BAKU, Dec. 2 (The Conway Bulletin) — Appearing to admit that the economy is in a worse state than it had previously imagined, Azerbaijan’s government appealed directly to people to spend less and save more.
The plea, made by the Deputy Speaker of parliament Bahar Muradova during a debate on the state budget, triggered derision and scorn from an increasingly frustrated public who have seen their political leaders slapped in the face time after time by worsening economic news.
Last month the government finally admitted what international economists have been saying throughout the year — that the Azerbaijani economy will shrink by around 3% this year. This readjustment was set against the soundtrack of the manat continuing to lose value against the US dollar, it is down around 18% since June, a shortage of US dollars in banks and tightening currency controls.
And now Ms Muradova’s plea for frugality.
“The fall of oil prices in the world market and a devaluation of the manat requires people to go into saving mode,” media quoted her as saying.
“People need to get used to poverty and people must keep their expectations towards the government realistic by considering that 2017 will be more difficult.”
A Conway Bulletin reporter said that people in Baku and across the rest of Azerbaijan were becoming angry and frustrated. Thirteen smaller banks have closed in 2016 and official data showed that unemployment had increased by 21% from 2015.
Arif Bayramov, a resident of Azerbaijan’s second city Ganja said that he simply can’t find a job.
“I’m one of dozens who can’t find a job,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what MPs say, we have to get used to saving for years.”
In Baku Hamza Aliyev, 51, said that corruption was still dragging the country down.
“At present, the national currency loses value every day, prices are rising day after day and, put simply, bribery and corruption do not create new jobs,” he said.
Earlier this year a series of unprecedented protests swept across regional cities in Azerbaijan. Under police pressure these died away almost as quickly as they broke out but the leaderless nature of the protests worried Azerbaijani officials. The economy is now in a worse state than it was at the start of the year.
Hayat, a student in Baku, summed up the frustration. He said the government should drop its prestige projects and instead spend money on improving the lives of ordinary people.
“They did not save the oil revenues. Currently, the government continues to hold populist events and spend billions of dollars on them,” she said. “Formula 1 and the Islamic Games are planned but people are told to save instead of cancelling these events.”
>>This story was first published in issue 308 of the weekly Conway Bulletin newspaper, the best independent news product for Central Asia and the South Caucasus.