Local authorities shall be entitled, within national economic policy, to adequate financial resources of their own, of which they may dispose freely within the framework of their powers.
Article 9.1 of the Charter lays down the two fundamental principles as far as financial arrangements for the local self-government are concerned: municipalities should have their own financial resources and they should be free to decide how to spend these resources.
Financial autonomy of municipalities is a constitutional principle in Azerbaijan. Article 144(I) of the Constitution establishes that municipal councils can impose local taxes and levies, approve local budgets and possess, use and dispose of municipal property. More detailed rules on municipal finances are laid down in the Law on the Status of Municipalities (Articles 32-46) as well as in a triad of laws: the Law on the Transfer of Assets to Municipalities, the Law on Municipal Finance and the Law on Municipal Territory and Lands. The Law on the Transfer of Assets establishes standards for determining municipal property and transferring it to municipal ownership. The Law on Municipal Finance defines principles of local finance, the basis for the local budget and the division of powers between the municipal council and local executive bodies. This law also regulates legal issues concerning the adoption, implementation and monitoring of local budgets. The Law on Municipal Territory and Lands impacts on the municipal revenues but as the issue of municipal demarcation is not entirely completed so far, it results in further diminishing the municipal own resources. A number of other laws are relevant, such as the Tax Code, the Law on Budget System, the Law on Advertising and others.
The Azerbaijani budget system is divided in three levels, formally separated from one another: the central government budget (state budget), the budget of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and the local (municipal) budget. The share of municipal revenues amount to 0.15 percent of the consolidated state budget: 34.97 million AZN out of a state budget of 24.1 billion AZN in 2020. Therefore, while each level, including municipalities, has the right to determine income and expense in line with existing legislation and budget classification (Law on Budget System, Article 3), in practice taxing and spending autonomy for municipalities remains irrelevant, despite a slight increase in annual revenues of municipalities as compared to the last monitoring in 2012.
A chart on the annual budget of municipalities is available on the 41st page of the report.
The growth trend was initially much stronger as shown by the rate between 2012 and 2014 but has been severely slowed down by the devaluation that took place in 2015, which again penalized municipalities disproportionately as compared to other levels. Data for 2020 show that the annual budget for municipalities decreased due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The municipal budget is formed by three sources of income: tax income, non-tax income and state transfers, in form of dotation or subvention. Projects implemented by municipalities on behalf of the government or submitted by municipalities to the approval of the government can be funded by the state on top of the ordinary budget.
According to the Tax Code, municipal taxes are the following: 1) land taxes on private individuals;
2) property taxes on private individuals; 3) mining tax on construction materials of local importance; 4) taxes on the profits of municipally owned enterprises and other bodies. The non-tax incomes are those produced by levies that municipalities can impose: levy on posting of street advertisements in the municipal owned territories, buildings and other premises; levy on disposal and letting of the municipal property; levy on fixed and mobile commerce, public catering and other services in the territories under ownership of municipalities; levy on hotels, sanatoria and health resorts and persons providing tourist services in the territories under ownership of municipalities; levy on parked cars in parking lots owned by legal and physical persons in the municipal territories.
Additional transfers from the state budget in form of dotation (unconditional financial aid) and subvention (earmarked transfers) amount to 5.7 million AZN (4.7 million dotation, 1 million subventions) in 2019, which accounts for 0.02% of the total state budget expenditures. This is due to the 2014 amendments to the criteria for both unconditional and conditional financial aid in the Law on the Budget System, which now include the number of residents in the municipality, their fiscal capacity, the geographical location of municipalities, the living standards and the socio-economic projects being implemented in the area. Further amendments have facilitated subventions from the state budget to the municipalities for the implementation of projects in the fields of local social protection, environment and economic and social development programmes.
The slight growth of municipal tax incomes is mainly due to the changes introduced in 2014 to the tax base of property tax of individuals. Since then, the property tax is no longer collected on the inventory value of a house owned by individuals, but on the surface of estate property. This increased the taxation of property because the inventory value could be calculated only on houses and flats that had a registration certificate from the state, thus excluding a number of properties from taxation, especially in rural areas, which had no such certificate – in fact most of the revenue came from the biggest urban areas (Baku, Ganja, Sumgayit, Mingachevir and Shirvan) and very little from rural municipalities. According to information received by the delegation, the change is not yet entirely completed, but it has doubled the income from property taxes of individuals, from 3.7 million AZN in 2012 to 7.6 million AZN in 2019.
The positive effect of the new criteria for calculating the property tax was however negatively compensated by amendments introduced in the Tax Code in 2016 (Articles 206.1-1 and 206.3), which established that part of the revenues from the land tax of individuals be deducted from the state budget. This way, if farmlands owned by individuals are not used for their intended (agricultural) purpose, the taxes levied on those lands are directed to the state budget. The delegation was informed that this way municipal revenues decreased by 15.4% from 6.5 million AZN in 2012 to 5.5 million AZN in 2020.
As mentioned, there has been an overall increase of state transfers (dotation and subvention), to the municipalities, although this source also remains insufficient to cover the needs of municipalities. In 2019, for example, a total of 4.95 million AZN was subsidized to 1,606 municipalities operating in the country, which makes on average about 3,000 AZN per municipality. As to earmarked financial assistance, this has been provided over the last two years only. Until then, only the subsidy mechanism was used. By Decision of the Cabinet of Ministers of May 13, 2020, modular sewage treatment plants installed on the shores of the Caspian Sea on the balance of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources together with their property have been transferred to 5 municipalities: Buzovna, Binagadi, Bilgah, Pirshagi and Sumgayit. A limited liability company was established to manage the modular wastewater treatment plants and other assets. For this purpose, the mentioned municipalities were allocated 3.8 million AZN from the 2020 state budget in coordination with the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources and Azersu Open Joint-Stock Company.
The increase of state transfers, while positive in terms of amount of money managed by municipalities, has an adverse effect on their financial autonomy, as it makes municipalities financially even more dependent on the state budget. The dependence of the budget of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic on the state is much bigger, as state transfers amount to 75-80% of the budget. The share of local and regional budgets in state budget spending is around 2%.
A chart on the central government transfers to local and regional budgets is available on the 42nd page of the report.
The extremely low level of municipal revenues is insufficient to fulfil even the very limited tasks and functions entrusted to municipalities by legislation. The lack of funds prevents municipalities from improving their work in certain areas formally open for them, such as undertaking local public initiatives in education, healthcare and culture or the maintenance and development of sanitary facilities and more broadly socio- economic activities. Municipalities are heavily dependent on financial transfers from the state, and also are factually subordinated to the local executive authorities, which have much greater capacities in terms of personnel, finance and formal powers. In fact, local executive authorities rely on much stronger financial guarantees, including by the provision that reserves 50% of the collected tax income for the use of local executive authorities: in 2019, the total amount of such income received by local executive authorities was 28 million AZN.36 As confirmed by financial authorities, local executive authorities can simply apply to the state budget to cover their expenses should their resources not suffice. The same can in principle be done by municipalities too, but this is not frequently happening due to the political irrelevance of municipalities, which rather solicit local executive authorities to intervene with the government, as confirmed by local representatives.
A chart on the state subsidies to municipalities is available on the 43rd page of the report.
Financial dependence from the state is in sum the main weakness of Azerbaijani municipalities. Their financial autonomy provided by the law is not sufficient to safeguard their capability to carry out their functions, as their own resources are minimal and force them to either underperform or to rely disproportionately on state money. This is the main obstacle to their becoming properly involved in local administration in Azerbaijan. In the absence of sufficient revenues, they are not able to play a more significant role in local democracy. At the same time, as long as they are irrelevant in the overall governance of the country, the pressure to increase their financial dotation and autonomy will remain weak.
From the above, the rapporteurs conclude that the commitments established by Article 9.1 of the Charter are not met in Azerbaijan.
36 https://economy.gov.az/article/regionlarin-2019-2023-cu-illerde-sosial-iqtisadi-inkishafi-dovlet-proqraminin-icrasinin-birinci-ilinin- yekunlarina-hesr-olunan/30687