Head of Border Police talks about “Government repression”
By Etuna Tsotniashvili and Temuri Kiguradze
Friday, October 10
Lieutenant-General Badri Bitsadze, Head of the Border Police of Georgia, is suggesting that his department suffers repression from the Government because of his wife’s political activity. His wife, former Chair of Georgian Parliament Nino Burjanadze, has made several statements criticizing the Georgian Government.
Bitsadze became the head of the Border Department in March 2004, since which time it has been much reformed. “We have completely changed the system,” says Bitsadze, who claims his department has achieved impressive results in the four years since the “Rose Revolution.” He says the border police has been transformed from a “Soviet style service” to a modern and effective department and has made great progress in the struggle against corruption. “I can’t say that corruption doesn’t exist in the border police department at all, however it has been significantly reduced and not a single case of bribery has been left unaddressed” he assured The Messenger in our exclusive interview.
The success of the Border Police was confirmed by NATO experts in their report in 2007. “Georgia has made very important progress in its Border Police system, especially in creating a legal and procedural basis for border security,” the NATO report says. However, recently the Georgian media has reported that members of the border police have been arrested on suspicion of corruption. Shots of the policemen taking money were broadcast on local TV station in early October. Badri Bitsadze considers these cases have been set up in an action directed against him personally because of his wife’s statements.
“The arrested person was not even a border guard, he was an electrician working for the department. Three men arrested him and put money in his hand, accusing him of assisting people to illegally cross the Ukrainian-Georgian border,” Bitsadze said. He added that the police have neither produced nor named the person who allegedly crossed the border illegally or explained how the arrested person might have helped him. Bitsadze states that this has not been the only case; it was preceded by a similar incident in which a border guard was arrested just for accompanying his relative to the border. “He was not even on duty, they [inspectors from the Interior Ministry] arrested him while he was on his way home,” says Bitsadze, underlining that the accusation in this case was “absurd” because the person the arrested guard was accompanying had all the papers in order and crossed the border without any problems.
Bitsadze also points that his budget has been cut. The Border Police had a budget of GEL 62 million in 2007 and GEL 80 million in 2008, but the 2009 budget has set aside only GEL 49.5 million for the department. Bitsadze objects to such a big reduction. “The Government should understand that border security is very important for national security, especially now,” he says pointing out the recent conflict in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia. The importance of increasing the Border Police budget was also highlighted in the 2007 NATO report, which said, “Many steps have been taken in order to improve the organization. The most important of which was increasing its budget in 2006-2007.”
However the government officials state the decreasing of the financing doesn’t effect the border police department only. According to the 2009 state budget project, presented by Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, from the next year the budget of Defense and Interior ministry will also be decreased. In 2009 the budget of Interior ministry will be half a billion when in 2008 it had GEL 640 million.
As for Ministry of Defense by the next year their budget will be GEL 950 million whereas in 2008 the ministry has GEL 1 billion and 395 million.
So in whole both of the ministries have GEL 600 million less budgets than this year.
Bitsadze states that many members of his department consider that both the arrests of the border guards and the budget reduction have been caused by Bitsadze being “unpleasant” for the Government. “I don’t want my department to be harmed because of me,” says the Lieutenant-General, “but I think that all this is happening because of Nino’s [Burjanadze] statement.” “Well, I can’t divorce my wife to remain the head of the Border Police,” he adds.
Meanwhile Burjanadze herself has confirmed to journalists that she will establish a political party. Burjanadze left active politics during the 2008 Parliamentary elections in Georgia and created the Foundation for Democracy and Development (DDF). She recently published a document called “43 questions,” which asked the Government of Georgia to explain the reasons for, and consequences of, the August Georgian-Russian war.
“I am very sorry that our questions have remained without response. I previously said that if the questions did not receive a response I would take another sort of step. The DDF is working very actively, I think that all steps taken by the fund have been very important. But we have already started working on a new political party and in the near future we will inform you of its foundation,” Burjanadze said.
Being asked about his attitude to his wife’s political activity, Badri Bitsadze said that he as a Government official “has no right” to make political statements, however he considers that the “43 questions” were the questions which were already being asked in Georgian society. Bitsadze didn’t exclude the possibility of him leaving his position “if such actions continue.” He also said he will have “something to say to society” if he resigned.