TBILISI, DFWatch–The government in Georgia wants to sell a high-rise in Batumi that was built during the previous government to be used for a new university.
Then president Mikeil Saakashvili opened the 35-storey tower in 2012, which has a small ferris wheel at the top and is the city’s tallest building.
The stated reason for selling the building is that it is unsuitable for a university. Education Minister Tamar Sanikidze says the building doesn’t comply with educational standards. “There is not foreseen a single thing which would suit the specifics of a university,” she told journalists on Monday. “There even symbolically is not mentioned the word ‘laboratory.’”
But supporters of Saakashvili claim the real reason is that the technical university has symbolic importance for their party, the National Movement, and demonstrated against the decision on Monday.
The plan was to have a technical university that could offer courses in technology, informational science and engineer on bachelor, MA and PHD levels. It was a joint American-Georgian initiative. Early on, there were reports that the American investors didn’t like the project, but the National Movement government assured that negotiations succeeded in convincing the Americans to continue to finance the project.
Representatives for the National Movement now claim that getting rid of the tower, which it has cost 40 million laris to build, is a personal initiative of former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
The government considers using the building for a hotel, and instead constructing a new building somewhere else to house the technical university. This will be ’20 times better’ than Saakashvili’s project, according to Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.
During the election campaign in 2012, Georgian Dream spokespersons said they wanted to take down some of the futuristic constructions built by Saakashvili’s government, such as the bridge of peace and concert hall in Tbilisi. Georgian Dream also criticized Saakashvili’s idea to construct an entirely new city called Lazika on the Black Sea coast and populate it with half a million people. Another project Georgian Dream didn’t like was Saakashvili’s presidential palace in Tbilisi, which also the current president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, was against at the time, although he decided about a year ago to start using it for his office, a decision which put him on collision course with the prime minister and other government members.
But before moving into the palace, Margvelashvili said he had had consultations with the education minister and made a decision that the presidential palace in Avlabari, Tbilisi, would be used to house the Batumi technical university. This idea was abandoned, however.
Last week, First Deputy Economy Minister Dimitry Kumsishvili said that the building of the technical university in Batumi, which has remained non-operational and served as a shelter for homeless or tourists, will be put up for auction. He said the starting price will be presented at the auction and the money from the sale will be transferred to the state. An investor, whom the deputy minister didn’t name, suggested USD 25 million as starting price.
“Right now, the Samkharauli National Forensic Bureau is evaluating the property and then everything will be decided,” Kumsishvili said.
The ministry believes that one of the best options is to turn it into a hotel.
Prime Minister Garibashvili on Wednesday told journalists during a visit to Borjomi that Bidzina Ivanishvili is to finance the new technical university through his fund Cartu, where Garibashvili used to work before going into politics and joining the Georgian Dream coalition. He said that the Cartu project for the university will be ‘ten times and twenty times’ better than Saakashvili’s project, and unique in the Caucasus region.
He added that soon Cartu will make a statement about the details of the project valued several tens of million.
Tbilisi Mayor Davit Narmania said on Wednesday after a session of the city government that as soon as Crtu presents a concept for the new university, the government of the capital will propose several locations to construct it at.
At Monday’s demonstration, Giorgi Kirtadze from the National Movement said selling the university was a ‘whim’ of former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, that Batumi should be without a technical university.
Kirtadze said that Ivanishvili lied when he said that the university would open in Kutaisi instead of Batumi, which didn’t happen. “Selling the technical university is a crime. Ivanishvili can sell a penguin but not a university.”
“Education is light, being without education is being Bidzina [Ivanishvili]” was one of the messages at demonstrators, who claimed that there is plenty of space in Batumi for businesses so it is not necessary to sell the building for this reason.
It was believed that constructing the university in Batumi was Saakashvili’s personal idea. He is known to love Batumi and paid more attention to building and rehabilitation there than other places. He wanted to decentralize the functions of the capital and move state bodies to other cities, an idea which some saw as driven by a wish to avoid Tbilisi, where opposition to Saakashvili was strongest. Parliament was moved to a new building in Kutaisi, and the ex-president also wanted to move the Supreme Court to Batumi.
During a press conference at the UNM office, spokespersons for the party drew attention to the suspension of the the Agricultural University‘s accreditation – a university founded by the deceased businessman and former Economy Minister Kakha Bendukidze, who was an immportant ideologue for the National Movement government.