President accused of ignoring problems
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, March 1
President Saakashvili delivered his annual state of the nation address to Parliament on February 26. He talked about some of the most important challenges Georgia has faced in recent times and his future plans. However, his speech was not well received by opposition members or some political analysts.
“There will be several key points in 2010. One of the most important is that in the local elections this year the defeated side should accept the result and congratulate the winner. Let’s stop making prior statements that the elections will be falsified. The opposition are widely involved in the election process and we have satisfied most of their demands concerning it,” the President said.
Saakashvili suggested that 2010 will be the year of economic recovery. "We will have a minimum of 3% economic growth. The decline has already stopped and economic indicators have stabilised,” he stated. The President also said that judicial system reform had been successful. "We have conducted a successful judicial reform in the country, which is still ongoing. The President no longer appoints judges and the President is no longer a member of the Supreme Council of Justice. Opposition members have seats in the Supreme Council of Justice. The promised introduction of a jury system has also been delivered. I am very proud, that the first trial by jury will be held this year in Georgia,” Saakashvili said.
The President also said that independent television stations which currently owe tax will have these sums written off. He acknowledged that the 100 new hospitals project had failed but said that the Government would invest in this direction with the private sector. He added that 1.5 million Georgian citizens now have health insurance and 1.2 million of these are in the State healthcare insurance programme. 2009 was a positive year in the President's opinion.
However President’s evaluation was not shared by opposition MPs. Magda Anikashvili from the Christian Democratic Movement talked about social problems in the country and especially in the healthcare system. "There are many people who need assistance from the Government and have a right to it. There are no clear criteria for identifying such people and ensuring that all those eligible for state assistance receive it. We have proposed free healthcare for children under 7 and “price limits” on major medicines,” Anikashvili said. The Movement’s leader, Giorgi Targamadze, commented that, "I expected that the President would announce some new initiatives to help small businesses, but in vain. What economic and agricultural development is the President talking about when a man with a GEL 80 pension is considered the richest person in a village?” Targamadze asked.
National Democrat Guram Chakhvadze said that the economic advance the President talked about had only occurred for the political elite. "The President’s constitutional duty is not to only think about the economic welfare of certain groups but to ensure a better life for each citizen. I have read a letter from an 80 year old man whose son was killed in the war in Abkhazia who has to collect bottles in order to feed his grandchildren. Without resolving such problems there is unlikely to be stability in the country." Independent MP Dimitry Lortkipanidze talked about human rights violations in the country. "I have concrete evidence that human rights are often violated in this country. Every day I meet a lot of people and read absurd resolutions by the courts. I dispute the President’s statement that the courts are free in Georgia, some serious reforms and changes are needed in this respect,” Lortkipanidze said. Another independent MP, Gia Tsagareishvili, appealed to the President to make the use of his fund more transparent.
Ruling party representatives responded to the opposition's comments. MP Giorgi Gabashvili said that the opposition lawmakers’ speeches had “lacked arguments” and were “totally inappropriate." "Debates should be more fact-based. In the opposition there are still people who do not want the country’s independence and development," Gabashvili said. Pavle Kublashvili called on opposition politicians not to focus only on negative things but also mention achievements and positive projects being undertaken in the country, as this would be a sign that Georgia has a high political culture.
Political analyst Archil Gegeshidze said that the most important issue for the country at the present moment, foreign policy, was very superficially reviewed by Saakashvili. "Conducting the correct foreign policy is an essential factor in creating stable security and development and the President dedicated too short a time to it in his speech. The situation in this direction has very much changed since the August war of 2008. Although the West and USA still consider us a partner country relations are cooler now, this is very obvious. It would have been very interesting to hear the President's thoughts and plans on this. In spite of the fact he talked about the Russian factor and Russian aggression he did not mentioned what the Georgian Government will do about it and future policy towards Russia will be. He did not mention Ukraine or our future relations with this country either,” Gegeshidze told Interpressnews.