The Broken Promises of ICT Strategies: Azerbaijan

In the field of development, there is a notion that with greater transparency, the decline of corruption soon follows. For developing countries, there is a new surge to commitment to e-strategies that promote ICT devlopment.  e-Government strategies are the most common type of e-strategies and many of these strategies focus on improving the effectiveness and transparency of public administration activities by making use of ICT in government-citizen relations.

Last week, President of Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev declared that the “fight against corruption and bribery should be even more serious“ in his country. He expanded on what role ICT can play in achieving this goal, by saying:

Over the past years Azerbaijan has attained a really great success in the ICT sector. This is in the business sphere and intellectual sector. All the same, this sphere which gives an impulse promotes innovations and transparency. We must widely use these opportunities. The number of e-services must grow, the work in this sphere must continue… Transparency must be ensured to maximum.

In the past decade, Azerbaijan has been going through the motions of ICT development and increased governmental transparency– a trend that is common for developing nations. The National Information and Communication Technologies Strategy for the Development of the Republic of Azerbaijan (2003-2012) lists the “establishment of environment to ensure the right of citizens and social institutions such as to obtain, disseminate and use information, which is an important factor for democratic development” as one of the strategies top goals. The strategy plan forecasts that as a result of the implementation,” transparency will be ensured in state administration and all citizens will get easy access to information. The country will be integrated into the international information society in accordance with the national interests.”

Azerbaijan has put on quite a show, with flashy, progressive ICT strategies to promote government transparency, and declarations to ensure open access to the Internet for all of its citizens.  However, the next step-the policy, the accountability, and the enforcement of such declarations- has not happened. Without actually enforcing systemic change in a corrupt government, shiny ICT strategies accomplish nothing.

What becomes to those who try to expose that the almost 10 year strategy for ICD development in Azerbaijan has done little to stop high level government corruption? Impresionment, fines, and even blackmail. Freedom House classifies Azerbaijan as a “Not Free” nation with the category of the internet deemed only “Partically Free”. Their Azerbaijan report states:

Internet-based reporting and social networking have increased significantly in recent years as a means of sidestepping government censorship and mobilizing protesters. The government has repeatedly blocked some websites featuring opposition views, and intimidated the online community through its harsh treatment of two bloggers who were jailed from 2009 to 2010 after satirizing the leadership. In 2011, the authorities monitored the internet use of protest leaders and proposed changing the criminal code to restrict internet access.

Below is a video of Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani journalist who after starting to investigate corruption at the level of the President,  found her home wired with video and audio recording by state agencies. Khadija was sent an envelope with pictures of her and her boyfriend having sex, warning her to call off her investigation.

ICT sector growth greatly depends on the reception of the public is serves. Distrust due to the political manipulation of ICT services among the public does little to cultivate an environment that will nurture ICT growth and success. Without enforceable policy that is not susceptible to corruption or misuse, the ICT strategies will serve little purpose but to make the country look good. Countries should draft policy that safeguards the users, even from the government to ensure privacy and security.

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