens do not feel the budget is their own. “Azeri citizens do not feel the state budget is public – their money. This leads to lack of control over the budget. In western countries, large budget discussions take place in the media; we do not have such a practice. Thus, the civil sector should strengthen and influence the government for budget openness,” mentioned Mr. Hajiyev.
“Indifference of ordinary people towards budget and public spending is a common problem for many resource-rich countries. However, openness is the government’s duty and, not depending on the requirements of the civil sector, the government should disclose budget information,” Mr. Aslanli offered.
The expert touched on the 2014 budget as well: “The decrease of state oil fund transfers to the state budget was officially explained by the increase in the non-oil sector’s share. The tax collection will also get better,” mentioned Mr. Aslani.
“There should be public budget discussions in Parliament. There were attempts to organize public discussions last year, but this is not the ideal way of doing it. The government invited only budget organization representatives. This can not be considered an open, public budget discussion,” stated the expert.
Mr. Aslanli also commented further on questions on priorities of 2014 budget. Read his complete remarks at http://www.azadliq.org
Source: Revenue Watch.