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Changes in Tbilisi administrators, more replacements in the regions expected

By Eter Tsotniashvili
Wednesday, January 23
Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava announced staffing changes in the capital’s administration yesterday, presenting a new vice-mayor and two new district heads.

The new vice-mayor is a police chief from Shida Kartli. The Isani Samgori district head was reassigned to Vake-Saburtalo district, and his post filled by the Isani Samgori chair of the ruling party.

Samgori was one of only two districts in Tbilisi where President Mikheil Saakashvili beat opposition challenger Levan Gachechiladze in the January 5 presidential election.

The new Vake-Saburtalo head went to school in the district, Ugulava said, and knows the area well. He will also lead the ruling National Movement’s party headquarters in Vake.

Speaking to journalists at a City Hall press conference, the mayor said that the changes were part of making city government more effective, in turn part of the country’s campaign for NATO membership.

Ugulava said city administrators should be closer to their districts’ constituencies.

Neither a spokesperson for City Hall, nor for a Tbilisi NATO office, could explain why replacing two city government functionaries will assist in NATO integration.

Political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze says the staffing changes are cosmetic changes meant to fulfil President Mikheil Saakashvili’s reelection campaign pledges.

“The government promised voters they will bring new faces into their administration,” Sakvarelidze points out. “But [changing district heads and governors] doesn’t mean the officials were working poorly, it’s just fulfilling a campaign promise. The only disadvantage to staff changes is that unprofessional people are often brought into the positions. But given that most high-ranking officials are unprofessional these days, we don’t have anything to lose.”

Changes are also expected in the ranks of regional governors, which are directly appointed by the president. There are suggestions that only a few of the current governors could keep their jobs.

Possible new appointees include Zaza Begashvili, chair of the Tbilisi City Council.

“I haven’t been told anything about this. The decision is up to the president,” Begashvili told Rustavi 2 yesterday. “We are a united group, and if the president decides something, we will accept it.”