Former Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, said on February 4 that his newly launched non-governmental organization, Citizen, will focus on helping media to increase its professionalism and the public in keeping the government under permanent scrutiny.
Speaking at a lengthy press conference, his first one since quitting PM’s post in November, Ivanishvili described aims of his NGO in general terms and said that it has no specific projects yet.
“There will be no dream team in government and neither should the society wait for such to come. The society should be a filter; the society should be in charge of everything and the government should know that it is hired by the public. These skills should be stimulated in the public,” Ivanishvili said.
He said that the priority of his NGO will be “to help the society” in gaining “skills in hiring government”, which he explained as knowing “how to elect the government and how to keep it under public control.” On media issues, he said that his NGO will be funding trainings for journalists and will also commission monitoring of media outlets to keep track of quality of reporting.
Asked to name at least three issues over which he thinks the current government deserves criticism, Ivanishvili responded he can’t immediately recall any.
He said that he’s “very much satisfied” with the government, which he described as “European type.”
“I think that we have a good government,” Ivanishvili said. “But I also understand that the society should not be satisfied with it and that is already happening.”
Asked how he plans to convey his criticism to government when he deems it necessary, Ivanishvili responded that he can do it both publicly via media and privately through directly contacting “some” government members.
Later during the press conference, he said he “did not like” how PM Irakli Garibashvili described last year’s economic situation.
“I would criticize Garibashvili for incorrectly saying that economy ‘declined’ under the new government; I disagree that we had economic decline, we started revitalization of the economy,” Ivanishvili said.
He did not specify which statement of Garibashvili he was referring to, but most recently when the PM spoke publicly about the economy was on February 1 at the Munich Security conference, when he mentioned in his remarks that there was a “slowdown” in economic growth; he did not use a term “decline”. But even though he said “slowdown” and not “decline”, when asked to comment on Ivanishvili’s criticism, Garibashvili, who is now visiting Brussels, responded: “We should accept criticism when we deserve it. I absolutely share this [criticism]. We had no economic decline… There was a certain slowdown.”
Ivanishvili said that he remains involved in economic matters through Georgian Co-Investment Fund, a private equity fund launched last September to which Ivanishvili has committed USD 1 billion of his own money.
‘No Force is Capable to Stop European Integration’
During the press conference Ivanishvili stressed on multiple occasions importance of Georgia’s European integration.
“I have not even an iota of doubt that we will sign this agreement and no effort whatsoever can derail us from it,” he said.
He said that there will be not only external forces, referring to Russia, who will try to create obstacles to Georgia on its European integration path, but also “other forces, including within the country too.”
Ivanishvili declined to elaborate when asked to specify whom he was implying by “internal forces”, but said: “The process itself will reveal it. There will be attempts, but these will be very meager attempts.”
“I do not know any force capable to stop our return to the European family,” he said.
When speaking on this issue, he also said Georgia’s current government is “very responsible” one “free from any liability” towards any internal or external forces.
“Government owes nothing either to business or to any country,” he continued. “Stance [towards the European integration] within the Georgian public is actually unanimous.”
“Not just signing of the Association Agreement, but we should actively think about membership in the European Union,” he said.
When speaking about his NGO, Ivanishvili said he was willing to cooperate with other non-governmental organizations “which have high standards and whose activities contribute to country’s European” integration.”
‘Lack of Quality Debate’
Ivanishvili said that the society is already very active and his NGO would only further contribute to this process.
“I like very much polemic that is taking place between the society and the government,” he said. “In general a very good process is underway – the society is very active.”
He said that the only problem is that “there are over-exaggerated emotions and noise”. “Instead I would like polemics to have more quality,” he said.
Ivanishvili, who lashed out for multiple times at UNM opposition party during the press conference even when question was not at all about UNM or the previous government, said that “irresponsibility and unprofessionalism” of the opposition party causes this “shortcoming” of lack of scrutiny of the government in a “qualitative manner”.
“Opposition has an important role in this, but regrettably it performs its function in this regard very poorly. I think that’s the main shortcoming,” Ivanishvili said. “But new forces will emerge and we will develop gradually.”
Ivanishvili said that because his NGO, Citizen, will not be able to cover all the areas of interest simultaneously, he is also considering providing funding for launching several affiliated non-governmental organizations which will unite experts from various specific fields and which will be working closely with the Citizen.
He said about GEL 50,000 will be allocated annually from his charitable foundation, Cartu, for each of such NGO. He said that one such NGO has already been launched by Archil Kbilashvili, who served as chief prosecutor when Ivanishvili was the Prime Minister. He said that Kbilashvili’s NGO will be working in legal field.
During the press conference he engaged in verbal exchange with a journalist – not unusual for his media events – after the latter asked him about his “unfulfilled” promises he gave to voters before election victory in 2012. On a separate occasion, he criticized Rustavi 2 TV for reporting “lies” and told its journalist at the press conference: “If I were you, I would not be proud of working for Rustavi 2 TV.”