“We will give Bidzina Ivanishvili’s government all possible backing and support to insure its success”
Interview with Fady Asly
Tuesday, October 9
– Fady Asly, Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce in Georgia.
Fady Asly is no newcomer to Georgia and has seen it all. A pioneer businessman and one of the founders of the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia and its President for seven years and thereafter Chairman of both the Georgian Business Confederation and of the International Chamber of Commerce in Georgia (ICC). However, his outspoken and candid language has gained him many enemies and cost him a lot over the years. In the late 1990s, one of his employees was murdered, in 2001 his deputy was kidnapped, in 2003, his offices were bombed and shot at, and in 2006, his businesses were harassed thereafter but this doesn’t seem to temper the boiling and straightforward Fady Asly.
“Yes my company and I have paid a very heavy price over the years, but when one agrees to head a business organization and foster the interests of the community, there is no place left for personal interests and for fear” said Asly.
The Messenger asked Mr. Asly about the recent developments in Georgia and their impact on the business and investment climate.
Q- Were you expecting the Georgian Dream Coalition to win the legislative elections?
R-Frankly this came as a real surprise for everyone and possibly for the Georgian Dream as well; our assumptions were that the Georgian Dream would win the popular vote but the National Movement would retain a majority in Parliament thanks to the majoritarian vote considering that their single constituency candidates were very well known faces.
Q-How would you assess the performance of the Saakashvili government for the past nine years with regard to business?
R-What was achieved by the Saakashvili government is nothing short of a miracle considering the anarchy, corruption and bankruptcy of the State when he took over for President Shevardnadze. At that time nothing was working and scores of businessmen were kidnapped; it was very dangerous to do business in Georgia for both foreign and local business people. President Saakashvili has put Georgia on the map and had done fundamental reforms to ease business. However, some of those reforms remained cosmetic and did not reflect on the daily lives of business people and citizens.
Q- How does the business community perceive Bidzina Ivanishvili?
R- Prior to 2012 the business community knew very little about Bidzina Ivanishvili except that he was on the Forbes List and that he was a generous philanthropist who did a lot of good things for the country but that was about it. The business community discovered him later last year and followed his ascent since that time. I believe that business people have very good vibes about him considering that on one hand he is a successful businessman and on another, he proved to be a practical and a pragmatic man.
Q- How do you perceive Mr. Ivanishvili?
He strikes me as a very pragmatic and realistic person with a great sense of humor which by itself is an obvious sign of intelligence. Over the past months he proved to be both a good strategist and a smart tactician; he knows how to choose the people around him and has hired very smart and professional advisors; most importantly he showed himself to be very “Un-Georgian” by controlling his emotions and keeping his temper; we have to admit that the current authorities have deployed a full arsenal of strategies to make him lose his temper and push him to the streets, but they did not succeed.
In short I think that he has the stature of a real statesman and that under his leadership we will not witness emotional policies anymore. I strongly believe that his only agenda is to fix the problems that were inherent to the previous administration and particularly the harassment of businesses, monopolies, the judiciary, freedom of speech and human rights;
Q- We heard the International Chamber of Commerce has initiated a meeting between Mr. Ivanishvili and the business community last Friday. What was the aim of it?
R- Yes ICC had recommended to Mr. Ivanishvili to meet urgently with both Georgian and foreign business people and inform them of his views regarding the policy of his government. As a matter of fact, business people were very nervous because they didn’t know what would be the attitude of the government towards business and investment. We are very glad with the outcome of the meeting, as the message sent by Mr. Ivanishvili to businesses was very clear; the government will pursue a business friendly policy. However, it will be without any interference and harassment; there will be a leveled playing field for everyone with no more privileges or monopolies and this is surely great news for businesses.
Q- One of the newspapers has reported yesterday that businesses close to President Saakashvili were under attack is that true?
R- No that is surely not true and is obviously part of a plan to undermine the new government’s credibility; we have heard clear assurances personally from Mr. Ivanishvili that no businesses will be punished by the authorities and we have no grounds whatsoever to doubt Mr. Ivanishvili’s promise.
Q- What are the major challenges that the new government will have to deal with from the business and investment perspective?
R- Well there are many issues that need to be handled professionally and diligently by the government such as:
1- Sending the proper and reassuring messages to the business community that there will be no political persecution to guarantee that there will be no outflow of capital or speculation against the Georgian Lari;
2- Dismantling the artificially created monopolies and opening the market to everyone
3- Negotiating with the neighboring countries with which Georgia has a free trade agreement to open their markets to Georgian businesses and products and implement the principle of reciprocity which is not working now.
4-Foster the interests of Georgian businesses and foreign investors equally and follow up with them to insure their success since there can be no better ambassador to attract a new foreign investor than a successful one in the country.
5- Insure the total independence of the judiciary through proper mechanisms to isolate it from political interference and to control any arbitrary or bias decisions by judges.
6- Most importantly I believe that the government needs to remain humble and keep a permanent dialogue swith business organizations to improve any shortcoming.
Q-Will the ICC support the new government?
R- Absolutely and without a single hesitation; we will put all our resources to the service of the government and will make sure to lend them our expertise both internationally and locally to insure their success, because their failure would be another failure of business in Georgia and we will surely not let this happen. Having said that, we will keep our objectivity and candid dialogue with the government to insure that they are briefed properly and that they are receiving the right feedback from businesses. In short we will give Ivanishvili’s government all possible backing and support to guarantee its success.