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Relief Efforts for Disaster-Hit Kakheti Becoming Campaign Issue Ahead of Polls
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 31 Jul.'12 / 13:04

Disaster-hit Kakheti region continues receiving lots of attention from government and opposition after strong wind, hailstorm and flooding overnight on July 19 wreaked havoc on housing and crop lands as relief efforts have also turned into a campaign issue ahead of the October parliamentary elections.

Most of the debates have been centered on Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili’s decision to pay his multi-million fine, which he said was his contribution to the relief efforts. The Georgian Dream claims that the payment of GEL 80 million fine was the only legal way for Ivanishvili to donate money for disaster relief and the opposition coalition is now actively campaigning in Kakheti region to deliver this message to locals, saying that the state budget has now additional GEL 80 million which allows the government to fully compensate for inflicted damage.

“We came here in Kakheti to tell the local residents that there is all the resources available in the state budget in order to fully compensate for their damages, including, not only for damaged houses, ripped off roofs, destroyed household belongings, but also for lost crops and livestock,” Maia Panjikidze, a spokesperson for the Georgian Dream, said while speaking with reporters in the disaster-hit town of Telavi on July 30.

She said that the Georgian Dream was setting up its “monitoring teams”, which would be visiting “each and every family to tell them that there is in the budget GEL 80 million, which Bidznia Ivanishvili has transferred with a purpose to fully compensate for inflicted damage.”

“Monitoring teams will register households’ damage through special questionnaires… afterwards we will put any possible pressure on the government in order to fully compensate for the entire damage,” she said.

The Georgian Dream, which slammed aid package, pledged by the government, as “meager compensation”, has also vowed to fully compensate for the damage in case of victory in the October parliamentary elections.

The authorities try to counter the Georgian Dream’s claims about multi-million payment by arguing that charity is only a pretext on which Ivanishvili wants to capitalize ahead of elections and the real motive behind Ivanishvili’s multi-million payment was to regain control over his banking assets, which were seized by the state after his initial refusal to pay the fine. Government supporters also stress that Ivanishvili first toured villages in the Kakheti region on July 22, only three days after the disaster hit the region.

Meanwhile, the government announced on July 29 about recruiting 300 volunteers, mostly students, who are visiting households in Kakheti region to register, as the officials say, in details all the damage inflicted to the families. These “teams of volunteers”, as the authorities call them, have special questionnaires which are filled out with a purpose to record all the damage in any particular household.

Ex-head of the state audit agency, Levan Bezhashvili, who is now president’s envoy tasked to coordinate relief efforts, met on July 30 with coordinators of these “teams of volunteers” to discuss the process.

“We should go into each and every family and ask each peasant what kind of damage the disaster inflicted on them… in order to then elaborate concrete government assistance programs,” Bezhashvili said at the meeting.

President Saakashvili, who is active in holding campaign meetings in various parts of the country, visited Kakheti region for multiple times since the disaster. On July 30 Saakashvili, who was dressed in a military uniform, addressed in Telavi military servicemen, who were sent to the region to help in disaster relief efforts. He thanked troops, which were withdrawn from Kakheti on July 30, for their contribution and said that not all the damaged houses were yet repaired, “but we’ll do that three times faster than any government of a foreign country could have done it.”

Saakashvili said that Kakheti region, which he described as “a brilliant embodiment of Georgia’s identity”, was hit with the disaster which inflicted material damage, which was not less than the one inflicted by the August, 2008 Russia’s aggression. He, however, also said that this disaster on the other hand was opening up new opportunity for the region as large-scale rehabilitation projects were planned.

He called on opponents “not to get under our feet and don’t hamper us in [implementing] these huge plans, which we have in respect of this region.”

“This disaster has inflicted a huge damage on us, but everyone has seen that not a single region, not a single, town or a village and not a single person will be left alone in the most difficult time,” Saakashvili said.

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