Presidential candidate Mikheil Saakashvili has pledged, if re-elected on January 5, a three-fold economic growth over the next five years, resulting in what he termed a “Georgia without poverty.”
Saakashvili was speaking at the presentation of his election program on December 16. His half hour speech was aired live by three national TV stations (Rustavi 2, Mze and the Georgian Public Broadcaster), while Imedi TV showed a short clip.
Saakashvili appealed for support in particular from socially vulnerable people, keeping in line with a recent official focus on addressing social problems.
“I need your support, because my [second term] as President will be dedicated to you [poorer people],” he said. “Today many of our compatriots live better than they did four years ago. And their votes are enough to re-elect me, but I don't just want the votes of such people, who are many and who already live in a better Georgia, in a Georgia which is already without poverty.”
“I, first and foremost, want the most deprived, those still waiting for the day when they have a job, to vote for me. I appeal to those still living in a Georgia waiting to be set free of poverty… I want you, those of you in poverty, to believe in me and to know that measures undertaken by me will result in the defeat of your poverty. The road we have embarked upon will lead us to a Georgia without poverty. This won’t be easy, but we can do it.”
Saakashvili said he wanted more than anything “to restore hope to those without jobs; who need money for healthcare, but who can't even go to hospital, and those without money to buy textbooks for their children. I want to restore hope to those who have lost it.”
He acknowledged that the reforms undertaken by him in the last four years had been “very painful.” “It was clear to me that it was a hard road, but there are no easy reforms. All these reforms are aimed at one purpose – getting closer to the day when we could really begin to fight against poverty,” he said.
Saakashvili - whose election slogan is "Georgia Without Poverty" - said his government's focus over the last four years on infrastructural reforms was the only basis on which “the real fight against poverty” could be fought.
“Georgia without poverty has been a major goal of mine and my political partners for a long time,” he said. “I began this struggle even when our slogan was ‘Georgia Without Shevardnadze’ [in 2003] because I was convinced that Shevardnadze meant permanent poverty for my country. I engaged in this struggle when my slogan was ‘Georgia Without Corruption’ , because I was convinced that corruption was a source of poverty; it was my major goal when I was constructing roads and when we were fighting the criminal world… Without all these measures, it would have been impossible to tackle poverty.”
Saakashvili said poverty eradication would be achieved based on economic growth. “In my next presidential term, Georgia’s economy will be worth USD 30 billion, three times more than it is now. When we came into power this figure stood at only USD 4 billion,” he added.
He has also pledged “a free healthcare package” involving health insurance worth GEL 12,000 for “the 680,000 most socially vulnerable people.”
Saakashvili also pledged, with support from the business community, GEL 1,000 for every newborn child from a socially vulnerable family. “Which means that this [amount of money] will go to every third newborn child in Georgia,” he said.
He has also promised to increase the minimum pension to USD 100 a month over the next two years.
“Georgia without poverty means my new social policy. First of all it means an increased minimum pension of USD 100. Pensions already increased [from GEL 38] to GEL 55 [in December]; next year the figure will increase to GEL 76 and in the following year  it will be USD 100,” Saakashvili said.
Saakashvili said that the authorities planned to boost the economy by launching a program of cheap credit, starting next year. He said that the initiative would involve six different forms of credit.
“The first one is ‘a tax credit’ for newly set up enterprises. It means that enterprises established in 2008 and in 2009 will not have to pay taxes worth GEL 2,000 that they ordinarily would have expected to pay over the next ten years… This means giving these small enterprises a total of GEL 120 million from the state budget,” he said.
The second type of credit would be, he said, five-year credits with a maximum 10% interest rate for reinvestment purposes, with a total worth of GEL 100 million.
The third component, he said, would be for boosting exports, envisaging a total of GEL 25 million.
“The fourth component is 25-year credits with a 4% interest rate for the best business projects, which will be selected on the basis of competition. The amount of credit will range from GEL 5,000 to GEL 100,000,” Saakashvili said.
The fifth type is cheap credits for “regional development” and the sixth one, he said, would be directed towards the purchase of agricultural equipment. “Hundreds of tractors” will be handed over to farmers, who will have 15 years to repay the state, he said.
He said that his goal was to turn Georgia into the business center of the entire Black Sea region. In this context, he underlined the importance of the planned free economic zone in Georgia’s Back Sea port of Poti.
Saakashvili also promised “a dignified job” for everyone, “regardless of age.”
Then he acknowledged widespread criticism that many elderly public sector workers had been fired. “Unfortunately, that happened in some cases because of a cold-hearted approach by some state structures,” Saakashvili said. This, he said, would change.