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The News in Brief

Monday, December 5
Putin Meets Abkhaz Leader in Moscow

Russian President Vladimer Putin met Abkhaz leader Raul Khajimba in the Kremlin on December 1, and warned him over the need for internal political stability in the breakaway region.

“We see, of course, that Abkhazia’s domestic political situation is complicated, but this is a normal thing for any society and any country. We do hope, of course, that the situation will remain under control and stay within the bounds of the law; otherwise this would complicate our plans to carry out our economic cooperation projects,” President Putin said.

He said that in the area of investment relations, Russia has put together a package worth more than 9 billion rubles (about USD 140 million).

“Everything must be thoroughly worked through and must be realistic, so that this money goes to real projects such as upgrading the roads, improving the situation in schools and hospitals, and building new kindergartens,” he said.

A day before Khajimba’s working visit to Moscow, Abkhaz opposition party Amtsakhara held a congress on November 30 and called on the Abkhaz leader to step down; it also called on the Abkhaz Parliament to set a date of early presidential elections until December 15; otherwise, it threatened with holding a rally. Khajimba’s supporters said that full responsibility for possible destabilization in the region will lay on the opposition, which demanded referendum to decide whether to call early presidential elections in spring, but when in June Khajimba agreed to hold the referendum, the opposition boycotted it and the referendum was declared invalid due to low voter turnout.

“Obviously, when there is upheaval going on, roads, hospitals and schools are no longer the priority,” Putin told Khajimba, whose five-year term in office expires in 2019.

He said that Russia’s relations with breakaway Abkhazia “are of a uniquely fraternal nature” and “much has been accomplished of late to make Abkhazia stronger”.

“We have an agreement, the basic agreement on friendship and mutual assistance, and a separate agreement concerning military affairs,” Putin said, and emphasized the fact of completion of internal procedures on enactment of the treaty on establishing a Combined Group of Forces.

Khajimba thanked the Russian President for the second meeting with him this year that “in itself is evidence of the level of our relations.”

“Work is certainly continuing on our bilateral legal framework. I am sure that the agreement on alliance and strategic partnership, which we have both signed, will enable us to make reality the plans we have drawn up. We continue working on these matters, developing our relations in areas such as defense, border cooperation, and economy,” Khajimba said.


EU market open for Georgian honey

The EU has completed all formal procedures to put Georgia on the list of the third-countries exporting honey to the EU.

As Minister of Agriculture Levan Davitashvili has declared, the Ministry has conducted important measures to stimulate the export of honey.

As the Ministry reports, the honey will be produced according to the determined standards and place it on the market according to the existing requirements.

Investigation reveals misspending of Government Reserve Fund

The Georgian Government Reserve Fund aimed at funding unexpected and urgent situations, has spent 62% of its budget for programs already funded by the national budget and for which there seems to be no need for emergency spending, investigative website Ifact reports.

It seems this is not a new trend, and the government had handled the issue in the same manner previously as well. For instance, the Fund allocated $2.5 million in 2015 to handle the consequences of the devastating flood that hit Tbilisi centre in June, killing 20 people, while the same fund spent $7.6 million for the European Youth Summer Olympic Festival, which held in Tbilisi the same year. The event was planned at least two year earlier and $3.7 million had already been allocated from Tbilisi city budget for the years 2013-2015, thus rendering it neither ‘unexpected’ nor ‘urgent’.

A State Audit Office report on 2015 spending concluded that proper government budget planning would solve the problem of using emergency funds for planned expenses. The 2015 national budget was $5.1 billion plus a Reserve Fund of $47.2 million; the 2016 national budget was $4.3 billion plus a Reserve Fund of $20.8 million. looked into all the Reserve Fund expenditures for the first nine months of 2016, and calculated that 62 percent could be considered ‘non-emergency’ spending. It includes:

$1.9 million for parliamentary elections. This was in addition to the $18.6 originally budgeted.

$181,500 for annual May 26 Independence Day celebrations, of which $132,700 went to Georgia Public Broadcasting for TV coverage. In 2015, $777,800 was taken from the Fund for May 26 expenses, including $124,400 for Georgia Public Broadcasting.

$2.1 million was transferred to the Ministry of Economics to implement a “Produce in Georgia” agriculture support project.

$8.7 million to cover cost of Microsoft licenses purchased by the Ministry of Finance.

$1.6 million in bonuses for national team athletes.

$4.2 million for a national football development program. This amount was spent despite a different government decree that only $833,000 should be allocated.

However, the 2009 amendment to the law implies that the Fund should only allocate money for urgent projects such as natural disasters, or to fund unforeseen national budget expenses.

Nine months into 2016, the government had already taken $15.4 million from the budgets of the Ministries of Culture, Defense, Foreign Affairs and Environment Protection, and directed that money to the Reserve Fund.

When a national budget is passed by Parliament, a hasty process in Georgia which leaves little time for careful consideration, there is a budget line for the Reserve Fund. In the first 9 months of 2016, Fund spending has already exceeded its budget by $15.4 million, forcing the shift of money from the ministries. In 2015 the Reserve Fund budget was $47.2 million, but final spending was $93.9 million.
(DF watch)