New Georgian ministers "speak Russian too well"

Malkhaz Tsulukiani, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
New Georgian ministers "speak Russian too well"

Late at night, members of the Georgian parliament, pretty tired of the days-long debate, approved the new government of Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze. The parliament of Georgia has 150 deputies, of which 116 are members of the Georgian Dream ruling party. That is, the party of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili controls more than 3/4 of the list. Nevertheless, Mamuka Bakhtadze's Cabinet was approved by only 101 deputies against 12 who opposed it. Apparently, others simply decided to rest and not to wait, knowing that the resources of the ruling party are enough to express a vote of confidence in the new government. The opposition deliberated intensively on this issue, criticized Bakhtadze and his team, but could not influence the outcome.

Before the final approval of his Cabinet, Bakhtadze, who was nominated for this post last month, implemented a structural reform of the government. The number of ministerial portfolios has been reduced from 14 to 11. The Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons has been abolished and integrated into the ministries of regional development and infrastructure, internal affairs and health. The Ministry of Corrections came under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice, while the Ministry of Culture and Sport was merged with the Ministry of Education and Science. The "portfolio" of the state State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, which deals with the problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, was preserved.

The prime minister says that reducing the number of ministries is implementation of his long-standing idea of a "small government" - Georgia does not need a lot of overmanned ministries, their reduction will save budgetary funds. However, the opposition objected: "a small government", in the classical sense, means not a mechanical reduction in the number of ministries, but a minimization of the government's role in the economy, which cannot not be discussed yet.

There are only three unfamiliar faces in Bakhtadze's new-old government: Education Minister Mikheil Batiashvili, Minister of Finance Ivan Machavariani and Minister of Economics Georgy Kobulia. All other ministers, including the heads of the law enforcement agencies, retained their posts. Former deputy minister David Zalkaliani was appointed foreign minister. Thus, the prime minister, apparently, tries to emphasize the continuity of the country's foreign policy.

Defense Minister Levan Izoria and Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia remained in office also because they enjoy Ivanishvili's special confidence.

Former President Mikheil Saakashvili's allies in the opposition United National Movement party (UNM), as well as their colleagues in the "European Georgia" parliamentary faction, voted against the government's approval, or did not participate in the vote at all. However, they used the process of expressing a vote of confidence in the new Cabinet and all the necessary procedures (including hearings and debates at the plenary session) to find and make public "skeletons in the closet" of both the prime minister and his appointees.

It turned out that ten years ago 36-year-old Mamuka Bakhtadze was head of the Center-Point Invest company, the subsidiary of the development company Center-Point, which founders, sisters Maya and Rusudan Kervalishvili, are imprisoned for deceiving thousands of equity holders. "So they were guilty, and you are crystal clear?" - Oppositionist Irma Nadirashvili asked Bakhtadze during the parliamentary deputies. The prime minister replied that the only thing his company did - attracted citizens' funds with the help of an international fund, but it had nothing to do with the shared-equity construction.

The fact that Bakhtadze graduated from Moscow State University and lived in Moscow for some time, just like new people in the government, is also compromising. The oppositionists do not hide their concerns: the new ministers "speak Russian too well" and have a "Russian accent" while speaking Georgian.

However, as priorities of the government Bakhtadze named integration into Euro-Atlantic structures and unification of the country - reconciliation with "Abkhaz and Ossetian fellow citizens." He confirmed that Georgia remains true to its international obligations, including the construction of a Eurasian corridor for the delivery of energy from the Caspian to Turkey and Europe, as well as the development of communications between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.

The main intrigue of Bakhtadze's new policy is his attitude to the banking sector. The prime minister has already proposed a number of initiatives against the growth of the population's debt, suggesting higher control of banks when issuing consumer loans. Commercial banks will be able to issue such loans only to those individuals who confirmed their income. Penalties for non-payment and interest will be calculated not from the full amount of the loan, but from its remaining part. "These are measures against the cheating of some banks," the prime minister stressed. Oppositionists dubbed Bakhtadze "a leftist" and a "communist" for this. Political analyst Georgy Khukhashvili told Vestnik  Kavkaza that all the regulations are aimed only at "curbing banking permissiveness and against banks making their own money in the economy," so it is unlikely that these innovations can be considered a manifestation of "leftism."

However, all the accusations and claims will surely continue in the next few months as well: the presidential election will be held in Georgia in the autumn. The ruling party and the opposition are preparing for it as for a decisive battle with a small number of game rules and restrictions. Saakashvili has already announced his soon return to homeland and promised "to kick oligarch Ivanishvili along with his 'new-old team' away."