Dimitri Shashkin, a minister-designate for penitentiary and probation, said he had been tasked to also coordinate the government’s efforts in frames of the new wave of democratization.
Shashkin, who up to now has been working as a resident country director of International Republican Institute in Georgia, will be a newcomer in the government and will lead the newly set up ministry.
“Apart of the duties in a capacity of head of the new ministry, the President and the Prime Minister have also tasked me to coordinate the new, second wave of democratic reforms; so in this capacity I will have close relationships with the opposition, with all those opposition parties, which will be disposed constructively and which will be open and transparent,” Shashkin told journalists on February 2.
Although little known for the public, he is a familiar face in the political circles. In the capacity of chief coordinator of the IRI programs in Georgia, involving, among other things, trainings and consultancy for the political parties, he had close cooperation with broad range of political groups.
President Saakashvili said on February 2, that Shashkin was a right person for coordination of democratic reforms and the authorities’ dialogue with the political parties.
“Dimitri Shashkin has been working as the head of the International Republican Institute’s local office over the issues of a dialogue among the parties,” he told journalists. “Today, when Georgia’s consolidation and our response to the world economic crisis is the most critical, dialogue among the parties is very important; including a dialogue with small groups, radicals, moderates, large groups.”
“If someone is capable of doing this, I think it is Shashkin, because he has been keeping an equal distance with all the parties, he has worked with everyone, he knows everyone, he understands their [political parties’] language,” he added. “I think, this will help the government to seriously undertake and continue the implementation of the second wave of the democratic reforms in the legislative sphere and generally in life, which I have spoken during my previous state of the nation address in the parliament last autumn.”
Some opposition politicians have reacted mainly positively on Shashkin’s personality and his work in IRI, but expressed regret over his departure into the government. Davit Usupashvili, leader of Republican Party, said he was disappointed that Shashkin agreed to work in the Saakashvili’s administration. Zviad Dzidziguri, co-leader of Conservative Party, said jokingly while commenting on the appointment: “Maybe he at first plans to arrest us and then cooperate with us?” He then added that his party had a good cooperation with Shashkin, which he thought would not continue after he becomes the cabinet member. “I do not know what type of cooperation we may have with the second-rate ministry of the Saakashvili’s administration. I think we had much better cooperation when he worked quite effectively in the non-governmental sector,” Dzidziguri added.
MP Giorgi Targamadze, the leader of the parliamentary minority and the Christian-Democratic Party, said he hoped Shashkin would “remain committed to the democratic and human rights values after taking the government post, as he has always been.” Lawmakers from the parliamentary minority also said that although certain individuals in the cabinet might be acceptable, they would not support the government when it comes to confidence vote for the entire cabinet expected later this week.
Setting up of the new ministry for penitentiary and probation was pre-planned and is not related with the recent reshuffle, involving resignation of PM Grigol Mgaloblishvili, who will be replaced by Nika Gilauri.
The penitentiary system was under the Justice Ministry’s subordination, but creation of a separate ministry was decided after the General Prosecutor’s Office merged with the Justice Ministry in autumn; preventing presence of prosecution and the prison system under the same structure was the reason behind the move.
Shashkin said on February 2, after meeting with the Parliamentary Chairman, Davit Bakradze, that he was “a professional manager” and he would pay attention on “proper planning and management.”
Davit Bakradze, the parliamentary chairman, told journalists on February 2, that the penitentiary system needed a person “who has an experience in human rights and who has a non-bureaucratic and non-standard approach while dealing with the reforms” in the prison system.
“And Mr. Shashkin I think is the right candidate in this regard,” he added.
The candidacy was first announced on February 2; before that the Georgian media sources have been suggesting that Deputy Interior Minister, Eka Zguladze, was going to become the minister for penitentiary and probation system.
Davit Tkeshelashvili, who served as state minister for regional issues, will lead another new ministry for regional development and infrastructure.
This new ministry is set up on the basis of the state ministry’s office for regional issues and it also incorporates department for road construction and department of transport – both were previously part of the Economy Ministry.