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Azerbaijan: Human Capital Forum Helps the Country Orient Itself for the Future

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Panelists and high-level participants discuss human capital investments at the forum in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo Credit: Zaur Rzayev / World Bank

Recognizing the key role of human capital in growth and competitiveness, the Government of Azerbaijan and World Bank Group organized a three-day, high-level Human Capital Forum in Baku from December 19 to 21, 2018. Each day, approximately 150 participants including government ministers, top policy experts, academics, development and business community leaders, and media representatives gathered to discuss how best to support the Government of Azerbaijan in accelerating the development of its people.

Why now?

Over the past two decades, oil wealth has helped Azerbaijan achieve high growth rates, significant poverty reduction, and a middle-income status. However, Azerbaijan is facing new and emerging challenges such as how to achieve broad-based, private sector-led growth and make key public services and economic opportunities accessible to all citizens across the country.

Further, on the recently released Human Capital Index, Azerbaijan ranks 69th out of 157 countries. A child born in Azerbaijan today will be 60 percent as productive when she grows up as she could be if she enjoyed complete education and full health. Already, the country’s development strategy documents—the Azerbaijan 2020: Vision for the Future and the Strategic Roadmaps for Economic Reforms —envision human capital development and its effective engagement in the development of Azerbaijan.

The Forum provided a way to explore a “whole-of-government” approach to nurturing human capital by engaging ministers and officials from education, health, tax, labor and other fields.

Forum Highlights

On Day 1, with the focus on jobs, Sahil Babayev, Minister of Labor and Social Protection of Population, emphasized the country’s commitment to the formation of human capital and measures to stimulate the labor market. He particularly appreciated that human capital development is looked at through the prism of economic growth and social cohesion.

The World Bank presented the World Development Report 2019 The Changing Nature of Work, a study on how the nature of work is changing as a result of advances in technology today and how governments can best respond to these changes by investing in human capital and offering social protections to all people. Sahil Babayev was joined by Khagani Abdullayev, Adviser to the Minister of Taxes, Kestutis Jankauskas, Head of the EU delegation, and Maleyka Abbaszadeh, Chairperson of the State Examination Center of Azerbaijan, as panelists.

While discussing how investing in human capital must be a priority for governments for workers to build in-demand skills, Mr. Abdullayev said, “Experience shows that properly implemented tax policies contribute to the implementation of a mechanism for encouraging investment in human capital; in this context, Azerbaijan is paying attention to areas which require unique skills.

This year, it was proposed to introduce tax incentives for a period of ten years for investments in such areas as education, science, sports and culture. At present, educational institutions where people with disabilities study are exempted from income tax in 2019.”

Day 2 focused on education. Setting the stage for discussion, Naveed Naqvi, World Bank Country Manager for Azerbaijan, stressed that the people of Azerbaijan were the country’s only true resource and for them to fully utilize their potential, increased investment in education and skills was needed.

Jeyhun Bayramov, Minister of Education of Azerbaijan, confirmed this in his opening remarks, stating,  “Our world requires well-educated, skills-equipped graduates from our schools who will shape our today and tomorrow. And achieving this is a shared responsibility of education, business and government leaders.”The topic was further elaborated in the WB presentation on the 2018 World Development Report: Learning to Recognize Education’s Promise.

In the discussion following the presentations, Jeyhun Bayramov was joined by William Gill, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires; Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Country Coordinator; Fariz Ismailzade, Vice Rector of ADA, Maleyka Abbaszadeh (mentioned above), and Cem Mete, Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice Manager, Europe & Central Asia, World Bank, as panelists. Participants debated measures to ensure that schooling and learning went hand in hand, how to act on evidence to maximize learning outcomes, and how to align various actors in the system to make it work for learning. Mrs. Abbaszadeh said, “It is necessary to change the nature of education to make it career-oriented.”

A presentation on the changing nature of wealth and a discussion centered around The Human Capital Index and Human Capital Project set the agenda for Day 3. Panelists for the latter included Vusal Gasimli, Head of the Center for Analysis and Communication of Economic Reforms, Hijran Huseynova, Chairperson of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs, Zakiya Mustafayeva, Head of Apparatus, Ministry of Health, Zaur Aliyev, State Agency for Mandatory Health Insurance, Dr. Hande Harmanci, WHO Representative, Garay Garaybayli, Rector of Azerbaijan Medical University, and Ghulam M. Isaczai, UN Resident Coordinator.

Issues for discussion included: Why should countries invest in human capital? Can early health care and education prepare children to succeed and prosper as adults in a rapidly changing world? What are the barriers to nurturing human capital and how can countries overcome them?

Additional forum sessions included the World Bank’s analytical work on employment, higher education, health financing, and early childhood development in Azerbaijan.

Finally, at the end of the three-day forum, the main presentations, key messages and recommendations from the event were presented at the National Parliament of Azerbaijan (Milli Mejlis). Mr. Ziyad Samadzade, Chairman of the Economic Policy Committee, led an engaging discussion on the state of human development in Azerbaijan and ways to accelerate the transformation of Azerbaijan’s oil wealth into human capital.

Communications

Extensive communication, both before and during the event, helped achieve broader public conversation around the themes of the Forum. A dedicated event webpage detailed the agenda and included links to key World Bank publications and the Human Capital Project page. One-to-one meetings with key government officials ensured their participation and contribution. The event had impressive media coverage. In the run-up to the event, World Bank officials gave numerous media interviews to promote interest in it. During the Forum, presenters and experts talked extensively to the media.

What next?

One of the main conclusions of the 3-day event was that Azerbaijan needs to invest more and better to harness the potential of its human capital, and that its current human capital index is not commensurate with its income level. “With the confluence of rapid technical change and globalization and the need to engage in the global knowledge economy, Azerbaijan’s investments in human capital will be key to its ability to collaborate and compete with other nations,” said Lire Ersado, Program Leader, World Bank.

By championing human capital formation through a whole-of-government approach, Azerbaijan can prepare its citizens for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. With this in mind, the WBG is making a strategic shift to focus its support more on human development in Azerbaijan.

World Bank

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Eastern Europe

Rebuilding of Karabakh: Results of 2021

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Image source: azerfocus.com

The restoration work in Karabakh entered the active phase in 2021 as several projects had been completed and the foundations for new ones were laid down. The restoration process in Karabakh started right after the November 10th declaration that ended the 44-Day War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the war, Azerbaijan liberated its territories that constituted about 20% of the total territory of Azerbaijan and were occupied by Armenian forces in the early 90s.

During the occupation, about thirty years, Karabakh was subject to ruthless destruction and looting by the occupants. As a result, most of the social infrastructure, including residential buildings, schools, and hospitals, were totally destroyed, and most parts of the occupied territories were left empty. Despite the fact that the total destruction in Karabakh makes the restoration process complex and time-consuming, Azerbaijan immediately started the restoration process. For this purpose, the plan for socio-economic development of the liberated territories was prepared, and for the implementation of this plan, “Coordination Headquarters” and 17 working groups on different areas were established. In 2021, $2.2 billion was allocated from the state budget for the restoration process. The same amount of funds is planned to be directed to the restoration process in 2022 as well. The allocation of the necessary financial resources and the establishment of the state bodies for the efficient organization of the recovery process led to the rapid implementation of projects in 2021.

The most notable project that was almost completed in 2021 was the Fuzuli International Airport. The inauguration of the airport took place in Azerbaijan’s liberated city of Fuzuli in Karabakh on October 26. It was the first airport built by Azerbaijan in the liberated areas, and its construction took only eight months. It was built in accordance with the highest international standards, which enables it to accommodate any type of aircraft. A runway with a length of 3000 meters and a width of 60 meters has been put into operation at the airport. The first test flight to Fuzuli International Airport was performed on September 5, 2021, when the largest passenger aircraft of Azerbaijan Airlines, named Karabakh, landed at the airport. Because of its location, the new airport is considered as an “air gate of Karabakh”. Along with Fuzuli airport, the foundations of the other two airports in Lachin and Zangilan districts were also laid down in 2021.

The year 2021 was also marked by the establishment of the Horadiz-Jabrayil-Zangilan-Agband highway. The foundation of this road was laid on October 26, with the participation of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey. With a length of 124 km, it is part of the Zangezur Corridor, the establishment of which was envisioned in the November 10 declaration. The Zangezur Corridor is a very important project that is going to change the transportation architecture of the South Caucasus and its neighborhood. Its proximity to the Karabakh and connection to the main roads in the region will accelerate the restoration and development of the Karabakh.

Within the framework of the restoration process, another important event in 2021 was the foundation of the first “smart village” in Agali village in the Zangilan district on April 26. As of October, the construction work on more than 110 hectares in Agali village was underway. It includes the construction of 200 ecological houses, 4 non-residential buildings, a smart school for about 360 students, and a kindergarten for 60 children. Work on establishing smart agricultural infrastructure on approximately 600 hectares of land is also ongoing. According to the restoration program, it is planned to re-establish cities and villages in the liberated territories based on the “smart city” and “smart village” concepts. Thus, after the Agali village, this concept will be implemented in other areas of Karabakh.

In 2021, the highway that connects the Fuzuli and Shusha cities was also opened. As this highway passes through the territory that was used to liberate Shusha city, it has a symbolic meaning for Azerbaijan, and therefore it is named “The Road to Victory.” The Fuzuli-Shusha highway is part of the Ahmadbeyli-Fuzuli-Shusha highway, one of the main highways in Karabakh. It is 101.5 km in length and reduces the distance from the capital Baku to Shusha to about 363 km. The foundation of another important transport project, the Horadiz–Agband railway, was also laid in 2021 and its construction continues. This railway is 100 kilometers long and has strategic importance as it will connect the mainland of Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan’s landlocked exclave, through the Zangezur corridor.

Along with the mentioned roads, the opening ceremony of the 28-kilometer highway that connects the city of Tartar with the villages of Sugovushan and Talish took place in 2021. The length of this road is 28 kilometers, and as planned, the extension of this project will include 22 kilometers of highway from Talish to Naftalan. Construction and planning work on various transportation projects such as the Barda–Aghdam railroad, the Fuzuli-Shusa railway, and the Toganal-Kalbacar highway were also continued.

Comprehensive works in the energy sector were also carried out within the framework of the restoration program, based on the strategy for transforming the liberated territories into “green energy” zones and connecting the energy infrastructure in those territories to Azerbaijan’s general energy system. In 2021, with a total capacity of 20 megawatts, “Gulabird”, “Sugovushan-1” and “Sugovushan-2” small hydroelectric power stations (HPS) were reconstructed and put into operation in the liberated territories. In total, nine digital substations were built in the Karabakh and East Zangezur regions. Simultaneously, in the Aghdam and Jabrail regions, the construction of “Aghdam-1,” “Aghdam-2,” and “Jabrayil” substations as well as the Karabakh Regional Digital Management Center has been completed.

The other important project in the energy sector was the foundation of the Digital Station Management Center in Fuzuli. This project, implemented for the first time in the South Caucasus, allows through automation to reduce the impact of the human factor on the operation of the network, increase reliability and reduce losses during the transmission of electricity. All these projects in the energy sector serve to maintain the energy security in liberated territories and to transform these territories into “green energy” zone.

All the mentioned projects show that Azerbaijan has actively worked for rebuilding Karabakh in 2021. It will enable Azerbaijan to fully integrate the Karabakh economy into the Azerbaijan economy and to use its economic potential in upcoming years. As the liberated territories have great potential in sectors such as agriculture and energy, it will also positively affect the development of the non-oil sector in Azerbaijan. Implementation of all projects that were started in 2021 will not only contribute to the economic development of Azerbaijan, but will also transport Azerbaijan and Karabakh to the transport and economic center of the region.

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Eastern Europe

No borders to struggle against COVİD-19: Solidarity of humanity can help the situation

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Just as COVID-19 does not recognize borders, it is necessary to build the struggle against it on the basis of organization, solidarity, mutual assistance, the use of positive experience, and it should not recognize borders.

2021 was a year of continued struggle against the pandemic and of the emergence of new variants of the virus. The South Caucasus also was not away from COVID-19 and its variants. Azerbaijan continued its effective fight against COVID-19, making the most of the lessons of previous years and the opportunities for rapid response. The vaccination campaign, which was conducted as well as in highly developed countries, is a real sign of performance in this sector. During the year Azerbaijan gave humanitarian and financial aid to more than 30 countries in order to fight the pandemic, made a voluntary financial contribution of 10 million US dollars to the World Health Organization and freely donated 150,000 doses of vaccine to four countries.

The newly appointed head of the EU delegation to Azerbaijan, Petr Michako, also stressed the high level of vaccination in Azerbaijan. The capital – Baku is working closely with The European Union in this direction. The European Union and the World Health Organization have supported the fight against COVID-19 in Azerbaijan with the necessary medical equipment. Medical personnel in Azerbaijan have been repeatedly provided with respirators, goggles, transparent masks and overalls for this purpose. All equipment sent for the safety of medical personnel fighting the virus on the front lines was tested for compliance with quality and safety standards. Kestutis Jankauskas, Head of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan, said that his organization, as a “Team Europe”, is helping to prevent, detect and combat the COVID-19 pandemic. “Healthcare workers are at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which increases their risk of contracting the virus,” he said. -They are our heroes and they need protection. “As part of the Team Europe initiative, the EU has launched an individual COVID-19 package with a budget of around € 32 million to support urgent needs and socio-economic recovery.

In 2021, Azerbaijan achieved major progress in combating the pandemic and the global economic crisis and in mutual cooperation. As a chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan put forward an initiative to establish a UN High-Level Panel on global restoration after COVID-19. The member states of the Non-Aligned Movement took a unanimous decision to extend Azerbaijan’s chairmanship of the movement for another year, until the end of 2023.

Azerbaijan proposed a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement on equal and universal access to vaccines for all countries and the resolution was passed unanimously in March 2021. This resolution showed Azerbaijan’s stance on the increasing vaccine nationalism in the world and became an international success.

As a result of all measurements now the number of people receiving the second,third and further doses of the vaccine in Azerbaijan has exceeded 40 percent. Azerbaijan is one of the countries in the continent where the number of virus infections is rapidly declining. Azerbaijan is doing its best to observe this trend around the world. Solidarity can help the situation.

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Eastern Europe

2021: the year of political bankruptcy of Lithuanian government

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Ramūnas Karbauskis, Lithuanian businessman and politician, Chairman of the Farmers and Greens Union severely criticized  Lithuanian authorities’ actions.

The Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (Lithuanian: LVŽS) is a green-conservative and agrarian political party in Lithuania. Following the 2020 parliamentary election, the LVŽS has been in opposition to the Šimonytė Cabinet.

Ramūnas Karbauskis did not even try to find softer words to describe on Facebook the results of the past year. He noted that “2021 Lithuanians will remember as the year of bankruptcy of government, the reluctance and inability to speak, which caused and deepened health and illegal migration crises.” According to him, 2021 is marked as “a scaling and segregation of society, demolition of diplomatic roads, cutting not only with one of the biggest economies in the world – China, but even with allies and neighbors.”

He paid attention to the fact, that current negative economic tendencies were the direct results of shortsighted government actions.

To his mind, “2021 will also be remembered as the year of emptying the state budget, gold government purchases, including golden houses for illegal migrants. The government actively pushed the decriminalization of drugs, the measures to promote the trade of alcohol. He also said, that the end of the year was crowned by the Belarusian fertilizer transit scandal, but Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and Transport Minister Marius Skuodis responsible for it remained in their posts.

Thus, he is absolutely sure, that overall, this year has only strengthened the impression that “the government is not working for the Nation, not for its benefit.”

Ex-Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkas has also criticized the permission to open a Taiwanese representative office in Vilnius, saying that the conflict with China has led to huge loses. In his words, “that recognition should have, first, been done by the world, the major countries that have influence and their decision should provide results, not a small Lithuania.”

Today, when these loses have become more and more destructive for the Lithuanian economy, Ausrine Armonaite, the Economy and Innovation Minister says that “the European Union should be more united in its response to China’s pressure on Lithuania.” It turned out, that the mistake was made by Lithuania, but the EU for some reason should solve this problem. Once again Lithuanian authorities shift responsibility to others.

It seems as if Lithuanian officials have chosen the way of confrontation not only with China, but with neighbouring Russia and Belarus. Thus, they continue to increase defence budget of the country instead of allocating additional funds to economically fragile spheres. 2021 defence budget initially amounted to 1.028 billion euros. However, the government allocated additional 20.7 million euros during a budgetary review. 2022 defence budget will be increased to 1.298 billion euros.

The government has not learned how to place political accents correctly. Thus, the lack of coordination and common understanding in the ruling circles lead to political mistakes and the loss of the country’s image in the international arena. Lithuania’s behaviour has led to the shaping of ridiculous image as a country that takes on much more powers than it can afford.

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