TBILISI, DFWatch–Drivers of minibuses on the route between Tbilisi and Rustavi have been on strike for the last few days, demonstrating outside the office of the Georgian Dream coalition. They accusing Rustavi city authorities and Energy Minister Kakhi Kaladze of corruption.
City Hall in Rustavi, a town 20 km south of the capital, recently announced a tender to replace the minibuses.
The company Intertrans won and is planning to replace the minibuses with yellow minibuses, but the drivers who have their own minibus lines claim that the tender was rigged and that ordinary drivers weren’t able to participate.
They also claim that Intertrans has ties with Energy Minister Kakhi Kaladze’s friends, but this was rejected by Rustavi City Hall.
Drivers say that they don’t know if the company plans to offer them jobs, but even if there is a such an offer they suspect that Intertrans will make it more difficult for them by setting higher daily license fees.
About 400 drivers currently work on the minibus line between Rustavi and Tbilisi. They demand that the results of the tender are annulled.
“City Hall lied to us. They forced us to change cars, buy new cars produced after 2000, the so-called Sprinters, which costs more than USD 25 000 and now they tell us that these cars aren’t comfortable and we have to change them,” one of the drivers said.
They want the results of tender to at least be postponed for three years, so they can pay down the loans that they took in order to buy Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans.
Mayor Davit Jikia answered that he cannot take responsibility for what’s happening and didn’t force any drivers to change their cars.
He explained that according to the contract with the company, drivers will keep their jobs and ticket prices won’t go up.
One of the drivers, Tamaz Mansiashvili was detained during Saturday’s rally for verbal abuse and resisting police, but was released on Sunday after being cautioned.
Another driver, Shmagi Mikeladze, on Thursday attempted to set himself on fire. He later said that if demands are not met, drivers will burn their cars and themselves.
Mikeladze was taken away by police for questioning and later returned to join the others. On Saturday another driver tried to set himself on fire, but again police intervened.
Drivers wanted to meet with representatives of Georgian Dream, but no-one came to meet them.
On Saturday, the lawyer representing the drivers, Davit Jikia, turned down an offer from Rustavi Mayor Jikia for a dialogue.
Drivers plan to continue demonstrating until the tender is declared invalid.