Over two months have passed since the deadly Guneshli fire. On December 4th, a fire broke out on one of the oil platforms operating at the Guneshli offshore field as a result of a strong storm. According to official information, 32 people were rescued during the incident, seven died, and 23 people went missing.
This was the second deadly fire accident in 2015.
Earlier in May 2015, 15 people died and over 60 got injured as a result of a fire at a Baku apartment complex. In both instances, the work of the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MES) became subject to discussions and widespread criticism. The Guneshli fire persisted for 40 days. Measures to stave off consequences of the December 4 accident were in place, according to the MES.
The ministry claimed that the “Vikhr-5” and “Vikhr-8” firefighting ships of the State Firefighting Services were operating nonstop and the relevant agencies were searching for missing people. However, it was also reported that at the end of the day, a professional from the United States was brought in to deal with the fire.
The Azerbaijani MES was established 10 years ago. Media outlets in Azerbaijan publish periodic reports about constant training programs aimed at building the ministry’s capacities. However, the last year’s incidents laid bare how little these training programs have accomplished thus far. The issue is not simply the work of rescuers but rather the overarching inefficiency of more complext rescue operations. To name just four major incidents in the last 6 years: the Kur flood, earthquake in Zagatala-Balakan region, the Baku apartment complex fire in May and the most recent Guneshli fire.
Suffice it to look at the numbers presented in this research to see the scandalious nature of the issue.
It begs the question: how much does it cost to maintain the Ministry of Emergency Situations?
The MES budget is based on various purposes. How much has been allocated to the ministry in the past eight years? The very first budget allocation to the MES upon its establishment was over 112 million manats.
In 2015, the ministry received over 175 million manats. Overall, in the past 8 years, over 2.39 billion manats have been allocated to the ministry from the state budget. Below is the chart with summarizing those allocations on a yearly base:
Millions allocated for natural disasters
The breakdown of the ministry’s annual budget clearly demonstrates that there are funds aimed specifically at tacking emergeny situations, such as natural disasters. In 2013, this number exceeded 140 million manats.
On May 7, 2012, in the north-western parts of the country, particularly Zagatala, Balaken and Gakh regions, residential social and infrustructural facilities were severely damaged as a result of an earthquake.
As per President Ilham Aliyev’s order, measures were taken to put together MES committees to assess and stem the damages as a result of the earthquake. According to
, pursuant to the presidential order, the Cabinet of Ministers initially allocated 20 million manats to deal with the earthquake aftermath on May 8, 2012. Later in the same year, 300 million manats from the state budget as well as an additional 100 million manats were allocated to minimize the effects of natural disasters.
The ministry used to be able to provide up to 10,000 families with shelters, food and other necessities in case of an emergency. However, these services are now history. Under the pretext of efficiency, the government chose some construction companies with ties to high-ranking officials bypassing tender procedures. In order to cut costs, they hired low-skilled workers to do the job. They hired people without signing labor contracts and paid them without proper paper work.
Needless to mention that the workers weren’t provided with housing and food duly either. Documentation on the construction is not transparent. In light of all these, incidents when workers commited suicide and protested were also recorded.
“During the Kur flood they simply overpriced each square meter of housing up to 600 manats or sometimes even more in order to steal money. This also becomes apparent when comparing housing rates in Baku offered by AZ Design Construction. This company offers to build apartments with build-in sewage system and heating systems for only 335 manats per square meter. It is noteworthy that apartments built by the Ministry of Emergency Situations did not come with built-in sewage or heating systems. The same scenario played out during the Kur floods as well. An official probe proved that the ministry dramatically increased the costs of its construction companies. However, the Cabinet of Ministers, Ministry of Finance, the Anti-Corruption Department under Prosecutor’s Office and the Anticorruption Commission of the Republic of Azerbaijan led by Ramiz Mehdiyev himself did not detect misappropriation of millions in funds.”
However, budget allocations for the MES increased 10 times in 2013 compared to the previous years and included aid to the above-mentioned region. In the past eight years, a whopping sum of 1.98 billion manats were allocated to the ministry to tackle consequences of natural disasters and other emergencies. Below is a table showing these fund allocations. (Source: budget.az)
In the spring of 2010, a number of trials took place between the ministry and community members during the Kur-Araz flood. Some of the cases have even escalated to the European court.
119 residents who were not included in the state program sued the ministry. As was reported
: “In 2010, over 420 million manats were allocated from the state budget to eliminate the consequences of Kur-Araz flood in the region. It was the Ministry of Emergency Situations’ responsibility to restore, re-construct and repair as well as pay financial compensation to the victims of the natural disaster. A number of cases with serious misappropriations due to the corruption, arbitrariness of officials and their discrimination were recorded. The “Kur” Civil Society leads the defense of the victims.”