Opening and final speech of the Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev at the meeting with local businessmen - April 25, 2002

Dear ladies and gentlemen!

Dear businessmen!

I welcome you with my heart and I wish successes in your all works.

The economic policy of the Azerbaijan state consists of development of Azerbaijan`s economy on a way of market economy. For this purpose since 1995, we consistently carry out necessary economic reforms. Today we can tell with feeling of satisfaction that our economic policy and measures, taken by us, already yield its positive results.

While in the beginning of 1990th, Azerbaijan`s economy was in a condition of crisis, since 1995, it has already begun to develop. Development is observed in all spheres of economy and this development deepens year after year. As I already noted, it is connected, first of all, with realization of economic reforms. Economic reforms have various characters, cover various spheres and demand taking thorough measures. We carry out them in spite of the fact that we had some difficulties for implementation of them. It was necessary to keep away from economic psychology of the past, to attach people to new economic thinking and, thus, carrying out reforms, at the same time to attain achievement of their positive results. As I already said, we have achieved these results.

The policy, reforms, which are carried out, and a principle of market economy promoted creation of new stratum of businessmen in the country. It should have happened, because the private property, personal property and entrepreneurship organize a basis of market economy. We must have passed necessary laws, create rules and provide implementation, observance of these laws in our country for realization of reforms, providing requirements of market economy. It is possible to tell that we have solved this problem as well.

Now in Azerbaijan there is a big stratum of businessmen. The stratum of businessmen is the important part of Azerbaijan`s economy. There is a process of privatization, many sectors of economy have been privatized. Privatization is of great importance among the successes reached by us. Achievements in many sectors of economy have been reached due to a private sector. I repeat, founders of a private sector, leaders of a private sector create group of businessmen, stratum of businessmen.

We can say that now our social and economic development depends on activity of businessmen. Because, if the economy has been privatized or its considerable part has been privatized, it means that a part of economy is in hands of businessmen and their fruitful activity is the factor providing development of Azerbaijan`s economy. Therefore, we consider it as a significant part of our state policy.

If we compare it with the past, at that time all economy was in monopoly of the state, and for providing development, production in various branches we were occupied with the works of the state bodies, organizations, associations, which carried out activity in these spheres, and periodically holding various meetings with them, analyzed the work done by them, took necessary measures for acceleration of work and helped to them. Now, it is possible to tell, these do not exist or these concern an insignificant part of our economy. The basic part of economy constitutes a private sector.

Once again I want to note that the basic and leading factors are businessmen in a private sector. It means that now works, which we carried out in the past, should be carried out with businessmen. It, naturally, is not the same. Since, in the past there were the organizations, which were subordinated to the state; holding necessary meetings, we made demands of them. And now businessmen are free, they are owners of the property, the work. Our relations with businessmen, entrepreneurs are established and can be established only and only on the basis of a principle of democracy. Observing these principles, being interested in the further efficiency of businessmen`s activity, we want to help them. Till now we did it. Laws, passed by us, have provided and provide it, decrees and orders of the President have provided and provide it, various measures, carried out by us, provide it.

Today, at this meeting our purpose consists of the closest acquaintance with a condition of local businessmen in Azerbaijan. That is, to find out with what difficulties local businessmen face in their activity, which factors impede their work, what are the reasons preventing implementation of laws, orders, decisions of the state and the government and at last, what is necessary to make work of businessmen more effective. And today, we came to the meeting with you just with this purpose.

As you know, on April 12, I made a decision on conducting such meeting, delivered this decision to attention of the public and beginning from this day our corresponding ministries, in particular the Ministry of Economic Development, were engaged in preparation of the meeting. It is pleasant that businessmen of Azerbaijan have shown big interest in this meeting, hundreds, thousands of people have expressed desire to participate at this meeting. But, unfortunately, this hall - I was informed - contains approximately 500 persons and it was impossible to invite more people. But I consider, if our present meeting goes on at a desirable level and really helps our work, we will fix a certain time and we will meet with all other businessmen who could not get opportunity to participate today here.

I am planning to hold this meeting with you today and then I want to hold the same meeting with the foreign businessmen working in Azerbaijan. We will hold the meeting with the representatives of state and governmental bodies of Azerbaijan, we will define duties of authorities in order to study the data, materials, received as a result of these meetings and to take necessary measures on their basis.

The purpose of the present and forthcoming meetings consists of getting information directly from the businessmen to learn the condition of business whether our laws, decrees, orders create necessary opportunities for development of business in Azerbaijan. If there are difficulties connected with the legislation or decisions of executive bodies in this field, after receiving information from you, we should discuss it and issue necessary decrees, orders.

The main point is that we want to know what interferes in your work. We know about it initially. Some times we held meetings - you know about it, by means of TV, radio and press you know that from the very beginning of business in Azerbaijan, the beginning of transition to market economy various governmental bodies of Azerbaijan, carrying out every possible revisions, interferences, tried to prevent the works of businessmen. I have issued some decrees connected with this problem and made demands before law-enforcement and other supervising bodies not to impede businessmen. All this has yielded its results.

However, observation of the last period shows that despite the measures carried out by us, various governmental bodies instead of creating conditions to businessmen, to help them, continue to put various obstacles, to conduct revisions, to interfere in their work, try to provide their personal interests. And all these are obstacles to businessmen. I am even informed that some businessmen are so bothered with these checks, interferences that they close their right business. What purpose is pursued by the businessman? He works to earn money. He aspires to earn money and his work benefits a society. The businessman is engaged in manufacture of a certain product, it means, this production is necessary to a society. Or he is engaged in commerce, the society requires good commerce. He is occupied with other spheres of service. People are in need of it as well. If the businessman being engaged in this business, cannot make a profit on assets that he invested, it means, his employment in business is meaningless. Unfortunately, we are informed that there are such facts and it is a lot of them. It worries us.

One of the basic purposes of our today`s meeting consists of receiving the truthful, authentic, objective information on a condition directly from you, the businessmen. I am repeating, truthful, authentic, objective. That is, you should speak the truth. You should not try to hide the truth and at the same time, you should not state groundless opinions to address of separate governmental and state bodies for your personal opinions and personal relations.

We have invited only local businessmen of Azerbaijan to this meeting. Here there are no authorities, their heads who take part in the processes of business and market economy in Azerbaijan. Except me, here there are a Prime Minister, the head of the Presidential Executive Staff, the state adviser on economic questions and the assistant of the President, nobody else is present.

Why did I act so? Because you could speak freely here that different ministers, representatives of law enforcement bodies, tax bodies, other bodies could not influence, look at you threateningly. You could hesitate to speak frankly because of their presence. You can avoid speaking because of their presence, I just wanted you to feel yourself free. Now you can say that they are not present here but a meeting will be shown on TV, they can see it. I have also considered it. That is, after my speech I will ask minister of economic development to speak with a short report. There will be our representatives of press here. But after that I will ask them to leave a hall so that nobody worried that his words would be written down, he would be photographed, and he would be given to minister on whom he depends, and subsequently he would feel animosity against him or to do still something else.

Unfortunately, in our society there are such facts. Therefore, I have done so in order to hold with you opened, direct talks and as the President of Azerbaijan, to learn the truth from you. Once again I note that the data presented by you today will be analyzed and on their basis our last meeting will be held. I want to get concrete materials, the data outgoing from below, from you at this meeting.

Thus, I would like our meeting to pass openly, freely, without any inconveniences. My purpose, as the President of Azerbaijan, always consist of as the following: as we have defined a direction of our economic policy in Azerbaijan and as we have defined that this direction was the market economy, I constantly pay attention to development of business in Azerbaijan.

I already said that it is not only my subjective desire. Development of economy and social sphere in Azerbaijan depends on development of business, development of a private sector. We have created and we continue to create a private sector. If the private sector can cover all spheres of economy in Azerbaijan at a necessary level, carry out effective work, our economy as the market economy, will be much more preferable than the former centralized economy.

We have declared market economy, carried out privatization, created a private sector. But if the private sector does not manage to work at a desirable level, it means, we cannot achieve our object. It worries us as well. With this purpose, I have decided to hold today`s meeting. With this purpose, I have invited you to this meeting. I repeat, I wait from each of you frank, fair, objective talk.

Final speech

Dear ladies and gentlemen!

I consider that we have achieved our object concerning this meeting. From 11 o`clock - it is already seven hours we conducted here, in this hall, the exchange of opinions related to development of business together with you. Addressing to you in the beginning of our meeting, I said that today`s meeting pursues only and only one purpose - elimination of the reasons interfering in development of local business. There are a lot of problems, questions, if we have decided to make them known or to conduct an exchange of opinions on them, it would be extremely difficult. Therefore, right at the beginning, and during a meeting, I repeatedly said that our purpose was to carry out a number of the measures connected with development of business and at last, for effective implementation of these measures, for making necessary decisions for development of business, we want to learn about the condition from businessmen. Therefore we have gathered for this meeting.

I believe that our meeting has passed fruitfully, interestingly. Anyway, I think, you will acknowledge that I created here conditions for everyone to express opinion freely and even I tried to help some of you to express their thoughts. However, at the beginning businessmen - I mean you - for some reasons abstained, felt shy, hesitated, but then gradually accustomed. I think, now, at the end of our meeting, the hall is in very excited condition.

I felt that if our meeting continues five-six more hours, there some people, who want to speak, express an opinion. But from the very beginning I warned that naturally, everyone can not speak here. That is, certainly, they can, but for this purpose there will be just no time. Therefore, put all your offers, in particular, obstacles, with which you face in your activity, in written form, anonymously in a box. I do not know whether has something already been put or not?

Ramiz Mehdiyev (the head of the Executive Staff of the President): Mister President, the certain quantity of records has been put.

Heydar Aliyev: The certain quantity has been put. I said to businessmen: I want you to notify your complaints. If there are bases for the complaint, do not hesitate. At last, we could achieve it.

Here the open statements have been made on some questions which we have heard. At the same time, I repeat that these are not enough to improve work of local businessmen. That is, we could hear directly here about all shortcomings, obstacles. Therefore, your records in questionnaires, distributed to you, and your speeches will be used. And at last, all interested persons can express in written their opinion today, tomorrow and within several days. Who will wish, can affix his signature, who does not - let write anonymously. All this will be analyzed. Naturally, they will be checked as well. On the basis of these, we will express our attitude to these questions and we also will make necessary decisions at our last meeting.

I am very happy for today`s meeting. I am very happy that here we meet, we talk to businessmen freely for some hours. It has great value for me. I believe that it attaches significance as well as to you. It just approves value of the meeting. At the same time I am happy that frank opinions on some questions interfering in business have been stated here. There are a lot of them and I don`t want to open all of them now. However, we knew about them before in the certain degree. From your words we have received wider information that there are enough big shortcomings, big defects, distortions, the facts of abusing authority and even cases of a crime in work of our state bodies, governmental bodies, that is the bodies which are responsible for realization of the activity of businessmen. Naturally, the court should define a crime. I simply want to express my opinion.

I could not imagine, during preparation for this meeting, workers of our apparatus have conducted interrogation to find out with what businessmen are dissatisfied. I consider that survey has yielded very interesting results. But this is also a beginning of business, that is the beginning of our work connected with studying of these issues. Your speeches here have thrown light on many questions.

For example, there are such data in survey. Survey has been conducted among thousand persons. Answers to a question which of the specified reasons impedes the development of business are so: high taxes - 508 person, shortage of financial assets - 304 persons, a low level of a market infrastructure - 106 person, weakness of the business initiative at the population - 95 person, war in which we are involved, - 125 person, illegal revisions - 441 person. You confirmed these figures in your speeches as well. However, you did not name any figures, but, anyway, your speeches coincide with interrogation. There are also other parameters of interrogation. I think that all this will be used in our forthcoming work.

Thus, the Ministry of Taxes, Customs Committee, law enforcement bodies are in full view. But I could not imagine that our sanitary supervisors have put so many obstacles to work of businessmen and create so many difficulties. Or here it has been brought attention to the question whether some of licenses are necessary or not. However, up to this meeting in my apparatus and the Cabinet of Ministers it has been worked above this question and I have been informed on significant reduction of quantity of licenses. However, I consider that after this meeting it is necessary to think of this problem once again.

I was horrified that someone closes shops. Here it was said what workers of Customs Committee close shops. First, it does concern their functions. And secondly, it is impossible to close shops. Or I was very much surprised with that the Trading-Consumer Department of Executive Power of Baku city in many respects interferes now in work of shops being in Baku and creates big difficulties for them.

At the meeting with you I have expressed my opinion. I want to declare once again that one of the most positive results of privatization in Azerbaijan was privatization of trade. Today the privatized trade, that is the trade, being in hands of a private sector, is one of the best achievements of Azerbaijan. Citizens of Azerbaijan can here, in the city, where they live, can get the various goods, any goods delivered from the various countries of the world in the shops of Baku. Appearances, a degree of service, advertising of shops today, it is possible to tell, have considerably changed shape of Baku. But I am speaking about it not because they are beautiful and make our city beauty. I am speaking about it because if such quantity of shops, the shops full of the various goods, make business, if they bring and sell in Azerbaijan the high-quality goods from western, other countries, if the Azerbaijani citizens use this goods, if they buy it, this is one of the best parameters of our economic development. We wish to achieve it.

However we should not forget that during the Soviet Union period, counters of shops were empty. Today shops have changed, they have been constructed at a high level, these are very rich shops. It is one of the results of economic policy carried out by us. We should develop, advance it.

If the Trading-consumer Department of Baku city closes these shops, or interferes in their work, if tax bodies oppress them and even it is absolutely incomprehensible that customs bodies interfere in work of shops, all these are the intolerable facts. Here it was said here too. When the head of Trading Organization spoke here about it, he was applauded in a hall. Why was he applauded? Because he openly said that they do not give opportunity to shops to work. And many businessmen close shops, refuse the business. Because similar intervention by officials, revisions result shops in such condition that the businessman not only can not receive profit, but also get assets that he invested. Naturally, in such condition nobody works. It means if it go further so, the system of trade created by us in last years due to huge efforts, will collapse. It is the fact causing great anxiety. We, naturally, will take necessary measures in this plan.

I would like to state here my preliminary impressions. Here it was informed that in Geronboy region the chief of executive power has created Trading-consumer department in which there are 23 workers, one worker for each booth. Well, in that case what a necessity? It horrified me. What for, who needs to create Trading-consumer department with 23 workers in small region?!

We have given freedom to trade. Let they live freely, work freely, conduct their trade. They do much. However, various officials, agencies do not allow them to work. Ramiz Mehdiyev, I charge to you to check up tomorrow if in Geranboy region there is such situation, report me. I think that I will accept necessary concrete decision in this connection. It is not necessary to detain with it.

However, we have heard, learned here about the difficulties which are taking place not only in the field of trade, but also in other spheres. Therefore, I thank you for the information given to us. I consider that today frank conversation took place here. However, I felt that our conversation becomes such active that for it time was insufficient during which we worked till now. It is probably required 10-15 hours for this purpose. I repeat, as it was impossible, present all your thoughts, in particular, the cases, which impede your work, in written form.

You can be sure that we - the Azerbaijan state and personally the President of Azerbaijan - consider development of business in our country of one of our major problems. We connect social and economic development of Azerbaijan directly with business, its development and we will be engaged henceforth in realization of all measures necessary for development of business. We will prevent actions of all of those who illegally interfere with your work and try to provide their mercenary interests at your expense.

I would like you to know that implementation of market economy in Azerbaijan, creation and development of the business, being its component, are not so easy questions. All we lived in condition of the centralized state economy for decades. During this period no business was authorized, and people from generation to generation forgot such business. To restore business today, to accustom people to it, to create in them qualities of the businessman, to bring up features of the businessman in people, to prepare businessmen of a high level, to establish national businessmen - all these demand time. At the same time it demands care of state.

We should be patient. You should know that we will show necessary care. I believe that you and all businessmen will be improved, will acquire qualities of the businessman more deeply, will develop as the healthy businessmen serving faithfully to people, the Native land. All this will provide acceleration of economy in Azerbaijan. I trust in it. For this purpose time is required. Once again I note that for this purpose, on the one hand, the care of state and on the other hand, deeper development of this business by businessmen is necessary. This process goes on. We should strengthen this process. Our today`s meeting pursues the purpose to accelerate this process and to make it effective.

I hope that we will achieve good results. Know that the President of Azerbaijan is a protector and a support of all businessmen. Live quietly, combat with difficulties, inform us on difficulties, obstacles in time. We will carry out all the measures necessary for elimination of these obstacles.

I wish you, all businessmen of Azerbaijan, good health, great social and economic successes in development of this new trade, in your business activity.

Thank you, see you at the next meeting!