Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Empowering municipalities in Azerbaijan - Part one

CI’s Rosa Vercoe writes about the European Commission (EC)-funded project, Empowering municipalities to better serve their constituents in relation to social and environmental rights that have started in Azerbaijan.

[Pictured here on the left in a school with an oven heating system]

Part one
'Let’s start the story with the fact that I love Azerbaijan and its people. Whenever I land at Baku airport I feel as if I am back home again. Every time I visit this country for the project, I am met and greeted at the airport by our member organisation director, a very courteous and charismatic person with a great sense of humour and creative way of thinking, whose favourite expression is ‘No problem, it will be done’”. His name is Eyub Husseynov and CI has been working with Eyub and his team on EC project implementation since 2006.

For those who might not know much about Azerbaijan some information:

Some statistics first:
  • Total population - 8,730.000
  • In the capital Baku there is about 2 million people
  • Urban population - 51,8%

Azerbaijan is the largest of the three countries in the South Caucasus, followed by Georgia and then Armenia, and is a predominantly Muslim country. Thanks to its key strategic position in the Caucasus and sharing borders with the countries like Russia, Iran, Turkey, Armenia and Georgia, Azerbaijan is able to put its weight in foreign relations. Abundance of oil and gas resources, setting up the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and gas pipeline to Turkey bypassing Russia is also an important factor in making the country a really strong player on the regional and international geopolitical scene. Azerbaijan has also benefited a lot from foreign investors with the BP as the country’s biggest investor.

The country is a member of the European Neighbourhood Programme (ENP) and is engaged in a range of the agreements with the European Union (EU) in terms of the economic, cultural and educational cooperation.

Evidence of the EU presence and a substantial financial assistance to the country for its further development, and socio-economic and legal approximation to the EU, was quite obvious during the EC kick-off meeting in January in Baku, which I was lucky to attend.

The conference signalled the launch of the 12 new EU projects run under two thematic programmes, ‘Non-State Actors and Local Authorities in Development’ (3 projects) and ‘’European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights’’ (9 projects).

Our project Empowering municipalities to better serve their constituents in relation to social and environmental rights is aiming to build capacity of the local municipalities in Mugan area, to make local citizens, consumers make aware of their responsibilities and rights as consumers as well as the municipalities’ responsibilities and rights.

The current problem is such that even the municipalities themselves are struggling to understand what their rights and responsibilities are, how can they work for the benefits of the population they are supposed to serve, what their terms of reference are, what they can and cannot do within the existing legislative framework of the country.

The project is accommodating a comparative research paper on the municipalities’ legislation with the objective of compiling some constructive recommendations on its improvement for the consumers’ benefits and a fair clear-cut balance of a decision-making authority between the local municipalities and executives.

One of the Project’s highlights was a study tour of the ICU team to Turkey with the purpose of sharing a good experience in running municipalities in a more advanced neighbouring country.

The Project envisages conducting a series of workshops and trainings on mediation and consumer rights, municipalities’ rights and responsibilities, fundraising and financial management training for the municipalities. The Project has also a component on consumer education provided by means of several publications on the subject, workshops and setting up Young Consumer Clubs as part of the extracurricular activities for the schools in the villages of Mugan. This is supposed to help the consumers to realise their rights as consumers within the existing legal framework. It is necessary to mention that part of the problem is that people do not have a sufficient access to the information.'

To be continued… more about the project in part two.

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