Saakashvili delivers annual address to Parliament
By Mzia Kupunia
Friday, February 13
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has delivered his 5th annual address to Parliament. In his speech, which lasted more than an hour and was attended by Parliament members, Georgian Government representatives, members of the diplomatic corps and members of the President’s family, he mentioned the world financial crisis’ influence on the Georgian economy and ways to overcome it. He also touched upon social issues and the Russian-Georgian conflict.
Saakashvili said the report was about the “challenges and priorities” that the country faces. At the beginning of his speech Saakashvili addressed, among others, internally displaced people, saying that the fact that they have been deprived of everything “is a wound of the country, which should be healed.”
Saakashvili said unemployment was the main concern of the Georgian Government and all efforts should be directed amid the global financial crisis to overcoming it. “We do not have the luxury of having 3-4 or more top priorities,” Saakashvili said, adding that the main priority is to fight economic difficulties.
The President outlined a three-point plan which in his opinion will help develop the Georgian economy. “We have a three-point plan, which involves directing foreign aid to the creation of new jobs, the implementation of a GEL 2.2 billion economic stimulus package and attracting foreign investment,” Saakashvili stated. He also said that Government expenditure should be reduced. “The economic difficulties make us all tighten our belts,” the President said “the Government should be the first to do so.” Saakashvili noted that he is going to turn the Presidential residence in Tserovani into a kindergarten, and sell his residences in Batumi and Zugdidi.
In his address Saakashvili proposed a co-financed health insurance package, which would be available “for any citizen of Georgia.” “Our aim is that there should be no ill people dependent only on destiny,” the President stated. The President said that despite the Russian-Georgian war which changed plans to increase pensions, as part of the 50-month programme the pension will increase to USD 100.
At the end of his address Saakashvili briefly touched upon the issue of the Georgian-Russian conflict, saying that the people who made the IDPs leave their homes “will pay a high price for that.” “Georgia is confronted by an enemy which builds military bases on our territory while the whole world is calling for demilitarization: the enemy, which has as its eventual goal wiping Georgia from the world map,” Saakashvili said. “We will achieve Georgia’s unification through peace, democracy and economic development and the cooperation of international society. We will regulate relations with Russia, if it recognizes Georgia’s right of free choice,” he added.
After the speech and a short break Saakashvili answered questions from Parliament members. This format was agreed on February 11 between the ruling party and Parliamentary opposition representatives.
The Georgian non-Parliamentary opposition has made skeptical comments about the President’s speech, saying that it was the same as his previous four speeches. Kakha Kukava from the Conservative Party said the speech was “inadequate in the situation Georgia faces.” Kukava noted that the President fails to see what the main problems the country has to cope with are. “He talked a lot about problems that are of lesser importance, like an insurance system and the crisis in Ukraine, while he said just a sentence about the lost territories,” he said. Kukava criticized the President for not saying a word in his speech about his strategy for resolving the problem of Georgia’s territorial integrity. “This means that he has neither the vision nor the ability to tackle the problems that the country faces,” Kukava noted.
Some opposition representatives objected to the President’s annual address even before it began. Representatives of the youth wings of the allied Republican and New Rights parties held a protest rally on Rustaveli Avenue under the slogan “the last speech of the President.” “Next year the President will be giving legal testimony to Georgia’s citizens,” the demonstrators said. Immediately after the speech a reader rang The Messenger to say that the speech sounded like part of an election campaign.