Thursday, January 20

Ah these numbers...
I don't know about you but when it comes to numbers, especially statistical stuff, I take it seriously. But there is one place, statistics if which I never trust- State Statistical Committee of Azerbaijan Republic (or alternatively any other data shared by the authorities or any of the official bodies- with very very very very few exceptions). Yesterday, I came across this article on Facebook, posted by a friend who captioned it "who are you fooling ha?". I went on to see what it was all about and what pissed off my friend so much. And guess what it was about? Numbers, but to be more precise indicators of the number of Azerbaijani women heading municipalities. Lyudmila Khalilova, chairwoman of an association "Women in the name of development of municipalities" claims in this article, that women head in total 301 municipalities across the country which according to Khalilova "testifies of high level of their competence, intellectuality and entrepreneurial spirit". 

Was this statement made in a country where there were real municipalities, doing real municipal work, having real people employed there, with real intellectual, competent, entrepreneurial spirit I would have never even thought of writing a post like this. But because we are actually talking about municipalities in Azerbaijan, that don't fit any of the above mentioned qualifications I really do agree with my friend's captioning- "who are you fooling ha?"

In all honesty and for those who don't know much about municipalities in Azerbaijan, here are few basic facts:

1. Municipalities were established in Azerbaijan in 1999 (not because Azerbaijani government wanted to  establish municipalities but because Council of Europe put forward a requirement calling on the authorities to establish municipalities). The law on Municipal Elections and the Law on the Status of Municipalities were adopted in the same year;

2. Municipalities in Azerbaijan are not independent. While in theory they should be in practice in Azerbaijan, municipalities are subordinates of a body called executive committee or as its widely known ex- coms. (Ex- coms are like regional KGB offices, headed by individuals who are appointed by the president himself and who are said to bribe their own ways to actually become heads of ex- coms). A report prepared by the EU Committee of the Regions (December 2010) says:
[...] limited number of responsibilities allocated to municipalities by the law. In practice their responsibilities are even more limited and at best are related to the maintenance of municipal roads, cemeteries, parks and some aspects of the delivery of social  care that are not covered by the central government. Municipalities in most cases do not have adequate capacity, training or knowledge to carry out those limited responsibilities prescribed by law.
Another report concludes [Freedom House]:
Municipalities are, on paper, independent of the executive committees or local bodies of state administrations. In practice, municipalities have been strongly subordinate to the executive [ex- coms] [...] Executive committees carry out most functions assigned to municipalities, such as community service prohects, renovations, citizen registration, social services, and so on; municipal authorities have minimal responsibilities in terms of addressing real socioeconomic problems. Generally, they tend to be responsible for issues such as rood construction and social assistance to low income households not benefiting from state social program.
Could someone please tell me where does entrepreneurial and intellectual women fit in this description? they use their competent skills to think of new ways to reconstruct new roads? Or entrepreneurial skills to find ways to help poor families (mind you they wouldn't anyway)?   

3. Municipalities in Azerbaijan don't have a separate budget designated for their spending, therefore as a local institution most of the times, these bodies fail in carrying out any substantial community based renovation work or any kind of work overall.  They maintain their existence through land tax (as their sole responsibility is sale, lending and purchasing of land) and state subsidies. 

4. Municipal councils are usually made out of 5 to 19 members who are elected for a 5- year term. Elected council members then chose their own Municipal leader and two assistants. 

In 2009, the number of municipalities went from 2,757 to 1,766. Maybe for Ms. Khalilova having 301 municipalities headed by women is a great development, but with this kind of poor and inefficient institutional capacity even if all women take over these already existing municipalities not much will change as long as municipalities are not given proper responsibilities; regarded as government institutions rather than NGOs and are provided with a budget that let these municipality workers do things like getting involved in various community projects, engage youth, have interactive seminars and workshops, and educate community. 

But no, instead, Khalilova continues:
[...] women justified the trust placed in them by the government and voters, serving to the development of democratic values, strengthening of state and government, as well as improving the general welfare
What trust? Which democratic values? What kind of improvement is she talking about? Do you even know what these words really mean? Because they are not just empty words!

Eh... Khalilova, who are you even talking to? Much of the world knows how things really are in Azerbaijan? Who is this fake data is for? Who are you trying to fool? Yourself?! Maybe thats what it is! Maybe, all of this, is part of constant self re-assurance. Continue re- assuring yourself Khalilova... It obviously helps you clinging to life...

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