Speeches & Statements

Meeting of President Saakashvili with The Parliamentary Majority

First of all, I would like to thank each of you for the good, businesslike, disciplined and well-organized work of the parliamentary majority and the Parliament. I am particularly grateful to the Speaker of the Parliament. Ms. Nino Burjanadze manages to be a worthy ambassador for Georgia in the international arena and at the same time responds in a timely and emphatic manner to the most pressing issues in domestic politics. We should appreciate this. I would like to give special thanks to the Heads of the Parliamentary factions, I mean the leader of the majority, as well as Beso Jugheli, Gogi Liparteliani and every MP who works well.

The first thing I want to say is that we are entering a very important phase. We have presented a package of laws that should make it easier to do business in Georgia. This is very important at a time when Georgia is faced with an embargo on its wine and agricultural products. Today, as never before, we need our government and business to work together as partners and friends in order to break this agricultural embargo, establish ourselves in new markets and realign our agricultural industry.

Marketing alone will not be enough for that. The principles of our agriculture will have to change completely. Productivity will have to double in the next few years. It means that we should step up the introduction of mechanized methods and the construction and restoration of irrigation systems. We should continue with the development of the banking sector, which is crucial to agriculture. We have already started supplying electricity to villages, which is very important. We should further develop our infrastructure and build new roads and transport routes. We should also fund the promotion of our products and our country as a whole.

Therefore, that is our common task. Every Member of Parliament, Minister and government official is our country's representative for these issues - not just political issues, but the sale of wine or, if you wish, the sale of herbs, or the issue of finding new markets. That is our common task, which we have to solve to disappoint the people who would like to ruin us. They will fail to ruin and destroy us. Georgia will grow as fast as it has done up until now.

Why have our friends in Ukraine been facing problems? Because there has effectively been zero growth there. In Russia, with all its oil and natural resource wealth, economic growth was just 6 per cent last year. Without oil, there would have been an 8 percent decline. These are not my figures, these are figures supplied by Russian government economists. Meanwhile, Georgia, which had to cope with embargoes and a doubling of gas prices - in previous years the oil pipeline accounted for all the growth, though not last year - managed to post almost 10 percent GDP growth - a figure established by the IMF. We will keep up this trend if we continue to utilize and develop our main resource, which is economic freedom.

I must also tell you that our other main resource is a government guided by principles. For the first time in the whole former Soviet area we have managed to create a core in Parliament that is free of various private interests, in the narrow sense of the word, or, to be more direct, free of business lobbying through the parliamentary rostrum and legislation, and free of corruption. Together with you, we have taken very difficult decisions in this area concerning members of the parliamentary majority as well as other MPs. It is also free of various clannish and organized crime interests.

Georgia's main asset today is that, unlike Romania, Bulgaria and all other former Soviet countries, we are destroying organized crime in Georgia. There are no more organized crime gangs in Georgia. Georgia is no longer ruled by crime bosses. Georgian business is no longer controlled by representatives of criminal structures. This has happened thanks to our decision not to allow them into government - we have not and will not do so in the future. That is a matter of principle. Notwithstanding any blackmail, pressure and criticism, organized crime gangs and special interest groups will not succeed in Georgian politics as long as we are consolidated and united. This is a matter of principle and you, the parliamentary majority, deserve all the credit for that.

Our people see very well that they have brought to the Parliament the very majority which consists of individuals of principle and which does not allow those people, who might give any suspicion, to be part of the majority. The Parliamentary majority is principled towards everyone and, what's most important, it is not afraid of anyone. No one needs a scared and shivering government.

At the same time, we want to engage in a very intensive dialogue with all political forces, a very intensive dialogue. We want dialogue, but not what some people are offering us. It is very important that the opposition carries out the function of, "government critic". I believe that the opposition's failure to carry out this function is a major problem for the government itself. Such a government runs the risk of relaxing and letting its guard down. In such situations some people are prone to impudence and letting things go to their heads, which is very bad for the government. If there is anything that can destroy the government, it will be such tendencies, providing they do emerge.

That is why it is so important for society that the opposition develops. There is no point arguing about it. It is very important that we observe the rules of the game and that we have an opposition ready to criticize everything we do. We have to accept that this criticism will often be undeserved. That is another great achievement of democracy. I want the opposition to criticize our health reforms, all aspects of our education reform, law-enforcement reform and defense reform. The opposition should argue with us over tax rules or any other policies. We believe that these are correct policies which have so far been successful, but they may think otherwise.

However, criticism is one thing, while calling someone scum, a murderer, a dimwit - their term, not mine - an uneducated person is another matter. I think your [Parliamentary] majority comprises the most educated group ever to have been formed in Georgia. This applies to the Georgian authorities, above all the Speaker of the Parliament and other leaders. But it is a matter of taste. I am not mentioning other things these people have stooped to. They can discuss these issues between themselves. If they want to appear ridiculous, they can also talk to the general audience. We are ready to deal with any kind of criticism on political issues. Everything else - we should rise above that and ignore it because it is a sign of immaturity, incompetence and weakness. The Georgian public is far too sensible not to realize that. I know for sure that it does because I travel a lot and meet many people every day.

In the past we said that our train was leaving the station. Some people boarded that train as a result of their work, while others clambered on to it without a ticket. Whoever wants to be on this train should be allowed to stay. We will even take those ticket-less passengers, so be it, because they are already there. But if someone wants to pull the emergency break handle and derail us, they will not be allowed to do so. There are basic rules of rail travel and basic rules of behavior on a train. If someone wants to make noise and keep passengers awake, that is their problem. We have strong nerves and will cope with that. However, this train will certainly reach its destination and we still have a fairly long way to go. This must be stated clearly.

Let me remind you what the final destination of our train is. These are not general words. The final destination of this train, which left Tbilisi station and on which we are all passengers, is the town of Sukhumi, the town of Gagra and the town of Leselidze on the Georgian border on the Psou [river on the Abkhaz section of the Georgian-Russian border]. Everyone pulling the emergency break handle is guided by other ambitions and interests. That is their problem. We will not allow them to do that.

At the same time I must tell you that we must continue work in all these areas. We still have to pass many laws against organized crime. Who would have believed that not only would we pass a law on crime bosses but that people would be arrested in Georgia merely for saying that they were crime bosses. We have created a great system. Very few countries have done such things. The Americans have done it and that is why they have defeated organized crime. The Italians have not been able to do it and nor have many countries in Eastern Europe, let alone Russia and other places where organized crime is often institutionalized. We said we would do it and we are.

However, there are still many laws to be adopted in this area. On the one hand, we should raise human rights standards. That is a matter of principle and we are doing this not for the sake of appeasing anyone, but because our society needs more humaneness and more protection of rights. Having one innocent person punished unfairly is a greater tragedy than setting free 10 people who are guilty. We should ensure that everyone who is guilty is punished in accordance with the law, but under no circumstances should innocent people suffer in any way. At the same time we should adopt a law (we have already finished working on it), based on which there will be zero tolerance towards any kind of petty crime. There are no longer organized criminal gangs in Georgia, but there are lots of pickpockets, robbers and others in the country. Their place is in the prison, and if we want to clean the country of them, we should act exactly this way. I absolutely believe that we will manage this.

Another matter of principle is reform of the justice system. In the past, I, together with my friends, Nino [Burjanadze] and several other people present here, started reforming the old system. At first, we had some success but then everything failed because the system was not fit for that. Now we are in a situation where, as far as the public is concerned, the judiciary is the most problematic sector in Georgia, while the prosecutor's office, the police, the state apparatus and the Defense Ministry are being reformed.

On the one hand, our main task is to increase the independence and quality of the courts. On the other hand, we are on a very long and difficult path, which we must walk together. We have therefore decided to set up a government commission to reform the justice system and the judiciary in Georgia. It will be headed by the Prime Minister.

We propose that representatives of every non-governmental organization and political party take part in the work of this commission. There are people who care about the country and will definitely take part in this work. Together, without any political bias or partisanship, we should look into how to transform the judiciary into a truly independent, strong and efficient system trusted by the people.

People's trust cannot be won through television or by casting spells. People either trust you or not. The police are trusted not because we are praising them but because they are effective. The prosecutor's office is trusted not because we have been saying publicly that we like it but because people have had consistently positive experiences when dealing with it. Mothers want their sons to join the army not because we are telling them on television that good food is served there but because their neighbors, friends and relatives who are there have written to them or called them to say that everything is all right, so they are now convinced that it is acceptable and good to send their children there. We should do the same in the judiciary.

During my recent visit to Rome we asked the European Union to get involved in this group and to assist us. We intend to draw up a whole series of measures. The first proposal is for the prosecutor-general to be withdrawn from the Justice Council so that the prosecutor-general and the Prosecutor-General's Office are not represented in the Justice Council. This should be done to distance the Prosecutor's Office and the judiciary from one another.

At the same time, no-one should entertain the illusion that we will put up with lawlessness and lack of accountability in the country. This is being done for the good of the public. Our task is to set up a system in Georgia that will be head and shoulders above those in many of our neighboring countries.

You might remember discussions over the abolishment of the licenses. Many people were saying that people would get poisoned in the restaurants. However, nothing similar has happened. The only outcome of this initiative is that the owners of the restaurant are not paying money/bribes to the sanitation, fire brigade or other agencies on daily, weekly or monthly basis.

When there had been discussions on the abolishment of the vehicle roadworthiness tests, people were daying that the number of road accidents would increase, but nothing similar has happened. The only outcome is that the majority of drivers are relieved from this tax.

The same thing can be said about the labor law - we are not affecting the rights of the pregnant and the vulnerable people. Georgia is neither France nor Norway and we need to get our people employed. If we want to have new jobs and opportunities we should not artificially constrain Georgian businesses. Many such things can't be regulated by law. Freedom first of all means that individuals feel free in their contractual relations.

We should adopt regulations that will transform Georgia into one of the most free and least corrupt countries. We are already one of the least corrupt countries, but we should become a country without institutionalized corruption in which even corruption mechanisms do not exist. That is our strength. On the one hand we are not allowing various oligarchic, mafia, criminal and other interests to come close to politics, but on the other hand we are in constant dialogue with business in order to ensure that business is free, well protected and capable of operating according to predictable rules of the game which have been established beforehand and cannot be easily changed by any president, tax authority, parliamentary committee or ministry.

That is why this spring we should make quick progress along the path of economic freedom while thinking together how to improve the justice system.

I must also tell you that we are expecting major investments in Georgia. Some people may not like this, but investments are already being made. A major privatization campaign is ahead of us. We are planning to build many hydroelectric power stations and many applications have already arrived. We are planning to step up the development of our ports and many applications have already arrived. We are planning to step up the development of the Chiatura [manganese] mines and there are many big players interested in this. Some of them are not that big. We are planning to develop and liberalize our banking sector and there are many people wishing to invest new capital in Georgia. That is our main resource, which we are utilizing. That is why it is now more important than ever that we continue passing laws in this area.

You know that the terms of local government bodies end in November. Some of us were elected to the [Tbilisi city] council [in June 2002] but we were not allowed to claim our seats until November. If they had allowed us to do it in June, the term would have been ending in June, but now it will be November. Roughly during that month, in or around that period, we should hold local elections in Georgia.

Some people have been running about and spreading rumors that the government is not planning to hold local elections. Sorry, but we are, because the development of local government is one of the cornerstones of our policy and our pledges to the people.

The Speaker of the Parliament took a very important decision to meet members of the [Central] Electoral Commission and invited all the interested parties to that meeting. We should finalize the electoral rolls for the local elections. There has already been a meeting. We do not want any questions to arise.

The transparency of procedures is absolutely essential to us. Why? Because we are strong. If we had not been strong, it would still have been essential because we are democrats. But we are both democrats and strong. Hence, we want transparent, democratic and open elections to prove once again that our people's choice is irreversible.

Speaking of other issues, our delegation has passed the test at NATO very well. The Individual Partnership Plan was endorsed and well received. It was probably one of the most successful ones among all candidate countries. It was said that Georgia had almost worked miracles over a six-month period, for example, in the defense sphere. We are entering a new phase of integration into this organization. This phase is the beginning of the irreversible process of our joining NATO at a later date.

I know that this also irritates certain people. The Georgian public supports this but many things happening around Georgia are indirectly linked with this issue. I want to say that our joining NATO is not aimed against anyone. It is a well-thought-out strategy and, I repeat, peaceful step towards making Georgia strong and settling the conflicts in Georgia by peaceful means. I consider that, in such situation, we should all together continue consultations and working.

I am very grateful to those MPs who are going abroad and are portraying Georgia as a dignified and effective country. I am especially grateful to those politicians who are visiting the Georgian regions and are promoting the development of agriculture. Yesterday we had a meeting with some MPs and the political leaders to discuss an agricultural project.

Now that we have resolved the problem of energy supply, started the development of infrastructure and, most importantly, established state institutions, the next important phase is modernization of agriculture and support for our citizens working in the agricultural sector. In order to ensure that they are not strangled by embargoes and that the feeling, which is being instilled through institutions controlled by some Russian representatives, that the country is doomed does not prevail. This is the beginning of a new major phase. This is the beginning of our ascendancy. We will learn to operate on new markets much better and more effectively. This is a phase the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe had to go through before becoming genuinely modern countries.

At the same time, we are ready to engage in constructive dialogue with Russia. [Agriculture Minister Mikheil] Svimonishvili has been to Moscow. We are ready to send the Prime Minister there at any time, so that we can identify and resolve these issues.

But we must understand that, of course, it was a political decision and we will do everything possible for Georgia to become a stronger state, politically and economically, as a result of all of this and to move forward.

That is our style of work. We had energy problems and we strengthened our energy sector. We have problems in agriculture. It will take time and tireless work but we will strengthen our agricultural sector. If we have problems with international organizations we will join even more international organizations and will continue with our very aggressive, in the right sense of the word, policy of establishing Georgia on the international arena. This is our country and our country's interests are above everything else for us.

These were the main things I wanted to tell you. There are several laws that need to be passed, such as the investment law, the tax code, the customs code and several laws concerning the criminal justice system. Once we pass them, we will be able to say proudly that we are the most reformist parliament in the parliamentary history of all the former Soviet countries, including the Baltic countries. We are familiar with the experience of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. People who did such things there lasted for no longer than a year. We have been consistently pursuing reforms for two years now and we will continue for another two years.

How many times have they said that the parliamentary majority will disintegrate? You remember, a year ago, one and a half years ago? Five more people have broken away, then seven more. When will the parliamentary majority finally disintegrate? We have not obliged. That is because united we are strong, because our train is heading for Sukhumi. If anyone wants to get off at Kaspi [town west of Tbilisi], they can do so. I have nothing against Kaspi or its people. But if, once we reach Sukhumi, someone chooses to continue their journey all the way to Moscow, may God help them. We would support that too. But they should let us continue our journey.

Part of this translation is published with permission from BBC Monitoring, Reading UK

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of the President of Georgia

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