Budget Draft Comes in for Tough Criticism in Parliament
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, October 26
The 2012 state budget has once more become the object of sharp debate in parliament between the opposition and majority representatives. The question of whether the draft budget is regressive or progressive is the main issue.
The leader of the parliamentary minority party the Christian Democrats, Giorgi Targamadze, thinks the budget is regressive. He says that agriculture, which should be the initial priority for the state, has shifted into second place and that the government's position towards agricultural development is "obscure and unclear." Thus, Targamadze has several questions for the Prime Minister Nika Gilauri: "I am interested in whether our government still continues to save the state economy with frogs and the eggs of ostriches, or are they finally going to make a decision together with the opposition members and think about a real strategy of economic development," Targamadze, said, adding that Gilauri should explain to the opposition why newly appointed Minister of Agriculture, Zaza Gorozia, is better that his predecessor Bakur Kvezereli.
United National Movement's Petre Tsiskarishvili responded to the opposition by claiming that the main priorities of the Georgian economy are far from 'frogs and ostriches' but instead maize, wheat and wine. "The financing of agriculture is not based only on those sums written into the budget," Tsiskarishvili said and blamed the opposition of only criticising. Similarly, majority leader and Vice-Speaker Mikheil Machavariani recalled US President Ronald Reagan's speech who asked after four years of ruling, “are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Machavariani advised the parliamentary minority to follow Reagan’s example and realize how different today’s situation is compared to previous years. He went on to say that infrastructure is now developed and there is progress in the insurance system, including healthcare.
“We are going forward, despite the problems”, Machavariani said, adding that the 2012 budget is a budget of progress. He says that the opposition always only criticizes the government. He said that it would be better if the opposition showed a way of solving problems instead of only criticizing.
The opposition's criticism was unacceptable and "absurd" for the head of the parliamentary finance-budgetary committee, Zurab Melikishvili. The majority representatives also spoke about successful reforms and projects carried out in the agricultural field during Kvezereli's period as agricultural minister, introducing hybrid maize. This raised the ire of the opposition. Levan Vephkhvadze, representative of the Christian Democrats called on parliamentary majority members Petre Tsiskarishvili and Akaki Bobokhidze to respond to those whose hybrid corn harvest failed. He said that it would be good if the government admitted that Minister of Agriculture Kvezereli was dismissed from the position due to the failure of the hybrid corn program.
The opposition MP further said that Bobokhidze and Tsiskarishvili had said live on television that smallholders who did not harvest the hybrid corn could take corn seeds for free, though Vephkhvadze claims that governors still tell farmers that they have to pay the prices. Vephkhvadze called on the above mentioned majority MPs to tell smallholders whether they have to pay or not.
Agriculture was not the only issue that the majority and the opposition could not agree on. Some changes are to be carried out in tax system and this was a bone of contention. As the chair of the revenue office of the Ministry of Finance, Jaba Ebanoidze, said "some amnesties are planned for small business and fines are reduced" However, the new position of tax monitors, which will be introduced after the confirmation of the budget is unacceptable for opposition members as "it would be the direct involvement in enterprise issues by the state," parliamentary opposition MP, Guram Chakhvadze, said.
The budget project was also criticized by the economic analyst and the member of New Rights, Giorgi Kalandadze. He stated that the budget project serves the authorities' interests and their aims for the 2012 parliamentary elections. "There are priorities and not concrete programs and concrete sums. Under expenditures, non-classified sums, so called "other expenses" consist of more than GEL 836 million, which is 13.6% of the total budget's expenditure," the analyst says and admits that this enables the authorities to use those sums "for their own priorities" He also paid attention to the fact that based on the draft budget the expenses of the agriculture minister and the minister for refuges will be reduced by GEL 10 million and the expenses of the minister of economy by GEL 26 million, while law enforcement structures financing is increasing.