After two days of hearings Parliament confirmed on July 26 with 89 votes reshuffled government, involving five new ministers and two other members switching to other cabinet posts.
UNM opposition lawmakers, who during the debates slammed PM Irakli Garibashvili as “puppet” of “Russian oligarch” ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili and criticized him of “insulting” the opposition MPs instead of answering their “legitimate” questions, walked out of the chamber before the vote.
Reshuffle came eight months after Irakli Garibashvili was confirmed as the Prime Minister; new confidence vote from the Parliament was required as more than one-third of 21-member cabinet was changed since it was last confirmed by the legislative body in November, 2013.
PM Garibashvili cited “new challenges and new realities” following the local elections and signing of the Association Agreement with the EU as the reason behind his decision to reshuffle the cabinet, which saw agriculture minister Shalva Pipia, minister for IDPs Davit Darakhvelidze, environment minister Khatuna Gogaladze, culture minister Guram Odisharia and state minister for diaspora Konstantine Surguladze losing their seats in the cabinet.
In other changes Sozar Subari was moved from the post of minister in charge of penitentiary system to the post of the minister for internally displaced persons and accommodation, and Elguja Khokrishvili was moved from infrastructure minister to the post of environment protection minister.
Giorgi Mgebrishvili was appointed as minister in charge of penitentiary system. Mgebrishvili served as governor of Kvemo Kartli region since December, 2013. He was an investigator in the Interior Ministry in 1998-2004 and then was an investigator in the financial police at the Ministry of Finance till 2007. He served at various positions in the Revenue Service at the Ministry of Finance in 2007-2012 before being promoted as head of the customs department at the Revenue Service in November, 2012. He was head of the Interior Ministry’s state security agency for couple of months till November, 2013.
Otar Danelia, first deputy minister of agriculture, was promoted to minister of agriculture. He was appointed as deputy minister of agriculture in April, 2014. Before that he served as head of the Interior Ministry’s Service Agency for few months and was deputy head of logistics department at the Interior Ministry since 2013.
Davit Shavliashvili was appointed as new minister of infrastructure and regional development. He served as head of the department of roads at the same ministry since April, 2013 and before that he was head of the natural resources agency at the ministry of energy, where he was appointed in December, 2012. Shavliashvili, 30, is the second-youngest cabinet member; the youngest one is Interior Minister Alexandre Tchikaidze who is 29.
Mikheil Giorgadze, co-founder and chief executive of Eastern Promotion, a company best known for organizing a long-running annual Tbilisi Jazz Festival, was appointed as new minister of culture.
Gela Dumbadze, deputy state minister for diaspora, was promoted to the post of the state minister for diaspora. He has served at various positions in the Foreign Ministry since 1998, among them was head of the department for diaspora in 2005-2007. He served at the Georgian embassies in Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Dumbadze was appointed as deputy state minister for diaspora in June, 2014.
Other ministers retained their posts:
- Energy Minister and deputy PM – Kakha Kaladze;
- Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development and deputy PM – Giorgi Kvirikashvili;
- Minister of Finance – Nodar Khaduri;
- Minister for Labor, Healthcare and Social Affairs – Davit Sergeenko;
- Minister of Justice – Tea Tsulukiani;
- Minister of Internal Affairs – Alexandre Tchikaidze;
- Minister of Foreign Affairs – Maia Panjikidze;
- Minister of Defense – Irakli Alasania;
- Education Minister – Tamar Sanikidze;
- Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs – Levan Kipiani;
- State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration – Alexi Petriashvili;
- State Minister for Reintegration – Paata Zakareishvili;
In his prepared opening remarks at the parliamentary session before the vote, PM Garibashvili said that Georgia is now moving to the stage when it has to fulfill commitments undertaken under the Association Agreement with the EU “urgently.”
“I understand quite well the huge responsibility, which my team, this government has assumed before the country,” Garibashvili said. “We understand historic importance of this moment… This responsibility is imposed on all those people, who are sitting in this chamber, as well as on those, who are watching us. Each and every citizen of Georgia, entire society will have an opportunity to participate in creating a new history of our country… I want to call on everybody to use this opportunity, this historical chance, to use our knowledge, our experience for the development of our country.”
“Stability in the country is very important for us. Nothing should hamper the interests and future of our country.”
“We should start healing of our wounds from difficult years, but it does not mean that anyone intends to turn a blind eye on crimes and reject investigation of those crimes, which caused harm to our people and our country,” the PM said.
“The overwhelming majority of the Georgian population supported our political team during the parliamentary, presidential and this year’s local elections. And this is a huge confidence expressed by our people,” he said.
Garibashvili said that the economy remains the “main challenge” for the country.
He listed EU and NATO integration, promoting “non-recognition policy of Georgia’s occupied regions”, further deepening of strategic partnership with the U.S. and normalization of relations with Russia among foreign policy priorities.
Although foreign policy was not the major topic of debate, which was mostly similar to the one that took place a day earlier when PM and cabinet members met opposition UNM lawmakers, it was raised for several times mainly in the context of Russia and developments in Ukraine.
When asked by UNM MP Giorgi Kandelaki if he plans to visit Ukraine and whether he thinks that Russia’s action in eastern Ukraine is “aggression”, PM responded: “I will visit [Ukraine] when need be; I have my schedule. Our ministers have already visited Ukraine and Ukrainian ministers have also visited Georgia. You will fail to mislead the public with your speculation. This is your demagogy. I, the president, the government, lawmakers have expressed our position for multiple times over [developments in Ukraine].”
He sidestepped to respond directly when pressed again by MP Kandelaki if he would describe Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine as “aggression”.
“I will ask my press office to provide you with all the statements that the government and I have made on this issue. I am not going to answer on your ‘trick’ questions,” Garibashvili added.
UNM MP Chiora Taktakishvili, who referred to Garibashvili as ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s “puppet”, asked the PM if Ivanishvili instructed him not to call Putin an “enemy” and UNM MP Giorgi Baramidze said: “Ivanishvili is doing Putin’s job in this country. Down with Ivanishvili’s policy; long live Georgia without Ivanishvili.”
A lawmaker from GD parliamentary majority group Gubaz Sanikidze of National Forum party, said that all this talk of Georgia reversing its European course was already pointless as the country has already crossed the point from where the European course is already irreversible. He said that it was not serious to demand from the PM “to swear at Putin.” “Do we have the right – if we are responsible authorities – to be in the forefront of [this confrontation]? Georgia will not be able to withstand new crisis… Yes we know that Russia is an aggressor, but it’s important when and how to say it… We cannot afford such statements,” MP Sanikidze said.
Leader of UNM parliamentary minority group, MP Davit Bakradze, said that several months ago GD’s reluctance to criticize Russian actions was understandable for him as it was an attempt to normalize ties with Moscow. But not condemning Russian actions after the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight in eastern Ukraine, Bakradze said, was damaging for Georgia. He said that downing of this plane was a “watershed” moment from when keeping silence over Russia’s actions would put Georgia into “pro-Russian club” and distance Tbilisi from the EU and the United States.
When parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili took the floor, he started his speech by saying: “Putin is enemy. Putin is enemy. Putin is enemy.” “I should probably start my address like this… and I may attract attention of our opponents as well,” he said.
During the heated debates, PM Garibashvili ignored many of UNM MPs’ questions ranging from economy and his views on pension reform to questions like who wields more power – he or Ivanishvili, and questions on what the UNM calls “unfulfilled promises” of GD. Opposition lawmakers were also often referring to ex-PM Ivanishvili as actual “ruler” of the country. UNM MP Giorgi Gabashvili called Garibashvili “a watchman of the oligarchic regime.”
“I am not going to comment seriously on your demagogy,” the PM told the opposition MPs. “I discussed all these issues yesterday and you know my answer.”
GD MP Nukri Kantaria told opposition lawmakers that UNM “is a voice from a political grave.” “I want you to live long in order to serve as exhibits in order [for others] to see what kind persons should not be in power,” he told UNM MPs.
UNM MP Nugzar Tsiklauri said that GD has created “a situation which can be called as graveyard of dreams.”
When GD MP Ani Mirotadze asked the PM: “Do you promise that there will never be ministers like those who were demanding to bring corpses?.. Do you promise that Georgia will never go back to that reality?” Garibashvili responded: “Yes I reaffirm, that criminal ministers like Vano Merabishvili will never return [to government].”
UNM parliamentary minority leader, MP Davit Bakradze, told GD lawmakers that they were keeping the “same style” of focusing on the past rather than looking on the future. “We have seen more confrontation, and more promises of retribution and persecutions,” he said.
Parliament speaker, Davit Usupashvili, spoke on the need of focusing on the future in his speech and called on the GD parliamentary majority and the government to set Europe as a standard of comparison and not those nine years when UNM was in power. “If we praise the new Interior Minister just because he is better than the previous one [who was under UNM], of course, we will not be able to move forward,” Usupashvili said. He also said that debates of this kind with less substance was pointless and