Overfunded MES fails to deliver (part 2)

Overfunded and overstaffed, the MES practices the “policy of negligence” toward Azerbaijani people. The ministry is not held to account for its spending patterns, experts note. The problem goes beyond the ministry into the very halls of the Azerbaijani executive power.

Lack of transparency in awarding tenders

The Ministry of Emergency Situations spent circa 20 million manats on tenders in the first half of 2015, according to tender.gov.az. Of that sum, about 6 million was spent on the Logistics Procurement Department, and one million was allocated to the Firefighting Department and the State Fire Control Services. The remaining amount was spent on construction and repair works as well as administrative expenses. The ministry provides very vague information on how much was spent on rescue teams as well as their equipment. The website does not provide any information on actual spending. Therefore, there is lack of transparency from the ministry regarding its spending.

Tender orders worth a total of 20,570,813 manats

Expenditures for the Technical Supply and Fire Protection Department

Material and Technical Supply Department – AZN 6,108,615

State Firefighting Department and the State Fire Control Services – AZN 1,387,756

Other expenses – AZN 13,074,441

After the fire incidents, an investigation team was supposed to probe the ministry’s capability to attend to emergency situations in an efficient and timely manner. For instance, in May 2015 there was a problem with pumping water to the upper floors of the building. Later on, officials provided an explanation by citing the lack of sufficient technical support. However, at the 2009 exhibition held for the president, the MES showcased technical equipment used to extinguish fires similar to the ones that occurred in 2015.

“The main issue here is accountability”

The ministry stated that they had not been able to put out the Guneshli fire due to harsh weather conditions. But some experts are not convinced. The root of the problem lies in lack of accountability, they say.

“What is the point in maintaining a body that costs four billion manats to the state budget (this is a conservative estimate as the Ministry is also receiving state investments on an annual basis), and yet is dependent on weather conditions?” economist Natig Jafarli wondered. “The lack of transparency has always been an issue in the work of the ministry. The main issue here is accountability, and it goes beyond economics into politics and poor management.”

“The spending must be transparent and accountable, otherwise problems are inevitable. For instance, in the neighboring Georgia, their ministry receives funds 10 times less than their Azerbaijani colleagues, and yet the efficiency in the face of emergencies is much higher over there. The reason is that the parliament and the public hold the Ministry of Emergency Situations accountable for their work,” Jafarli added.

The expert thinks the funds were poorly allocated and misused.

“The purposeful use of the allocated funds should be measured against pre-defined indicators. The Ministry of Emergency Situations does not even have those indicators. In the recent years, there have been a number of natural disasters that resulted in an unprecedented number of casualties, which shows once again the inefficiency of the ministry in question,” he added.

Another question pertains to the ministry’s efficiency or lack thereof. Did the MES follow all the necessary security precautions on the Guneshli platform? The ministry is in charge of ensuring compliance with fire safety standards. However, it appears that even basic safety rules were not respected in the case of Guneshli. How do other countries organize their civil defense systems?

Military expert Uzeyir Jafarov addressed these questions: “I wouldn’t be mistaken to say that one of the law enforcement agencies that needs to cut down on its expenses significantly is the Ministry of Emergency Situations. This agency is simply wasting significant portion of the allocated funds from the state budget for the defense and security measures. If we took away the unbelievably high wages of numerous generals of this ministry and reallocated those funds to the regions, it would enable us to finance a few remote districts on a monthly basis. Unfortunately, some officials were able to increase their staff and capacity early on, and thus made it appear as if the MES was a big deal. It is a pity; nothing has changed up to now.”

“Let’s look closely at what this Ministry is supposed to be doing,” Jafarov suggested. “For instance, it is a shame how their Special Risk Rescue Service handled the Guneshli fire. Honestly, I am not trying to cast a shadow over what the Ministry’s brave employees have done. However, it is enough to remember that instance when “too young to be a general” had a say on national television right after the tragedy and the whole time acted as if their incompetence was to be praised. This is enough of a proof that the Ministry simply wastes state budget funds.”

“Negligence and its indifference towards Azerbaijani people”

The military expert believes that this organization should be subject to budget cuts: “I cannot fathom how they can call a division that shows up at a tragedy site 10 hours later a special risk rescue service. However, the number of generals here is constantly increasing. The Ministry of Emergency Situations was established long after the Azerbaijan Republic gained its independence. Wasn’t our country functioning long before this Ministry was founded? Now this agency is wasting state budget money every year. Last year the head of the state signed a decree to decrease the staff of the Material Reserves Agency under the Ministry. I think this practice has to continue and extend to the whole ministry. We will save a lot of money by simply reducing the number of personnel. I strongly believe it is a must to reduce their costs. The numbers and the prices of the service vehicles of the senior officials of the Ministry’s central office as well as of the department and division heads cannot fail to astonish you.”

“Finally, I would even pin the responsibility of 15 lives lost during the fire in the Binagadi district on the shoulders of the Ministry. We have lost so many innocent lives due to the MES high-ranking officials’ incompetence and irresponsibility. By the way, the president’s order to remove dangerous covers from buildings in Ganja hasn’t been fulfilled yet. What is it about? Does the highly respected Minister Kamaladdin Heydarov’s personnel wait for another tragedy to occur in order to follow the instructions? In short, I just want to say that among all the post-Soviet countries, Azerbaijan is the only place where the Ministry of Emergency Situations’ capacity as well as the number of its staff is so exaggerated.”

National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF) Chairman Jamil Hasanli thinks that these tragedies need to be viewed in the context of the current political situation.

“It is now 2016. Tell me who was responsible for the May 19 tragedy? Everyone knows that “someone” couldn’t simply come and cover the buildings with low-quality materials. There are big powers behind this issue. These are corrupt and monopolistic circles. None of them were brought to justice. No one has ever reviewed the politics behind May 19. Then, the Guneshli tragedy occurred. There is no doubt that it was a natural disaster. However, the government must take measures in the face of natural disasters. How is it possible that nothing happened to any of the foreign workers who work at the Guneshli platform? It is only the Azerbaijanis who suffered. This is the result of the government’s inefficiency, negligence and its indifference towards Azerbaijani people.”

Questions to the Ministry of Emergency Situations

As we conducted the research, a few questions were addressed to the Ministry of Emergency Situations as well. However, the Ministry has not responded yet. We are publishing those questions as well. We are ready to republish in case if the Ministry addresses these questions:

  1. Aside from the funds allocated to eliminate results of the Zagatala-Balaken earthquake and Kur floods, where was the rest of the money spent? Was the process transparent?

  2. Were the funds allocated to the Ministry of Emergency Situations subject to audit by the state? If yes, what were the results?

  3. Do you report on progress of the work from the natural disaster regions to the parliament? If yes, were they satisfied (dates)?

  4. Has anyone at the Ministry been punished for not being able to perform duly?

  5. Does the Ministry disclose its plans in case of emergency to the public?

  6. Why doesn’t the MES follow Turkey’s example of dealing with natural disasters such as earthquakes?

  7. Has anyone been accountable for delays during the Guneshli tragedy and the May 19 fire?

  8. There were technical issues in dealing with the above-mentioned tragedies. What are the obstacles in obtaining necessary equipment?

  9. Has the General Prosecutor’s Office ever looked into the Ministry’s work during the natural disasters? Has the Ministry of Emergency Situations ever been subjected to such investigations?
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