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President reassures about economy

By Sopo Datishvili
Monday, December 15
On December 11 and 12 President Mikheil Saakashvili held two meetings, with entrepreneurs and Adjaran citrus fruit growers, at which the parties discussed the world economic crisis and its possible impact on the Georgian economy.

The main subjects of Saakashvili’s speeches in both places were the country’s energy potential, tourism, the agricultural market and future plans. Saakashvili explained to entrepreneurs the possible threats the country faced after the war and reminded them of the 90s, in particular the energy crisis and the wreckage of the financial system in that decade. By contrast, he quoted a lot new mechanisms he has introduced which could prevent Georgia going through the same things again.

“In past four years we have invested about USD 250 million in the energy sector. This means that we won’t have problems in this field. This winter Georgia won’t have an energy problem. We will be able to provide our families and enterprises with energy supplies under the terms of a five-year contract with Azerbaijan. We have repaired hydro-energy stations and we have electro-energy safety contracts with Armenia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia,” said Saakashvili.

The crisis in the banking sector was one of the issues the President highlighted at the meeting with entrepreneurs. He hoped that by next year, the credit system would recover from the difficult situation it is in right now. “We have received more than USD 200 million from different European institutions. With this assistance we will collect USD 400 million to resuscitate the banking sector for 2009,” he added. Saakashvili also said that the Government program of giving cheap credits will continue, and GEL 45 million of such credits have already been issued.

The President also paid special attention to the tourist business, which has suffered due to the Russian aggression. Saakashvili maintained that its difficulties were actually the result of the global economic crisis, as Georgia is only “a small boat in a storm that can sink bigger ships.”

At the meeting with citrus fruit growers Saakashvili positively appraised the trading link established with Ukraine, which will take more of Georgian citrus fruit by the end of the season. He reminded Adjarans of several tourist infrastructure projects which are underway in Batumi, such as the Hilton and Radisson Hotels. Saakashvili said that during the war he used to call the head of the Adjara Autonomous Republic, Levan Varshalomidze, to check if the constructions were continuing.

Before the beginning of the 2008 summer, people in Adjara took credits for the tourist season but after war broke out the season was greatly damaged. As local people, the majority of whom are economically dependent on tourism, weren’t able to pay this money back to the banks, the Government covered and put off part of these credits. Saakashvili promised that this process will continue until the whole amount is covered.

Saakashvili also spoke about new projects to be fulfilled soon. “USD 100 million is being put into the construction of a new district on the bank of the Mtkvari river, and this is happening when construction works are being halted all over the world”, Saakashvili said.

The President also highlighted the challenges that new economic ties with different countries bring to Georgia. Saakashvili hoped that free trade agreements with Europe and America will open up for Georgia new possibilities for economic success, and that the country would thus attract more and more investors. He also mentioned that the Russian factor had a great impact on Georgian economics, and especially the wine business, but figures showed that Georgia has trebled the amount of its wine sold in the USA.

Not only were business issues interesting for the entrepreneurs on December 11 but political ones as well. One businessman asked the President if the country would see new elections by spring 2009. The President answered that “If we arrange elections every six months, according to the will of politicians dissatisfied by the results, we won’t have a country left. This would be an act of suicide. I’m sure our people won’t do this, as they are wise. This wisdom was perfectly proved during the war.”