President Saakashvili is expected to unveil plans to initiate a new bill guarantying property rights when he delivers his third annual state of the nation address to the Parliament this month.
Although a draft of the law has not yet been written, the idea behind the initiative will be that property that has already been privatized will remain “untouchable,” sources close to the government say.
The authorities' alleged abuse of property rights has lately featured prominently in the local media and has also become a major target for the opposition’s criticism.
The issue emerged in the focus of attention in December, when Tbilisi-based Imedi television reported cases where dozens of restaurant owners in downtown Tbilisi “voluntarily” handed over the spaces occupied by their businesses to the state without any compensation. Allegations emerged that they were pressured into doing so by the authorities.
The controversial trend again came to the public's attention in January when there were several cases where the Tbilisi Municipality’s supervisory agency, which is in charge of overseeing building codes in the capital city, used bulldozers to demolish commercial spaces under the pretext that the buildings were deforming the appearance of the city.
Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, who has been seen as a key figure behind the municipality’s drive to deal with “illegal constructions,” said on January 31 that all buildings constructed through “illegal and corrupt deals” will be destroyed.
Georgian Public Defender Sozar Subari claims that this “negative trend” is nothing new, as problems related with property rights started to emerge in 2004. He added that the trend is not limited to Tbilisi, as many cases have been reported in Shida Kartli region as well.
Subari says that usually the Tbilisi Municipality implements rulings to demolish “illegal constructions” immediately so that owners have no time to appeal the ruling in court.
It is not yet clear how the new legislative initiative will deal with previous cases in which owners claim that their property was illegally confiscated or destroyed by the authorities.
Officials say that the President will unveil a blueprint, and then a detailed draft law will be elaborated.
Mart Laar, the Georgian President’s economic advisor, appears to be a major force behind the creation of the law.
Laar, former Prime Minister of Estonia who was contracted to advise the Georgian leader in economic reforms last May for a one-year term, said in an interview with the RFE/RL Georgian Service on February 1 that he has been discussing this problem with both the Georgian authorities and business circles.
In the interview, he said there should be a special legislative act on the protection of property rights to explain to the population which privatization cases may be investigated by the authorities, but he also added that it will be desirable if such cases are few.
Laar also said that this is “a very sad legacy” of the past when privatization was carried out in a way associated with lawlessness and injustice for many people. He went on to say that this legacy triggers the temptation to restore justice in a different way - and if it is impossible to do this through legal means, other methods are often used, “and this makes me worry.”
MP Davit Gamkrelidze, the leader of the New Rights Party who was one of three key opposition lawmakers who met with President Saakashvili on February 6, said after the talks that the president pledged to initiate a draft law within two or three weeks as an additional guarantee of property rights.
“The President voiced his clear position that he shares the opinion that property should be untouchable… My feeling is that Saakashvili is really concerned about society’s reaction to this issue [the abuse of property rights], so I think that he has decided to put an end to this illegal activity,” MP Gamkrelidze said.
During a recent visit to Georgia in December, the IMF mission called on the Georgian authorities “to accelerate structural reforms, especially in those areas pertaining to stronger property rights.”