Defense Minister, Irakli Alasania, told lawmakers on March 21 that improving infrastructure in most of the military units across the country was one of the most urgent priorities, which would also require allocation of additional funds to MoD.
Accompanied by his two deputies, as well as chief of army staff and his deputy, Alasania appeared before the parliamentary committee for defense and security to speak about the priorities and challenges his ministry was facing.
Alasania said that over past year situation in “the territories occupied by our enemy, Russia” had not changed significantly.
He, however, then also said that situation “worsened” to some extent as additional military fortifications and bases had been installed by Russia in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“So our threat assessments indicate that Georgia should be in permanent combat readiness. But at the same time I have to note that recently launched direct talks on restoration of trade relations [with Russia] have reduced probability of resumption of military operations.”
Among the threats he also named “potential terrorism threat” as the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games was drawing near.
He said that the Ministry of Defense was in close cooperation with the Interior Ministry in this regard. He also said that tackling of this potential terrorism threat was also discussed in a regional context; in particular he had discussions over it when he visited Turkey, Armenia and most recently Azerbaijan.
Alasania in his opening remarks stressed about reforming procurement system by increasing its accountability and transparency.
He said that in the first three months of this year 55 public tenders had already been announced with 26 of them already carried out, while last year only 17 such tenders were carried out.
A draft law has been initiated by the Defense Ministry, which, if approved, will obligate the MoD to report to the Parliament’s Confidence Group about classified procurements worth of over GEL 2 million. Parliament’s Confidence Group, which has yet to be formed in the sitting legislative body, is a small group of lawmakers authorized to have access to classified defense spending and other secret projects in the sphere of defense and security.
Under the proposed legislative amendments, the MoD will have the obligation to report to the parliamentary committee for defense and security about every unclassified procurement worth over GEL 2 million. MoD will also have to submit annual reports about procurements to the parliamentary committee for defense and security, according to the proposal.
Alasania said that inspection of infrastructure of military units across the country revealed that situation was “disastrous” in many of the defense facilities, which required urgent response.
He said that after he became the Defense Minister, a commission was established to study condition of infrastructure in military facilities.
He said that the commission, composed of representatives from MoD, joint staff of the armed forces, the parliamentary committee for defense and security, as well as from the National Security Council, tabled its conclusions in February.
“It has been established that conditions in majority of military bases are extremely grave. Right now MoD is elaborating funding plan for addressing these problems,” he said and added that experts from Germany would be invited to help Georgia in drafting long-term logistics development plan.
Short-term task is to address immediate needs required for improving conditions in the military units, he said and added that he had already discussed with the Prime Minister and Finance Minister possibility of allocating additional funds to MoD for addressing immediate infrastructure needs; he also called on the lawmakers to also support allocation of these additional funds.
He said the inspection of about 23 military units showed that conditions were troubling with problems ranging from lack of proper bed linen and pillows, as well as quality food to poor conditions in lavatories with many facilities requiring urgent repair works.
He said that Cadets Military Lyceum in Kutaisi and National Defense Academy in Gori were “exemplary” in terms of their infrastructure. He said that these two facilities were “exemptions” and conditions were grave in many other facilities.
Responding to a question from one UNM lawmaker, who said that much had been done in recent years to improve situation in the army and that conditions in the army are much better now than before President Saakashvili came into power nine years ago, Alasania said: “Yes our armed forces are now in much better condition than they were twenty years ago and in much better conditions than in 2003. But GEL 8 billion was spent since then  in the defense sector… and of course questions remain why these funds were spend so inefficiently and why there are still such problems with infrastructure.”
He also said that there were cases of “elite corruption” and use of army resources for political purposes under the previous leadership of MoD, mainly referring to ex-defense minister Bacho Akhalaia. He said that these cases were now investigated by relevant authorities.
Alasania reiterated that moving completely on professional army was planned by the end of 2016.
A draft law on reducing term of compulsory army service from current 15 to 12 months has already been initiated in the Parliament. Term of compulsory military service was last time changed in early 2012 when it was increased from 12 to 15 months.
He said that the reserve troops would be made of three components – combat reserve forces; territorial reserve forces and civilian reserve.