Mr. Philippe Le Houérou, World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia, recently completed a two-day visit to Azerbaijan. The aim of his visit was to familiarize himself with the World Bank’s activities in Azerbaijan and to discuss with the Government authorities recent economic and social developments, and seek their views on areas for further support.
“I am pleased to see that the World Bank’s engagement in Azerbaijan is greatly appreciated by all the people that we met. I was very impressed by the touching stories I heard from many beneficiaries from small rural communities about how their lives have been enriched and truly transformed after participating in the Bank’s community driven Azerbaijan Rural Investment Project, AzRIP ” said Mr. Le Houérou after his meeting with these beneficiaries. Under this project, critical rural infrastructure such as roads, water supply and irrigation systems have been rehabilitated in over 430 communities impacting well over 1 million poor people. Community leaders are provided with the skills to organize themselves, decide on the priority of their needs, supervise the rehabilitation works and mobilize contributions from the community to finance routine maintenance that ensures the sustainability of these investments.
Mr. Le Houérou’s visit started with a meeting with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. They discussed the Bank’s new Azerbaijan country partnership strategy which has a greater emphasis than before on analytical and knowledge services to complement the Bank’s policy dialogue and financing of investments. The President pointed out the progress that had been made in regional infrastructure linkages and its importance towards greater mutual dependence with its neighbors. Mr. Le Houérou reiterated the Bank’s commitment to work closely with the Government on accelerating project implementation. They both agreed that a second High Level Policy Forum would be held early next year that would examine ways to help diversify economic growth and propel Azerbaijan into the ranks of higher middle income countries.
In a meeting with Prime Minister Artur Rasi-zade, Mr. Le Houerou discussed the current state of the country's economy and prospects for deepening cooperation between the World Bank and Azerbaijan. Mr. Le Houérou thanked Prime Minister Rasi-zade for his personal interest in overseeing the successful implementation of Bank-financed projects.
Mr. Le Houérou also had meetings with the Ministers of Finance, Economic Development, the Chairman of the Central Bank, the Executive Director of the State Oil Fund and the Chairman of the State Securities Commission. During these meetings, they discussed a broad range of issues related to Azerbaijan’s development agenda and priorities, the World Bank’s current and future role in supporting this agenda, and specific measures to speed-up implementation of the existing portfolio and ensure visible development outcomes.
Mr. Le Houérou visited two government agencies that implement World Bank-supported projects. At the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, he was given a live demonstration of an information network that helps to manage business flows of the Ministry and administer the Targeted Social Assistance (TSA) program in real time. Mr. Le Houérou appreciated the impressive results of Azerbaijan’s TSA program in reducing poverty and protecting the most vulnerable groups of population, and he underlined the importance of modernizing labor market institutions and expanding employment services to facilitate the efficient integration of youth into the workforce.
Mr. Le Houérou went to the construction site of the new Yasamal courthouse where he was shown a new approach to court design and construction, introduced by the Bank-supported Judicial Modernization Project. He was also briefed about measures introduced to improve public confidence and credibility of the justice system, including a more objective selection process for appointing new judges, the modernization of notaries and registries, and the provision of better public information. Mr. Le Houérou congratulated Minister Mammadov and his team on the achievements made so far and he agreed that a modern and efficient justice system was crucial for creating an attractive investment climate and a just society.
During his visit the World Bank hosted a reception, attended by senior government officials, civil society and private sector representatives, and donors and the diplomatic community, where the outgoing Country Manger, Mr. Gregory Jedrzejczak was thanked for his outstanding service to the country and the new Country Manager, Mr. Joseph Owen was introduced and welcomed.
Mr. Le Houérou also met with representatives of Azerbaijan’s non-government organizations, the private sector and think tanks who shared with the World Bank Vice President their views regarding economic and social development in the country, and the opportunities and challenges facing the business community. There was general agreement among the participants that improvements to the business climate, including reducing trade impediments, enhancing competition and reducing rents were critical to sustaining a high level of growth and stimulating investments in the non-oil sector.
Mr. Le Houérou concluded his visit by saying: “Growth during the past few years has been substantial and infrastructure development and social progress are clearly visible in Azerbaijan. However moving up the ranks of the middle income countries at the same pace will require advancing further reforms in order to make the country attractive for foreign and domestic investors, which would include measures to improve the quality of tertiary education, governance and the business environment. The World Bank stands ready to assist and support the government in this process.”