Baku, November 5, 2014 – World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia Laura Tuck visited Azerbaijan on November 4-5. This was Ms. Tuck’s first visit to the country in her current capacity and an opportunity to discuss with government officials and other stakeholders a range of issues concerning the country’s development and the World Bank Group’s ongoing and future partnership with Azerbaijan.
During her visit, Ms. Tuck met with the President of Azerbaijan, the Prime Minister and other key government officials. She also met with representatives of the private sector and civil society, development partners, and media.
“In the past decade, Azerbaijan has achieved impressive results in reducing poverty and improving living standards of its citizens,” said Laura Tuck during her visit. “We value our long-term partnership, which aims to ensure that the growth is sustained and benefits all people in the country. In my meetings with the authorities of Azerbaijan, we discussed the priorities for our future partnership strategy to further upgrade infrastructure, increase access to quality public services, such as health, education and water and sanitation, support environmental cleanup, and improve business environment.”
During the meetings with both government and civil society stakeholders, Ms. Tuck discussed how Azerbaijan can find new drivers of growth and further diversify its national assets, such as infrastructure, institutions, and human capital. As the country aims to reduce its dependence on oil and gas revenues and become more resilient to volatility in commodity prices, diversification of assets becomes imperative. It was agreed that while Azerbaijan has made great advancement in modernizing its infrastructure, a lot remains to be done in the area of developing and strengthening its economic institutions, as well as investing in a healthy and skilled population.
Further improving the business climate was also identified as a priority area to ensure growth of small and medium-sized enterprises, which are critical for job creation. Azerbaijan is among the top 10 countries in the world that have improved the most on the Doing Business indicators this year, and its overall ranking on the ease of doing business advanced from 88 to 80.
“Azerbaijan has made good progress in improving the business climate, in particular in the areas of starting a business, registering property and paying taxes,” said Ms. Tuck. “However, there is a potential to further enhance and simplify legal and regulatory processes in such areas as trading across borders, getting access to electricity, getting credit, and obtaining construction permits, and we stand ready to continue supporting this important reform agenda.”
Ms. Tuck visited several projects supported by the World Bank, including the Integrated Solid Waste Management Project and the Judicial Modernization Project. She also visited the ASAN Center, Azerbaijan’s best practice one-stop-shop for public services to citizens and businesses, and discussed with the authorities how the Bank can help in sharing Azerbaijan’s successful experience with other countries.
The meeting with beneficiaries of the Azerbaijan Rural Investment Project (AzRIP) and the Minister of Agriculture of Azerbaijan marked the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the project. Representatives of rural communities shared the results of their small-scale community projects supported through AzRIP, including increased farm productivity, better village roads, and improved access to schools, healthcare and safe water. In particular, rehabilitation of farm-based irrigation systems has increased productivity by roughly 30 percent; improved village roads reduced travel time to schools and markets by 47 and 26 percent respectively; 150,000 rural residents now have access to safe water. Since inception, the project has provided support to 1,100 rural communities with about 3.5 million people.
“It’s inspiring to see how the project has not only helped to improve infrastructure, but also empowered rural communities to participate in making decisions and implementing projects that are important to their livelihoods,” said Laura Tuck.
The current World Bank investment portfolio in Azerbaijan includes 18 projects. Since joining the World Bank in 1992, commitments to the country have totaled over US$ 3 billion for 55 projects.