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Energy and Agriculture ministers grilled at 'Government week'

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, March 24
Parliamentary debates continued with Alexander Khetaguri, Minister of Energy in the frames of “Government Week” on Wednesday. Talking of the energy independence Georgia has achieved courtesy of a well-balanced scheme in previous years, the Minister welcomed the stable prices on natural gas and electricity that Georgian people are paying nowadays. Making a brief survey of the path Georgia has taken, Khetaguri emphasized that the tariff policy on gas and electricity has been stable since 2006 and no prices will be increased in the nearest future.

Sharing the Governmental plan for future activities, the Minister highlighted that around 30 new hydro electric stations are to be built by 2015-2016 creating an unprecedented number (10 000) of new jobs. “As a result we’ll become the strongest producers and exporters of energy within the region with 70% gasified villages and towns, new electric distributing networks and increased transit size,” said the Minister.

Reminding the Minister of the election promise made by the ruling United National Movement (UNM) to gasify all the villages, Christian-Democrats Parliamentary faction wondered why only 70% of the regions would be provided with the service in the near future. CDM also opposed the united communal taxation for water and energy which the Government adopted in the previous month, calling it a “violation of human rights”. CDM demanded the abolition of the new system.

According to the database, Khetaguri explained to the MPs that, from 898 000 subscribers, 497 000 have been provided with individual gas counters while all the remaining subscribers will be fitted in the near future. Promising that the individual gasification problems will be fully solved by the end of 2013, the Minister stated that a particular action plan will be defined for rehabilitating the entire gas cell for eradicating possible breakdowns.

Khetaguri’s address caused controversy among the MPs and oppositional representatives had lots of questions for the Minister. Worrying of the catastrophic situation at the power plants in Japan, Deputy Chairman of Parliament Paata Davitaia wondered whether the technical conditions of Georgian Engurhesi has ever been learned. Talking of the activities carried out for rehabilitating the power plant, Khetaguri highlighted that even if Engurhesi fails, no energy crisis will ever affect Georgia. “On the contrary, not every part of the country will be provided with the energy, but it would also be possible to export production,” he said in answer.

Reasonable prices, according to opposition MPs, are not only beneficial for the individual subscribers, but also for the development of a business environment. Asking the Minister to look through the gas and electricity tariffs, opposition MPs worried that Georgia has the highest tariffs in the whole region - almost equal to European tariffs.

Guram Chakhvadze, MP from National-Democratic Party, compared the situation with the developed countries and asked the Government to consider the spending capabilities of Georgian people. “Being the producer and exporter of energy, Georgia should offer its citizens more reasonable tariffs but unfortunately these tariffs are quite unfair,” Chakhvadze stated. But the Minister explained that gas and electricity prices are the lowest in Georgia just after Azerbaijan.

Majority MPs dismissed the oppositional claims and reminded them of the hard conditions the country had been facing in previous years. Accusing the opposition of demagogy, MPs asked their opponents to see the positive side of the activities carried out by the UNM and highlighted that energy has been among the most problematic sectors in our country.

Minister of Agriculture Bakur Kvezereli also spoke of ongoing projects within the agricultural sector to MPs. Infrastructural development, an irrigational system and technological improvements are among the prioritized activities defined by the Ministry of Agriculture. Talking of the importance of corn and wheat production, Kvezereli pointed out that the high-quality wheat planted in autumn 2010 will give at least 22 000 tons of seed harvest this summer and bring enough seed for 4 years. As for the American corn, the Minister hoped to succeed in importing the product in future.

Talking of the drawbacks that the Georgian agricultural sector is facing nowadays the Minister spoke of a necessity for technological development for Georgia. Emphasizing the importance for encouraging the farming industry in the regions, Kvezereli suggested that the income of farmers should be better than it is nowadays. Talking of the long-term prospective of farming in Georgia, Kvezereli shared the plans for encouraging pork and lamb production with export challenges.

Despite the promises from the UNM team members that they would fully assist the agricultural development plan offered by the Minister, opposition MPs demanded the withdrawal of Minister Kvezereli from his position. Stressing that Kvezereli has failed in dealing with the problems in the agricultural sector, the Christian-Democrats worried of the conditions of the Georgian farmers. “Don’t you feel responsible for the drawbacks within the sector?” CDM members asked the Minister. Wondering why the Government hadn’t started all the promoting projects earlier.