Government Experience in Action : Azerbaijan's Agile response to COVID-19
In this series I will feature governments that are taking the concept of GX to the next level, in the hope that others will follow their lead and become champions of change as well. My first in-depth look is at the Republic of Azerbaijan, which participated in the inaugural Government Services Forum held at the World Government Summit in Dubai in 2019. This article focuses on some of the strategic and tactical choices Azerbaijan Governments Services delivery unit, ASAN, made when COVID-19 was detected in the country and how leadership, technology and excellence to service delivery led to a successful pandemic control in the country.
By their very nature, government organizations are highly adverse to risk. A strict system of checks and balances, protocols and hierarchy makes moving too far in any one direction, quickly, a difficult endeavour. Therefore it makes complete sense that government has been one of the slowest moving sectors within digital transformation. The emerging field of Government Experience (GX), however, is poised to flip this old way of government innovation on its head.
As we’ve witnessed recently, Azerbaijan’s agile response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely effective. They have outperformed, and out maneuvered, some of the largest, best-funded governments on the planet.
The Azerbaijani Government, under instructions of its President, was able to implement several crucial measures for combating the pandemic quickly and, more importantly, effectively. This included national as well as international support.
“The humanitarian support Azerbaijan has provided already covers 14 countries,” stated President Ilham Aliyev. “It included financial support and support in the form of equipment and medical supplies. In addition, through the World Health Organization, we will support 15 most needy countries. Combined, during this period, Azerbaijan will have provided support to nearly 30 countries. This is a manifestation of our national commitment to supporting our global community – we believe countries and people should support each other in this difficult time, and we want to set that pace.”
Azerbaijan has allocated $10 million to WHO to support international efforts in the fight against COVID-19. At the same time, Azerbaijan has so far provided humanitarian assistance to 29 countries.
“President Ilham Aliyev and the Republic of Azerbaijan recently hosted a regional gathering, whereby countries in the region came together to fight COVID-19,” said World Health Organization Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “I have seen strong commitments from the president, and the Government is working with neighbouring countries to forge a united regional response against the pandemic. Azerbaijan has contributed to the global response financially, and through other means, and I would like to use this opportunity to express my respect and appreciation for that leadership.”
The Republic of Azerbaijan, under the leadership of President Aliyev, took swift action in the implementation of several key initiatives to help support citizens. Highlights include:
#1. COVID-19 RESPONSE FUND
The Government of Azerbaijan has established a special response fund. Over $65 million have been dedicated for research in the medical field, and for establishing medical institutions and other related measures.
#2. HOSPITAL UPGRADES
More than 20 hospitals have been upgraded and equipped for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Furthermore, six new modular hospitals, with all the necessary equipment, have been opened. Four others will be opened in a short time. There are more than 20 labs dedicated to COVID-19 tests in Azerbaijan.
#3. HOSPITALIZATION OF ALL COVID-19 POSITIVE PATIENTS
Another crucial means of grappling with this disease is the hospitalization of all the COVID-19 patients in Azerbaijan. After testing positive, citizens are taken to special hospitals; COVID-19 patients in Azerbaijan are not treated at home. This is a fundamental reason for the low death rates from COVID-19 in Azerbaijan.
#4. EVACUATION FROM OTHER COUNTRIES
A special portal, www.evegedirem.info , has been launched to manage the Government-financed evacuation of Azerbaijani citizens from foreign countries.
#5. SOCIAL SUPPORT
Azerbaijan provides social support to those who have lost their jobs. 600,000 unemployed and those belonging to the low-income category have received financial support from the Government.
The Government pays a significant part of the salaries for nearly 690,000 people working in the private sector that have been affected by the pandemic. The salary of each of the 900,000 people working in the public sector is paid. Azerbaijan has allocated more than $2 billion for these measures.
Azerbaijan exhibited sound public administration, especially effective public service delivery during this tough period.
“During the pandemic we all witnessed the necessity of sound public administration, especially transparent, accessible and responsible public service delivery. Thus, in emergency cases, such as fight against COVID-19, provision of unhindered and unimpeded access to public services becomes exceptionally vital.” said Ulvi Mehdiyev, Chairman of the State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
ASAN SERVICE CENTERS
Access to public services in Azerbaijan has been ensured through the ASAN Service centers. ASAN Service was established upon the initiative of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan back in 2012 as an integral part of the reforms in the sphere of public administration. It is the Azerbaijani model for rendering public and private services from one-single space. ASAN Service has been in the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 with smart solutions and innovations.
During periods of special quarantine, ASAN Service deploys a special electronic permission system for individual citizens and organizations. The system operates in two different versions. The first version, a Short Message Service (SMS) permission system, was launched to help regulate individual citizens’ movement – when they left their homes out of necessity. The second version, www.icaze.e-gov.az , is a permission system for workers whose organizations function during special quarantine regimes.
It has received positive feedback of the public in Azerbaijan and beyond. The system has been approved and researched by a number of countries including Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan and Belarus, including Astana Hub.
“The coordination of an international effort against the COVID-19 pandemic under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev has made a deep impression on me,” stated Masatsugu Asakawa, President of Asian Development Bank. “Azerbaijan has provided the World Health Organization with a total of $10 million for the COVID-19 fund, in addition to donations to needy member countries, including the People's Republic of China, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and a contribution to the 13th Asian Development Fund. Azerbaijan has also taken exemplary preventive measures against the pandemic for its own citizens, which is highlighted by a low mortality rate and low infection rate despite a high number of tests conducted.”
ASAN Service centers were open throughout the pandemic for the most needed services. Citizens wishing to benefit from the services in ASAN Service centers, had to register for an online queue via the website, a special mobile app or the call center. This enabled Azerbaijan to manage the number of citizens served per day and control distances as well as hygiene standards.
In addition to the measures outlined above, in February Azerbaijan created a Task Force under the Cabinet of Ministers for the implementation of preventive measures to combat COVID-19.
Furthermore, a call centre was created to operate as a means of information transmission. The Government also launched www.koronavirusinfo.az , as a secondary means of information distribution.
Additionally, the Government of Azerbaijan collaborated with other world leaders during this period, which helped accelerate these initiatives. Most recently, it held a ASAN Global Web Forum, titled “Governments’ Agile Response to COVID-19” which brought together more than 25 distinguished participants from 10 countries and 15 world-known international organizations and companies, including the World Economic Forum and UNDP, to discuss strategies and measures for battling the spread of COVID-19.