President-elect Mikheil Saakashvili said on January 18 that he would replace “the vast majority” of cabinet ministers and provincial governors.
“We have decided to change the vast majority of ministers and not only ministers, but also governors in the next few days. We are doing this because we need new momentum, new energy and new force to fulfill huge tasks,” Saakashvili said. “Changes are needed because of those huge problems we face, because of the huge challenges we face and because change is always needed… So a reshuffle is needed to prevent stagnation… it's also needed not just for the sake of a reshuffle in itself, but to increase efficiency.”
Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said on January 17 that the expected cabinet reshuffle would affect more than half of the current ministers.
He said that Giorgi Arveladze, the economy minister, would not retain his portfolio in the new cabinet. “Arveladze plans to go into business,” Gurgenidze said on a live late-night political talk-show aired by Rustavi 2 TV.
PM Gurgenidze said the new cabinet, to be formed after Saakashvili’s inauguration on January 20, would, as the prime minister put it, contain at least one “new face.” Sandro Kvitashvili, he said, “will be back in Georgia after spending six years in New York,” and would be offered a ministerial position. He gave no other details. “[That's] ... all I can say at this stage,” he said.
Kvitashvili, a long-time acquaintance of Gurgenidze's, served as a senior director of administration at New York-based EastWest Institute (EWI). He has a health administration background and was President of the Curatio International Foundation in Tbilisi. Prior to joining EWI, he served as UNDP National Expert for Health, Education and Social Sectors, Poverty Reduction and Economic Growth Program in Georgia. He also served as a consultant to several international organizations in the Balkans, the South Caucasus, Eastern Europe and the United States.
In his televised interview, the prime minister confirmed that structural reform of the government was on the way. Several vice-premiers, instead of the current one, Gurgenidze said, were on the cards.
He denied media speculation that the break-up of the Ministry for Healthcare and Social Welfare was planned. “Personally I am against this kind of break-up,” he added.
Kakha Bendukidze, the state minister in charge of coordinating reforms, has also come out against the break-up of the ministry. Spliting it into two separate ministries, one dealing with social issues and the other healthcare “would be a step back,” Bendukidze said on January 17.
Meanwhile, Georgian media sources, in the absense of hard information from officials on the new cabinet, have been engaged in a frenzy of speculation. Bendukidze; Davit Tkeshelashvili, the minister for healthcare and social welfare; and Goka Gabashvili, the minister for sports and culture, are said to be up for the chop. Some reports suggest that Davit Bakradze, the state minister in charge of conflict resolution, will be made Foreign Minister, replacing Gela Bezhuashvili. Kakha Lomaia, the secretary of the National Security Council, while retaining his position for now, will, according to the media, be given a diplomatic posting after the parliamentary elections. There has also been much talk that Giga Bokeria, a lawmaker from the ruling party, will either be given a diplomatic posting or made deputy foreign minister.
Despite opposition calls for his resignation, there has been no suggestion that Vano Merabishvili, the interior minister, will be affected in the cabinet reshuffle. It remains unclear whether planned structural changes will apply to the Interior Ministry, which has control over the security services as well. De-coupling security from the ministry - “a monster,” according to the opposition – has been a key opposition demand for a couple of years.