Azerbaijan has established three new public funds aimed at helping the country rebuild and recover following last year’s war, Eurasianet reports. But widespread reports of citizens being forced to donate, and a lack of transparency about what is being done with the money, have troubled many Azerbaijanis.
Two of the funds, aimed at helping current and former soldiers, were announced on December 8, about a month after the ceasefire ending the war against the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and Armenia. The third, for reconstruction of the territories that Azerbaijan retook during that war, was introduced on January 4. But the rollout of the funds has been controversial.
There have been widespread reports on social media about Azerbaijanis who work for state companies being forced to contribute. “If those funds were completely voluntary, people would trust them,” Toghrul Valiyev, an economist, told Eurasianet. “But what does ‘voluntary’ mean in Azerbaijan? In Azerbaijan, voluntary often means compulsory. Unfortunately, this is the only way that government agencies work.” In a month and a half of operation, Yashat has collected more than 26 million manats ($15 million) and spent 1.2 million manats, most of that on “improving living conditions” for veterans and families of soldiers killed in the war.
The reports of forced donations come at a time when the government is being heavily criticized for its plans to construct a new 37-story headquarters for the central bank at a cost of $264 million. There have been similar reports about another of the new funds, the Azerbaijan Army Relief Fund, which is designed to support the military. (This fund, for reasons that have not been explained, was formed immediately following the dissolution of a similar fund, the Fund for Assistance to the Armed Forces, which had been created in 2002.
It now holds about $136 million in various currencies, with most of that rolled over from the previous fund.) Adding to the controversy is the fact that the operations of the funds are non-transparent. “Who can guarantee that officials who embezzle state funds will not also embezzle the money from this fund?” asked Akram Hasanov, a lawyer and financial analyst, in an interview with the Turan news agency.
“After all, we’re talking about the most corrupt spheres – construction, road construction, and so on – in every country, even the most developed ones.”