business bosses win right to
secrecy By Shahla
A new law that will surround
company ownership in secrecy has caused dismay in
Azerbaijan, with critics saying it contradicts
every principle of open government. Legislative
amendments passed by parliament on June 13 mean
that from now on, shareholders' identities and the
stakes they hold in companies will be kept
On the eve of the vote, the
REAL movement, which campaigns for openness and
democracy in Azerbaijan, organized a protest
outside parliament. Ilgar Mammadov, one of REAL's
co-founders, said the changes to the law reflected
a desire by officials to conceal their own stakes
in major companies.
"The global trend
towards increased openness worries top leaders in
Baku. In 2009, Panama made public all company ownership
data, and this resulted
in corruption scandals in Azerbaijan implicating
the president's family," Mammadov said. "They
therefore now want to make Azerbaijan itself into
something of an off-shore zone, thereby expanding
the scope for corruption."
Chobanoghlu, an investigative journalist with the
Azadliq newspaper who focuses on corruption
issues, said the law was changed after a series of
media investigations alleged links between members
of President Ilham Aliyev's family and large
businesses. He said the new law would stop many
investigative journalists from doing their job.
"This law ... is not for the benefit of
society. It will not bring us anything good. No
developing society would pass a law that limits
access to commercial information," he said.
IWPR tried to reach members of the
presidential administration for comment. Both
Elnur Aslanov, head of the department of political
analysis and information, and Ali Hasanov, head of
the public affairs and politics department in the
administration, declined to make any comment, and
no one else was available to speak.
Chingiz Genizade, who sits on parliament's
committee for legal policy, said the law had
nothing to do with the president's family or the
business interests of officials.
public knows everything about the president's
family. There is no need to conceal it," he said.
"This law was passed to offer entrepreneurs a
chance to build their businesses in safety. Of
course, it will slightly limit access to
information, but it will help businesses to
That did not convince
Khalid Shukurov, a member of the Azerbaijan
Lawyers Association, who described the law as "the
start of a dangerous new system".
moves this country from being an unofficial
authoritarian regime to being an official
totalitarian regime. The law does not serve
democracy at all; it limits the acquisition and
dissemination of information," he said.
United States Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton discussed governance and transparency
issues when she met civil society representatives
when she visited Azerbaijan in early June.
Fidan Najafova, deputy director of Open
Society Institute Azerbaijan and director of the
OSI's Transparency of Oil Revenues and Public
Finance programme, was among those invited to meet
Clinton. She said the main issue discussed at the
meeting was transparency of budget spending and
"This law goes against
the commitment to open governance. I am
disappointed by it," Najafova said. "It also
restricts journalists' access to commercial
information. From now on, journalists can be
charged just for using the names of shareholders
in their stories."
Azerbaijan is among 55
countries that have signed up to the Open
Government Partnership, joining last year. To
become a member of the partnership, states must
promise to open the work of government up to
scrutiny, and allow their citizens access to
Galib Abbaszade, coordinator
of the National Budget Group, a local NGO, said
the law ran directly counter to those principles,
since it would protect the privacy of businessmen
and block public oversight over the incomes of
elected and appointed officials and their
"All these factors contradict
the values of the Open Governance Partnership, and
may increase tensions in society because of the
unfair distribution of revenues," he said.
Abbaszade was one of a group of activists
and journalists who, on June 6, signed a statement
condemning the amendment.
public access to information about commercial
legal entities cannot be justified with the
public-interest argument. This level of secrecy
will cause mistrust and lack of confidence among
participants in what purports to be a free market
economy, and will probably increase organized
crime," the statement said.
parliament should repeal the amendments and
instead draft proposals for enhanced access to
Rashid Hajili, director of
the Media Rights Institute, said the law would
actually make it harder to do business in
"When businesses are deciding
whether to go into business with other companies,
they want to get as much information as possible,"
he explained. "The first thing they're interested
in is finding out who the owner is. Unfortunately,
now that this law has been passed, it will be
impossible to find that out."
argued that commercial litigation would also be
complicated by the new rules.
is accused of breaking the law, the case will not
be open to the public, as it will relate to
commercial information," he said. "The public will
have no right to follow the case in a transparent
Shahla Sultanova is a
freelance journalist in Azerbaijan.