TBILISI, DFWatch – The government’s action plan ‘More Benefits to People’ is entirely based on social issues. This is now sparking criticism from experts and government opponents.
The first promise new Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili made was to give each family a 1 000 lari voucher from 2013. This is nearly USD 600, which should be spent within four years.
The other promises are increasing pensions to USD 100 from 2013, minimal insurance for each Georgian citizen, and four billion lari for agriculture development and solving employment problems. Merabishvili plans to spend 20 billion lari or USD 12.2 billion for all these for the next four years – four billion lari to develop agriculture, six billion on pensions, three billion on health insurance, three billion on social assistance and four billion on education.
Georgia’s current state budget is only seven billion lari, which is about USD 4.2 billion.
Merabishvili, who before he became prime minister was head of the country’s most authoritarian law enforcement body and was considered the leader of law enforcement policy, in one day changed his entire political focus, becoming instead concerned with social issues. He is now speaking in leftist terms, while the government per se has a clear rightist ideology and has been carrying out a libertarian policy.
Levan Vepkhvadze, representative of the parliament opposition Christian Democrats, asked the prime minister what caused the transformation of government ideology for the last three months.
Merabishvili answered that it is because of people’s demands, but he did not say how those proposals fall in line with the government’s ideology and how they will be implemented.
Ghia Nodia, Professor at Ilia State University and a former education minister in Saakashvili’s government, says that with its new program, the government has responded to promises made by Bidzina Ivanishvili, front man for the opposition Georgian Dream coalition.
“Political aspect is important here. Specifically, the government reckoned analogical promises, which Ivanishvili had. So they are equal on this front now,” Nodia says. He is considered a supporter of government policy.
The three priorities named by Merabishvili – employment, health-care and agriculture development — are issues which Ivanishvili has said he will make it his priority to solve first of all.
The other issue is how promises given by the Georgian government during the election campaign comply with the law.
“This really doesn’t contribute to an equal election environment,” Nina Khatiskatsi from Transparency International Georgia says, adding that these statements do not contradict the regulation of law which says that a party is prohibited from making any promises, except the future distribution of the budget.
“On the other hand, it means promise for each family to give 1 000 lari in direct assistance and this kind of promise from election subject or representative is of course a violation.”
She says in an election period, the law shouldn’t be interpreted literally, but following general principles, if such statements have an influence on how people vote, then they should avoid making such statements.