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Solitary bid for TV antenna attracts criticism of Government transparency

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, August 4
The Georgian Government is afraid of losing control of the TV-communicational space, Giorgi Akhvlediani from Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) said on Wednesday. The opposition MP spoke of the reasons why the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development had announced the electronic auction aimed at giving Alfa-Comi (formerly the Georgian TV-Radio Centre) away for “a 4-year management”. He stressed that transparency of the process would bring ten times more money to the Ministry for the Georgian TV-Radio Centre than Golden-Comi will be able to. Akhvlediani supposed that the winner of the e-auction Golden-Comi had been created by the Georgian Government to keep control over the TV-radio space.

Golden-Comi became the only participant of the bid which took the right to manage the TV Antenna for GEL 110 000 per year in return for carrying out a 12 million USD investment over four years. This company has caused controversy among Georgian society. According to the information released by Eka Gigauri, Executive Director of Transparency International Georgia, Vasil Bolashvili the owner of Golden-Comi had been an individual entrepreneur with great endowment to the ruling United National Movement (UNM) in past times; Transparency International Georgia found lots of questions around the auction because Bolashvili had registered his company on July 11 - a week earlier than the auction was officially announced. Transparency International found the timeframe for this bidding process inappropriately short. “The short bidding period practically excludes foreign bidders as well as domestic bidders that do not have (access to) inside-knowledge,” said the report.

Transparency International also found it impossible for any serous bidder “to draft a four-year business plan ensuring sustainable operation of Alfa-Comi” transmitting the signal of more than 30 radio stations, 16 TV stations and a number of telecommunication providers throughout the country. The terms of the auction did not also specify the kind of investment needed and the auction-website provides no description of the technical infrastructure Alfa-Comi operates and the condition of its assets. Worried with the lack of a “fair and competitive environment” Transparency International claimed that the insufficient supporting documentation and the short time-frame for the submission of bids would make it difficult for bidders to understand the main direction of the Ministry: “Maintain the profile of the enterprise.”

Eliso Chapidze Deputy Editor of Rezonansi newspaper stressed the necessity for launching a media investigation for finding out Bolashvili’s personality who “wasn't known to the media or advertising business as an experienced businessman.” But the members of UNM deny any connections with Bolashvili. As Davit Darchiashvili, ruling party M,P told the media Bolashvili is a person who won the tender announced by the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development.

Political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze found the “deal” dubious. Wondering why the Government found it necessary to give Alfa-Comi for hire, Sakvarelidze supposed that the authorities were endangering the “freedom of speech” in Georgia. “The fact that the conditions of auction were so unclear and it had only a single participant, make us think that something is wrong about this process,” the analyst said worrying that the TV antenna would become an additional “suppressor” of independent media.