In his first-ever state of the nation address to the Parliament on February 10 Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that the country has made the step from being a failed state into becoming a state since the 2003 Rose Revolution.
In his one-hour long annual report to the Parliament and nation, the President spoke about Georgia’s domestic and foreign policy, as well as the achievements made and those “numerous challenges” Georgia faces ahead.
In the address, which has already been described by the opposition New Rights parliamentary faction as “a stage-show,” the President was mainly appealing to the ordinary citizens of Georgia. Representatives from various professions, including “successful” teachers, soldiers and patrol police officers, were invited to attend the parliamentary session. Saakashvili thanked each of them separately for their activities in an attempt to add a more emotional element to the address.
Mikheil Saakashvili started his speech by listing the successes which the country’s new government achieved over the past year. He listed the reintegration of Adjara, curbing of corruption and smuggling, creation of a people-friendly Patrol Police and the creation of the Financial Police, designed to fight smuggling, as the major achievements of the government.
He emphasized the process of “building a new, not large, but well-trained armed forces,” as well as the launch of training of the reserve forces.
“To gain peace we need to be a strong nation and a strong army is the major component in this process,” he said.
He also listed the privatization process launched last year among those successful initiatives begun by the country’s leadership. “We need privatization in order to attract investment and to create jobs,” Saakashvili said.
The President stated that the energy sector, education, the healthcare system and defense will be the sectors that the government intends to allocate revenues received from this privatization process.
He said that the government “could cover all the pension and salary backlogs,” as well as increase revenues. In this regard he stressed the role of Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli, whom the President recently nominated for the position of Prime Minister.
“This was the major reason why I decided to nominate Zurab Nogaideli. The person who could increase revenues and repay the entire pension and salary backlog needed to be promoted,” Mikheil Saakashvili said.
Problems, Road Ahead
Saakashvili said that despite these achievements, the country faces “numerous challenges ahead.” He listed unemployment, reform of the judiciary and education systems and self-governance among them.
He said that “the government failed to create new jobs in the private sector and establish a European-style economy.”
“Yes, we have fired many officials from the governmental structures and it was an irreversible process but at the same time we could not create new jobs in the private sector,” he said.
Saakashvili stated that development of services and tourism is one of the major priorities for the government. “But development of infrastructure is necessary first,” he added.
Saakashvili said that there should be no set backs in the process of reforming the education and judiciary system.
“We should achieve a real independence for the judiciary branch, which does not exist now. Kote Kemularia [Chairman of the Supreme Court, who has been nominated as the new Justice Minister] will work hard over this issue at his new post,” Saakashvili stated.
The President said he is not ready “to appoint all the officials in the region from the center.”
“Mayors of all the cities should be elected starting next year,” he said.
Saakashvili did not specify, though, whether these elections should be direct or whether the mayors should be elected by members of elected councils.
President Saakashvili also said that the number of parliamentarians should be reduced from the current 235 to 150, as it was decided by the national referendum carried in November, 2003.
“2,300,000 voters said that the number of MPs should be no more than 150 and if we fail to implement this, it will be humiliating for these voters. There should be at least 50 MPs elected in the single-mandate constituencies [instead of the current 75], and MPs elected through party-list should also remain,” Mikheil Saakashvili said.
He said that a two-chamber Parliament should be established; however he did not specify when this may occur.
President Mikeil Saakashvili said that Georgia “has turned into an attractive country for the rest of the world.”
“And this has not happened because Georgia is just a corridor,” he said, referring to the word frequently used to describe Georgia’s role in the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the TRASECA transport corridor begun by Eduard Shevardnadze's administration.
He said that Georgia “has ideal relations with its neighbors,” listing Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. “And we should care for these ideal relations,” Saakashvili added.
He stressed that “another state in the post-Soviet space has emerged recently with aspirations similar to those of Georgia – Ukraine.”
But the President emphasized that there are still problems with Russia. He called on Russia for mutual compromise.
Saakashvili said he is ready to travel to Moscow and again extend a hand of friendship, “which has been hanging [in the air] for one year,” to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Last February, when President Saakashvili traveled to Moscow and met President Putin, the Georgian President said he visited Moscow in order “to extend his hand of friendship” to Putin.
“We face particular problems in our relationship with Russia; however this mistake should be corrected through mutual compromises. This should occur on the basis of defending bilateral interests,” Mikheil Saakashvili said.
He reiterated once again that Georgia will not host military bases of third countries on its soil.