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New PM promises vouchers to citizens and a new focus on unemployment

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, July 3
Employment, healthcare and agriculture were named as high priorities by the new Prime Minister of Georgia, Vano Merabishvili, on July 2. Merabishvili represented the Minister of Employment and voiced that all Georgians will be provided a 1,000 GEL voucher next year.

The former head of the Caucasus Road Project, Paata Trapaidze, was appointed as the Minister of Employment, a post which has never existed in Georgia prior to its creation. The post would create a base for the employed and would aim at finding out-of-work Georgians employment inside the country.

The prime minister voiced next year’s plan which foresees providing a 1,000 GEL voucher to all Georgian families beginning in 2013. “The families would decide how to spend the money. We suggest the money to be spent in communal fees– on the purchase of medicines, books for children, and for agricultural aims,” Merabishvili stated.

As for healthcare, the prime minister promises the allocation of 3 billion GEL from the state budget over four years. “The sum will be used for all Georgians to be insured. Of course we would proceed with insuring the socially unprotected, refugees, pensioners and preschool children,” Merabishvili said.

Two opposition directions accused the prime minister and the ruling administration of “robbery”. Based on Georgian Dream coalition representative, Levan Izoria, “the ruling administration is repeating Georgian Dream’s future intentions and already- voiced priorities. The Christian- Democrats emphasized that the formation of an employment post was their initiative and was suggested to the President in 2009. “However, at that time the president laughed at our idea,” Levan Vepkhvadze mentioned.

Economic analyst Demur Giorkhelidze assessed the statements as “urgent, one time actions.” Based on his analysis, the authorities admit that their permanent PR campaigns run through their government-owned TV channels do not work. “People do not believe anymore that Georgia is advancing when they have to live in poverty. The government has a real and powerful opponent and some real steps were needed from the authority's side," Giorkhelidze said, and added that the authorities have the resources to ensure 1, 000 GEL vouchers and insurance as well– "it's time the market monopolists to be attacked.” Giorkhelidze also outlined that economic difficulties can not be solved swiftly– “it needs time and a professional team. Would the new prime minister be able to organize a capable team and solve the problems quickly? Let's see... ” Giorkhelidze told The Messenger.

Can Merabishvili’s statements be looked at as an attempt to bribe voters? The Messenger has contacted NGOs concerning the issue. Representative of Young Lawyer’s Association, Lela Taliuri, told us that the statement made by the prime minister does not violate the law, as it concerns the budget allocation in 2013. “However, making such statements during the pre election period has an influence on the voters and political forces must refrain from voicing such promises,” Taliuri said.

The Head of Transparency International Georgia, Nina Khatiskatsi, believes that the Chamber of Control should express interest concerning the statement made by Merabishvili. “Based on the law on Political Unions, all promises during the pre-election period can be looked at as bribing the voters, but those are related with budgetary issues or plans concerning budget allocation. Thus, according to the law, this is not breaking the legislation. However, the content of the statement obviously include such signs,” Khatiskatsi said, adding that the initiative itself is obscure and inadequate. “There are thousands of people, I mean socially unprotected people, who have been begging for help for years, and they are not in the state program because they do not have high enough scores (one should have a definite score to be considered as socially unprotected). It would be a better and more sensible promise to talk about reducing the limit and have more socially unprotected people be cared for by the state,” Khatiskatsi told The Messenger.