Below are key points of President Saakashvili’s fifth state of the nation address and follow-up debates in the parliament chamber packed with lawmakers, government members and invited foreign diplomats.
- This is my report about the challenges and priorities the country faces;
- Although the law does not oblige me to do that, I intend to stay and listen to the debates after my address;
- Only the strong democracy represents right way for development for Georgia;
- I address the part of the society, which is the most deprived... as well as to the displaced persons... I address each and every unemployed person... there are many of them...; I address pensioners.., farmers, who are not still able to find market to sale their products; I address teachers and professors, which need better working conditions; I address soldiers and policemen, who are ready to sacrifice their lives for protection of the homeland; I address businesspeople, which have no easy days today;
- Our efforts should be directed not towards the political wrangling, but towards overcoming unemployment amid global financial crisis;
- We have no luxury today of having ten or so priorities... Our priority is to tackle economic difficulties;
- We have economic difficulties, but there is no economic crisis in Georgia;
- According to our forecasts... there is hope to keep existing employment level and to even create new work places in certain sectors;
- But it won’t be possible without maintaining political stability;
- Our success depends on whether or not we will be able to keep unity and stability;
- We have a three-point plan, involving directing of foreign aid towards creation of new jobs;” implementation of GEL 2.2 billion economic stimulus package and attracting foreign investments;
- This three-point plan is not enough, we have much more to do; the economic difficulties force us to tighten our belts and the government should be the first to do so;
- For that purpose the new PM launched his tenure with instructing the state agencies to cut administrative cost by 10%;
- I have decided to turn the presidential residence in Tserovani [outside Tbilisi] into kindergarten;
- The governmental residences in Zugdidi and Batumi will be sold;
- The state should co-finance health insurance package, that can be available for large part of our citizens;
- There will be GEL 5 health insurance policy; the state will cover GEL 3.35 [per month] and the rest will be paid by an insurance policy holder; a holder of this policy will be able to undergo urgent surgery worth of no more than GEL 5,000;
- Russia’s aggression has significantly changed our plans regarding the scheme of increase in pensions. But be confident that in frames of our 50-month program your pension package will be equal to USD 100. Be confident that we will keep our promise. This time we increased pensions only by 5 Lari. Of course, this increase is not significant but it means that we will not stop increasing pensions despite economic crisis and we will continue this process;
- Our pain and an issue of special care is internally displaced persons; nothing can replace homes they have been deprived of;
- We will make those people, who have expelled [IDPs] out of their homes, to pay through the nose; [here he used a Georgian expression, which can be translated as: to make someone bleed with vinegar from nose]; we will do that;
- Time, which we have spend on construction of new homes for IDPs, would have been only enough for the international organizations for their paper work;
- We will hand over half hectare plot of land to each IDP family;
- We have managed to increase salaries for teachers by 33% and abolished practice of one-year contracts; but that is not enough; [monthly] salaries would be further increased by GEL 25 from September, 2009;
- Our priority would be to ease conditions for our businesspeople; they are now here in this chamber and please salute them [applauses follow];
- The Georgian government’s response to the global financial crisis would be more liberal environment and more protected private property; the government is in your service;
- 166 soldiers, 19 policemen and hundreds of civilians have been killed [as a result of the August war];
- Georgia is confronted by the enemy, which disregards international law and which blackmails and threatens its neighbors, the enemy, which builds military bases on our territory, while the rest of the world is calling for the demilitarization [of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia]; the enemy which is not cooperating with the international investigation;
- This is the enemy, whose eventual goal is to wipe-out Georgia out from the world political map and no one should have an illusion about it;
- That is why our goal is to integrate into NATO and Europe; and we are continuing moving in this direction;
- The Munich Security Conference has demonstrated that we have friends and allies;
- We will achieve Georgia’s unification through peace, democracy and economy development and through cooperation with the international community;
- We will also regulate our relations with Russia after the latter recognizes Georgia’s right of free choice;
- Apathy, pessimism is our enemy; if we do not surrender to this enemy, we will manage to accomplish our goals.
After the address, which lasted slightly over an hour, a break has been announced, which was then followed by a response from the parliamentary majority leader, MP Petre Tsiskarishvili to the President's speech and by a rebuttal speech by parliamentary minority leader, MP Giorgi Targamadze. Chairmen of parliamentary factions are also eligible to make comments. Then the President will respond to the lawmakers’ comments.
Chairman of parliamentary faction Christian-Democrats (part of the parliamentary minority group), MP Giorgi Akhvlediani, in his comments focused on economy and asked the President how the government was planning to tackle unemployment; whether he deemed necessary or not to re-establish anti-monopoly service; what concrete measures were planned for assisting agriculture and “to protect Georgian farmers;” why a memorandum with “occupant country” – reference to Russia’s electricity trade Inter RAO – on Enguri Hydro Power Plant was not public; MP Akhvlediani also asked about the democracy and told the President that “democratic values had been devalued under your presidency;” he also asked why the events of November 7, 2007, were not investigated and those responsible for excessive use of force against protesters not punished; in his comments MP Akhvlediani also raised Girgvliani case and Robakidze case.
MP Gia Tortladze, the chairman of the parliamentary faction Strong Georgia (part of the parliamentary minority group), told the President: “restoration of justice” is essential; political pressure should be stopped on judges; condition of inmates remains hard – although some progress had been achieved in recent years; private property rights are violated; the current election code should be reformed in line with the international standards; problems of those who have become displaced persons after the August war are being addressed, but those IDPs from the Abkhaz conflict in early 90s are “forgotten;” business should “be free of political pressure;” “the media is complaining about pressure – let’s create a press house” and grant them a building for that purpose; why criminal charges are not brought against separatists leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Sergey Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity; we offer to create national analytical center to provide recommendations on information war against Russia.
MP Giorgi Gabashvili of parliamentary faction United National Movement (part of the ruling majority) said: we have listened from the President concrete proposals what is planned to do to tackle outstanding problems; health insurance proposal is “a revolutionary breakthrough” in this system; we have listened an elaborated plan how to tackle serious challenges we are facing and we will tackle these problems through liberal economic principles; no memorandum has been signed with “the occupant country,” a memorandum has been signed with a company to minimize threats to the energy sector; the President’s speech contained a clear message to the political parties by saying that the only way to cooperate with opponents is a dialogue.
MP Giorgi Targamadze, the leader of parliamentary minority, said in his rebuttal speech: the August war showed that there is no political system in the country, which would have helped to evade internal and foreign threats; the permanent revolutionary stance on the one hand and lack of responsible governance on the other hand is a reason behind that trend; the Christian-Democrats are strongly against of revolutions so we are calling on you [the President] to engage in a constructive dialogue with the opposition; we offer to set up a constitutional commission which will work on change of the current system of governance and replace the current “unilateral rule” by the President into a genuine checks-and-balances system; years ago I was telling then President Shevardnadze to make a choice in favor of genuine democracy, but he failed and ended up with the Rose Revolution [in 1999-2003 he was a lawmaker from the party of the ex-leader of Adjara Autonomous Republic Aslan Abashidze]; although there are lot’s of political TV talk shows, a problem remains lack of independence of editorial policy on the nation-wide television stations; the August war is only a small part of the 200-year-old war with Russia and this war is not yet over.
MP Petre Tsiskarishvili, leader of the parliamentary majority, said: Russia wants to have in Tbilisi a puppet government, similar to the one it has in Tskhinvali and Sokhumi; through stability and in case of our western partners “principled approach” towards Russia, “our enemy” will be forced to de-occupy our territories; democratic reforms are one of the major point, which we need not for showing it to the international community, but we need it for our country; when MP Giorgi Targamadze says that he had been telling Shevardnadze to make a choice in favor of democracy, he’d better go to Adjara and see the difference between today’s Adjara and Adjara years ago [a reference to Targamadze’s cooperation with ex-Adjarian leader in the past]; Mr. President, our [ruling] party’s position is that the precedent of last year [when early presidential and parliamentary elections were held] should not become a rule – calling early elections after each and every difficulty makes the country more unstable.
After the lawmakers’ comments, President Saakashvili requested a short break in order “to consult with the government members” before he would respond. He also said that it was also done in order to demonstrate that “decision are not taken unilaterally” by him.
Key points of President Saakashvili response to the parliamentary minority lawmakers’ rebuttal speeches:
- This was one of the highest level parliamentary debates ever held in the Georgian parliament;
- My address did not aim at showing our achievements or triggering over-exaggerated optimism; as the President of the country which faces economic difficulties, I have to be realist;
- I can not agree with the proposal of setting up of some new government agencies [MP Giorgi Akhvlediani called for re-establishing anti-monopoly agency and employment agency]; monopolies can be tackled through reducing corruption and not through setting up of anti-monopoly services and that’s what we have done; although there are some issues that need to be address, including in the pharmacy sector, related with high prices on medicines;
- An issue of memorandum on Enguri Hydro Power Plant was raised; I want to say that our major headache would have been blacked out Georgia; we managed that there is electricity in Georgia;
- I can share some of the proposal by the opposition lawmakers, including measure to protect middle class citizens; but we also should say that this middle class has been in fact created in recent years; no we should spare no efforts to make this middle class stronger;
- Judiciary should be institutionally strengthened so that to prevent interference from individual officials;
- Saakashvili ruled out stepping down before the end of his second presidential term expires. He said: it will happen in 2013, before that I will be performing my presidential duties;
- I want to calm down Mr. Giorgi Targamadze [parliamentary minority leader], who along with some other dignified candidates, is thinking about 2013 and to tell them that I will be performing my presidential duties before 2013 and then there will be a new president, who will be elected in the democratic and free elections;
- I agree with the proposal to reform the Statistics Department; as well as the proposal by the Christian-Democratic Party on reform and improving the National Security Council; last year I have offered one of the opposition politicians, whom we see very often on the television, to take the post of the secretary of National Security Council and also offered to reform this body; but the proposal was declined [he did not specify to whom he offered this post];
- It was said during the debates “lost war” – losers and winners are defined when the war is over; nothing is yet over; if there is a loser in the war there should also be a winner – and you want to tell me that Russia is a winner? If Russia won this war, why it is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on information war against us?
- The Russian people are not our enemy... My sons learn the Russian language; the policy pursued by the Russian leader [Vladimir] Putin and his aggressive circle is our enemy;
- The Russia’s current authorities want to destroy our statehood; we should confront this with our unity;
- If we look at all the recent polls, we will see that the society needs constructive cooperation and dialogue, not the political wrangling;
- I want to thank the opposition lawmakers for defending our interests alongside with the ruling party lawmakers in Strasbourg [at the Parliamentary]
- Media is not an issue on which I can agree with [the opposition lawmakers]; I would be happy if the media was more professional and freer; when I receive foreign delegations and the media freedom is raised I always switch on TV, because there is always some opposition politician at any time of the day talking on TV;
- We have defeated corruption and neither Bulgaria, Romania – which are now EU members – or even Germany can say it; we can say it – we have defeated corruption and we have defeated organized crime;
- I think these were one of the best debates ever held in the Georgian Parliament;
- With these debates today Georgia has passed test in democracy with success.