|Salome Zourabichvili at the committee hearing.
Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for
Foreign Relations Kote Gabashvili is seen in the
A war of words between the Georgian Parliament and the Foreign Ministry has culminated into a senior parliamentarians’ demand to sack Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili.
In a joint appeal made on October 18, the Parliamentary Committees for Foreign Relations and Integration into Europe requested Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli to raise the issue of Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili’s accountability in regards to recent actions.
The request was made after a hearing of Salome Zourabichvili at the joint session of these two Committees, where the Foreign Minister tried to respond to the criticism which was voiced in regards to astatement by the Foreign Ministry by leading parliamentarians from the ruling National Movement party recently.
Ties between the leading parliamentarians from the ruling National Movement party and Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili have been rocky over the past year. A new wave of exchanges of criticism between the Ministry and the Parliament started on October 12, when Vice-Speaker Mikheil Machavariani voiced concern over the Ministry’s delay to submit to the Parliament for ratification a Framework Convention on National Minorities.
The convention was eventually submitted to the Parliament and lawmakers passed the document on October 13. But this delay was described on October 12 by the Deputy Chairman of the National Movement’s parliamentary faction Davit Kirkitadze as “negligence” by Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili.
In response, the Foreign Ministry’s press office issued a statement saying that it condemns “the criticism of a person who is a top official. The statement [by MP Kirkitadze] is unacceptable, especially when it regards the Foreign Minister [Salome Zourabichvili], while the latter is on an official visit to a foreign country.” Zourabichvili was visiting the UK at the time.
This statement by the Foreign Ministry further fueled tensions and Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze described the Foreign Ministry’s reaction as “disrespectful” of the country’s legislative body.
“I will not tolerate disrespect towards the Parliament from any Ministry, from any Minister or from any official… It seems that the person who made this statement does not understand what the Parliament’s function and role is. It seems that they are also not well aware of the Georgian Constitution,” Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze told reporters on October 17.
“You have chosen to confront the Parliament, which will end with your political [career],” MP Nika Gvaramia of the National Movement party told the Foreign Minister at the committee hearing on October 18.
At the committee hearing the Foreign Minister, who returned from her visit to UK on October 17, justified the Foreign Ministry’s response to the parliamentarians’ criticism by saying that she felt “deep, personal humiliation” by being described “as negligent.”
She said at the hearing that the parliamentarians unleash a wave of criticism towards the Foreign Ministry every time she pays a visit to a foreign country. “And it makes our work very difficult, because the Ministry staff has to respond to that criticism instead of doing its business,” Zourabichvili said.
She also admitted that some mistakes have been made by the Ministry. “I do not say that our Ministry is ideal, but we are working to [improve performance],” Zourabichvili added.
But her “negligence” was not the only reason for criticism. The parliamentarians unveiled at the session of the two Committees “letters of complains” – as they were described by the lawmakers – sent to the Parliament in early October three Georgian ambassadors: Revaz Adamia, the Georgian Representative to the UN, Irakli Chubinishvili, the Ambassador to Russia and Grigol Katamadze, Ambassador to Ukraine.
These three Ambassadors complained of a “lack of communication” with the Minister and her deputies and a lack of professionalism among the Ministry staff. Georgia’s Ambassador to Russia even complained that he never receives instructions from the Georgian Foreign Ministry.
These letters came as a surprise to Salome Zourabichvili. “I knew nothing about these letters. I will talk with these Ambassadors,” she said at the committee hearing.
Zourabichvili was also accused of taking a “softer” stance towards Russia’s role in Georgia’s conflicts, which is, as the parliamentarians put it “in contradiction” to the Georgian President’s and Parliament’s policy. The parliamentarians complained that statements made by Salome Zourabichvili and the Foreign Ministry were not strict enough.
Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze has already given her support for the request of the two Committees. “We are a country which has serious political goals. We can not afford the situation wherein the Foreign Ministry acts with a lack of coordination, when the Embassies do not know how to act, as they have no instructions. There is an absolute misunderstanding between the Ministry and the Embassies. And we can not afford this ignorance [by the Foreign Ministry] of a political course, which should be implemented jointly [by the country’s government and Parliament],” Nino Burjanadze said.
According to the law, in the event that the Prime Minister ignores the Parliamentary Committees’ appeal, the issue can be discussed at a parliamentary session and lawmakers can again demand that the Prime Minister consider the Foreign Minister’s accountability. If the Prime Minister refuses once again, the Parliament can itself impeach the Minister with 118 votes.
This call for Zourabichvili’s resignation comes as not great surprise. Speculations about the ruling party’s leading figures desire to sack Zourabichvili have periodically emerged over the past year. It has even been speculated that President Saakashvili also wants the Foreign Minister to resign.
“What we have witnessed at the parliamentary committee hearing today was a natural process. But I regret that the Parliament focuses on personalities and not on the performance of the entire government, which I think is terrible [the government’s performance]. I think that Salome Zourabichvili is one of the best among the current Ministers,” MP Levan Berdzenishvili of the opposition Republican Party, who is the member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, said after the hearing.
French-born Salome Zourabichvili, who served as French Ambassador to Georgia, was appointed as Georgia’s Foreign Minister last March after she was granted Georgian citizenship by President Saakashvili. Last year Saakashvili said that he even discussed the issue of Zourabichvili’s appointment with French President Jacque Chirac and Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.
A milestone agreement with Russia over the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia reached in May, 2005, is regarded as a huge success for Zourabichvili during her time as Georgian Foreign Minister.