A New Wave of Complaint is Maturing in Azerbaijan

11 m.   |  2021-07-13

A zerbaijan decided to move to a three-tier natural gas tariff system. As a result of that decision, almost half of the country’s population have to pay almost twice as much for the natural gas, which caused a serious complaint. The oppositional circles of the country try to use the social protest trying to unite people against the country. Azerbaijani community, however, currently expresses its complaint on social networks.

Change in natural gas tariff  

On June 30, Azerbaijani Tariff Council (Tarif Şurası), accepting the application of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), appealed to the Council to increase wholesale and retail prices for natural gas in the country. SOCAR’s proposal was based on the increase in the natural gas consumption, expansion of gas supply and an increase in the number of subscribers by about 18%. It was noted that the increase in tariff is necessary for raising the level of services, reducing the dependence on the state budget, as well as full costs for natural gas production and supply.

According to the decision made by the Tariff Council, the tariff for the part of the annual consumption of natural gas up to 1200 cubic meters, for consumers covering about 51% of the population (5 million people) has not changed (1 cubic meter is for 10 qepik). For the part of consumed gas with 1200-2500 cubic meters (including 2500 cubic meters) it is set at 20 qepik per 1 cubic meter, and for the part with more than 2500 cubic meters - 25 qepik. According to it, the group of Azerbaijani population, which before the decision paid 10 qepik for the consumption of 1200-2200 cubic meters, will pay twice as much (20 qepik). The decision came into force on July 1 and the population will consume the gas at the previous tariff until July 10. 

It’s noteworthy, that the Tariff Council didn’t approve SOCAR’s application-proposal of the same content 5 months ago, in January and considered it inexpedient, taking into account the ongoing social policy. The Council noted in the statement on the decision that the pandemic affects the world economy and international market, emphasizing as a comparison that in 2020, 1 cubic meters natural gas cost the population an average of 32 qepik in Ankara and 32,6 qepik in Kiev. It also emphasized that the new tariff is also lower compared to Georgia (19,7-29,5 qepik), Belarus (9,2-34,2 qepik) and Russia (11,9-16,5 qepik).

It should be noted that the last change in natural gas price in Azerbaijan was in April 2019, when 10 qepik gas tariff was raised from 1700 cubic meters to 2200 cubic meters. The country’s authorities interpreted it as a step taken by Ilham Aliev to improve the social condition of the underprivileged.

On the same day, the Tariff Council made a decision on the electricity tariff, according to day and night consumption. According to the decision, 7,3 qepik was set for 1 kWh of electricity consumed at 08:00-22:00 and 3,5 qepik for 1 kWh consumed at 22:00 – 08:00. Whereas previously, the price for up to 300 kWh electricity was set 7 qepik, and more than 300 kWh – 11 qepik. In January, the Tariff Council of Azerbaijan also increased the price for Аl-92 gasoline and diesel fuel as proposed by SOCAR, as well as  the drinking water tariff proposed by Azərsu OJSC (Azerwater).

Inflation will lead to further impoverishment of Azerbaijani population  

A ccording to Azerbaijani experts, the increase in electricity prices followed the increase in natural gas prices, as almost 80% of Azerbaijani power plants run on natural gas, and although the price for the gas supplied to these power plants increased by only 1 qepik, becoming from 12 to 13, it will still affect the pricing of production. It is emphasized that SOCAR’s proposal was announced in January and it was decided not to increase the gas price only to avoid the public discontent, as the population’s income didn’t increase within five months, the social situation wasn’t approved, therefore the inflation has no logical explanation now.

Experts stress, that even according to the official data, about 50% of the population will suffer from the increase in gas tariff and almost half of the population have to pay twice as much for gas. Moreover, in case of consuming more than 1200 cubic meters, it will be necessary to pay 200 manat (120-122$) for 1000 cubic meters, which isn’t very different from the gas price sold at the border with Azerbaijan. It is also noted in the comments that the share of utility costs in household budgets in Azerbaijan is already large, and that inflation will lead to further impoverishment of Azerbaijani population.

It is presumed that people living in villages will start returning to cheap alternative fuels such as wood, which can have a harmful effect on the environment. 

There is some concern about setting the electricity tariffs by the hour, that the state may simply deceive the people in calculating the hourly rate.

Contrary to the comparison of gas prices in Azerbaijan and in other countries presented by the Tariff Council, it is stressed that Azerbaijan is an oil-producing country, but the salaries in European countries and in Azerbaijan are incomparable. The BBC Azerbaijani Service, in its turn, presenting the gas tariffs in 5 countries with more than 1 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves according to the latest report of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (in case of consuming more than 2500 cubic meters gas, they should pay 25 qepik for 1 cubic meters of gas in Azerbaijan, 1 qepik in Turkmenistan, 4 qepik in Uzbekistan, 10 qepik in Kazakhstan and 13 qepik in Russia) and claim that Azerbaijan is a gas producing country and selling it to its population at the highest price in the post Soviet territory (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8).

The opposition criticizes that the government is cut off the people

T he oppositional circles in Azerbaijan criticized the decision made by the Tariff Council, trying to provoke public mood and cause a wave of discontent. There is an opportunity for the Popular Front Party and Musavat Party of Azerbaijan that didn’t criticize the government during the war and supported the state and the army, to update their permanent theses on the ruling dictatorial regime, corrupt officials and the government that oppresses the people under the social burden.

Chairman of the Popular Front Party Ali Karimli accused the government of being cut off from the people: “The increase in the price of gas and electricity by the Government of Ilham Aliyev demonstrated that he has totally cut ties with the people. He showed that the government cannot understand how poor people are in the face of the ongoing pandemic, massive unemployment, and is indifferent to the social difficulties faced by the people. Ilham Aliyev also admitted that state-owned companies are a nest of corruption. With today's decision, instead of cleaning up the nests of corruption, preventing the absorption of millions and billions by corruption, he completely imposed the costs of corrupt officials on the people. The reason why state-owned companies operate with damage is the theft of corrupt officials. Their greed will not diminish anyway and it turns out that this government is determined to load the costs of corrupt officials to the end,” Karimli noted in his first reaction on Facebook.

Head of the Musavat Party Arif Hajili noted that the goals of Ilham and Heydar Aliyevs are the same and now, as before, the whole idea is directed to the national treasures, the increase of the means collected in the state budget through robbing the people and finding even bigger theft routes from the state budget, improvement of known means. The opposition figure also emphasized that if in the past the dilettante fraudsters who couldn’t write their names and get fake diplomas from fake universities were involved in the case, now the professional fraudsters educated at Harvard and Oxford are engaged in it, who are more dangerous.

The leader of the Republican Alternative Party Ilgar Mammadov, in his turn, emphasized that in reality the tariffs are set on the day of the election, they are just announced later.

The leader of the National Council Jamil Hasanli and many other strongly criticized the activities of SOCAR. 

It was noted in the posts of the opposition that the regime is obviously oppressing the people abusing the liberation of part of their lands and the quarantine regime and until the people do not protest, the government thinks that it can go a little further. With this and other posts, they started a protest action on social networks with the hashtag #Etirazedirəm (#I protest), which was joined by a large number of Azeris on Facebook and Twitter.

“#I protest” action on the Azerbaijani domain of social networks

F ollowing the publication of the decision made by the Tariff Council on the increase of the domestic gas tariff, numerous posts with the hashtags #Etirazedirəm (#I protest) were spread on the Azerbaijani domain of Facebook and Twitter, criticizing the decision.

A thematic caricature by Azerbaijani cartoonist Gunduz Agayev was actively spread on social networks with a hashtag #I protest, in which the “iron fist” name given to the military operations of the Azerbaijani Army during the 44-day war in Artsakh by the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, this time has already been directed against Azerbaijani people turning into a “tariff fist”.

Caricature by Gunduz Agayev, source Azadlıq.org

“I suggest that “LIVE” (YAŞAT) foundation provide assistance not only to the families of ghazis and shahids, but also ordinary people, because with this increase in prices there will be a famine. Against inflation #I protest.

“Azerbaijan sells natural gas to its citizens for 25 qepik, Turkey and Georgia for 22-23 qepik and Iran for 6,5 qepik. Against inflation #I protest”.

The protest against inflation spread through such posts and though just #I protest hashtag against the decision of the Tariff Council, gradually turned into a wave of discontent against the Azerbaijani government. #I protest against the presidency of Ilham Aliyev, who is the cause of all the problems”, “#I protest against dictatorship in Azerbaijan”, “#I protest against rising prices, government incompetence, deceiving citizens, plundering the budget, richer “at the top” and poorer “at the bottom” and other issues of public concern were raised and are being raised in similar further posts, including the demand for the resignation of Ilham Aliyev.

Thus, the Azerbaijani authorities try to put the burden on the people to restore the empty state budget due to the huge expenses made during the 44-day Artsakh war, investment programs carried out in the occupied territories of Artsakh, corruption. To avoid a wave of large-scale social protests, the authorities are carrying out this policy gradually and are trying to avoid financially hurting the most vulnerable part of the population as much as possible.  However, the opposition circles of Azerbaijan, which are weak and divided, actually, try to use social discontent to mobilize people against the authorities, at least on the Internet, given the current restrictions on the ban on crowded protests due to the quarantine regime in the country. Thus, there is a strong dissatisfaction with the Aliyev’s regime in the Azerbaijani domain of social networks, which is deepening day by day in the society, gaining new layers, can cause serious problems for the country’s authorities, in case of forming a strong political mobilization center.