Giorgi Gakharia: It is my third time in Parliament over the past month, a constituent of our responsibility to the public and another argument in support of the country’s progressing parliamentary democracy Print Version

2020-06-26

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In fact, it is my third appearance in Parliament over the past month, which is a constituent component of our responsibility to the public and another prospective argument and factor indicative of the country's progressing parliamentary democracy, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia stated during today's presentation of the annual report to Parliament.

The Head of Government emphasized that the Report on the Implementation of the 2019-2020 Government Program was presented to Parliament about a month ago, so everyone interested should have had a chance to familiarize themselves with it.

"Although we, both globally and at home, have been fighting against the global challenge of the pandemic since February-with this challenge encompassing epidemiological, healthcare, and economic components-the 4 top priority directions presented at the approval of the Government Program are under implementation with varying degrees of success. In some cases, we have serious or remaining challenges, though work in all 4 directions is in full swing. Firstly, it is security and human rights, also economic development, education, human capital development, and state governance," the Prime Minister stated.

The Prime Minister singled out Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration which, according to him, continues and deepens as a direction fundamentally defining the country's future.

According to the Head of Government, the country's Euro-Atlantic integration must have concrete dimensions, such as education, transport, connectivity, energy, labor markets, and others.

"The most important aspects for us in the coming years must be the further development of the existing legislative framework with the EU and the opening of new areas alike, in which process deeper cooperation across a variety of directions of connectivity, such as transport and others, is the key component. And here we must be extra effective in making use of ties with the EU in the direction of the Black Sea component, and we must be very active in this direction. Our today's report, delivered primarily to our citizens, seeks to allow us to discuss concrete results achieved in the 4 key directions of the Government Program," the Prime Minister emphasized.

The Head of Government underlined the importance of security and respect for human rights as the foundation for further building a developed, successful state, the cornerstone for developing various fields in the country.

"We must start with security, because occupation is Georgia's fundamental challenge today. Russian occupation remains the main challenge facing national security, and we must all understand well that, when we are talking about the occupation of 20% of the country's territory, we mean constraint, an actual factor crippling the country's further development. It is not about constraining 20% of our territory. It is, above all, about constraining 20% of our human resources. It is about further constraining our economy, and it is very important for us to understand that. We must understand that the Russian Federation, effectively the controlling state on the ground, is responsible for all fundamental human rights violations in the occupied territories, from the borderization process and kidnapping to murder and restricting the right to health and movement-all these directions are vitally important, and we all understand that the country exercising effectively control is responsible for all these steps," Giorgi Gakharia said.

The Prime Minister emphasized the importance of the engagement of and active cooperation with international organizations in the process of regulating the problem of occupation.

"Besides, we must all understand that the occupied territories of the Tskhinvali Region and Abkhazia stand for our citizens, and we must do everything to provide them with the same public services as offered all our citizens elsewhere in the country. Of course, cementing our sovereignty and securing territorial integrity remains the top priority of Georgia's foreign policy, and we must remember that the protection of human rights in the occupied territories is a crucially important priority direction for our security and foreign policy alike. The international community's proactive mobilization and forming international public opinion on developments in the occupied territories must be the purpose of our daily work. Rounds 49 and 50 of the Geneva International Discussions best exemplify how we promote the importance of the occupied territories among our international partners, because we must understand that peaceful resolution is the only way to solve this problem, and the peaceful path rests in our strategic partners' proactive engagement in these processes. Equally important is the unconditional resumption of meetings on incident prevention and response mechanisms. It has been the only component enabling us to protect the interests of our citizens in the occupied territories, and restricting these mechanisms, along with the long-term closure of temporary crossing points and movement restrictions, pose direct risks of human rights violations. At the same time, we all remember the Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili List, and support from our international partners in this direction is of tremendous importance," the Prime Minister said.

The Head of Government singled out the Georgian Government's initiative, A Step to a Better Future, and added that this initiative fosters people-to-people contacts, and its component, Produce for a Better Future, enables citizens on the other side of the occupation line to be actively involved in economic life.

According to the Head of Government, 19 settlements along the occupation line have been granted the status of mountainous settlements.

"In addition, a few words about healthcare services for our citizens in the occupied territories. Throughout this emergency period, we have received 844 applications, with most of them upheld. I also must emphasize that 19 settlements along the occupation line have been granted the status of mountainous settlements. It may not be much, but it is a step illustrating the Georgian Government's care and consideration," Giorgi Gakharia said.

The Head of Government also reported on Georgia's European and Euro-Atlantic integration as the country's irreversible key strategic directions, one that does not belong to or is decided by one party or another. According to the Prime Minister, Euro-Atlantic integration is the historical decision of Georgia's citizens, the whole country.

The Georgian Government's key task, according to Gakharia, is to deliver on all obligations to European partners, and the Government is taking concrete steps in this direction.

"Tomorrow, June 27, marks the 6th anniversary of the Association Agreement with the EU and its Chapter 4, that is, DCFTA, a fundamental framework for the path which Georgia must complete to join the EU as its full member. Our and any government's major task today is to deliver on our all obligations to our European partners, and the Government is taking concrete steps in this direction. For example, the 2020 National Action Plan for EU Integration has been developed, and the Georgian Government and our law enforcement system are active participants in EU-led peace missions, as clearly evidenced by the Central African Republic and Mali campaigns. We are equally active within the framework of the Eastern Partnership initiative, with its recent summit a few days ago, albeit remote, still yielded concrete results. The European Parliament has approved the Eastern Partnership Resolution and urged the European Council to offer Georgia a strategy to enhance cooperation. Generally, we have serious progress in this direction, and there is a possibility of deeper further negotiations on the use of "four freedoms": free movement of goods, capital, services, and labor. The European Parliament and European Council enhanced cooperation strategy is extremely important, and we must do everything and be maximally effective to secure more for our citizens besides visa-free travel in order to take steps toward full integration and accession to the EU, and to ensure that these steps impact our citizens," the Head of Government emphasized.

The Prime Minister thanked European partners for their assistance to Georgia in the fight against the pandemic.

"In terms of visa-free travel, we remember certain risks in the past years, especially in terms of illegal migration. In this direction, we have been working very effectively with our partners in bilateral formats, and these problems have been solved in various aspects. In many countries, Georgia has been designated as a safe country of origin to simplify further operations and mitigate risks related to visa-free travel. Accordingly, we must continue active work on these directions. Georgia, for six months, chaired the Council of Europe' Committee of Ministers, and although it coincided with the pandemic, the Georgian Government implemented important, effective measures. To summarize the past few years and the reporting period, I once again would like to thank our European partners for assisting Georgia in the fight against the pandemic, namely 183 million euro allocated by the EU to Georgia as a reliable and effective partner to fight against coronavirus," Giorgi Gakharia said.

The Head of Government also discussed Georgia's integration into NATO and emphasized that NATO is Georgia's strategic partner and the most important guarantor of the country's security in the future.

"We continue deepening every active format of cooperation, participation in peace missions, and strengthening Georgia's relations with NATO in the Black Sea dimension, a brand-new component emerging in NATO-Georgia relations. The Black Sea security component is growing increasingly relevant, and Georgia's law enforcement infrastructure-because Black Sea operations fall under the purview of the Interior Ministry's Border Police-and Georgia as a whole must take more effective steps to acquire concrete functions in the Black Sea operations of NATO and our strategic partners," the Head of Government stated.

According to Giorgi Gakharia, full NATO membership is the country's unchanging goal.

"To that end, notwithstanding our excellent results in the past couple of years, we must continue focused work in every current format, such as the NATO-Georgia Commission, the Annual National Program, and the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package, a vitally important tool to prepare the country for full NATO membership, also regular port visits and, as mentioned earlier, we must do everything to enhance the strong and stable presence of NATO and our strategic partners in Georgia's Black Sea ports. We must spare no effort to ensure that the updated, upgraded SNGP proposed during 5th visit by the North Atlantic Council is finalized and then implemented as rapidly as possible. Generally, the quality, deep cooperation of Georgia's security infrastructure with NATO in every direction, such as legislation, defense, security, and democratization, is becoming a priority to enable us to step up the country's preparedness for full NATO membership at any given moment," the Prime Minister underlined.

According to Gakharia, strategic partnership with the US, Georgia's key ally, is developing in every direction important to Georgia and its strategic partner.

According to the Head of Government, these directions are further deepening the country's democratization, respect for human rights, security, and-increasingly importantly-the economic factor.

"I would like to thank our strategic partner for concrete ongoing assistance in the fight against coronavirus over the past 4 months. I emphasize our gratitude to the US for years-long assistance, as embodied by Lugar Laboratory, which has played an unparalleled, crucial role in the fight against the pandemic. I absolutely must single out the bipartisan Georgia Support Act, which we must build on. Equally important is the recent Appropriations Act approved by the US Government and including Georgia among countries to enjoy a higher volume in assistance, namely this year Georgia will receive 132 million USD," the Prime Minister said.

According to Giorgi Gakharia, economic cooperation is a new dimension in Georgia-US cooperation.

"Of course, we are being cautious in discussing special trade arrangements which we may potentially have in the future. It is a very delicate direction requiring attention to detail, and we must spare no effort this year and beyond in this direction," the Head of Government said.

The Prime Minister also spoke about order and security and important steps toward building the country's security architecture.

According to the Head of Government, after the dismissal of the Security and Crisis Management Council and the Security Council in 2017-2018, the gap emerging in this direction was filled through the establishment of the new National Security Council.

"Important steps have taken to create the country's security architecture, meaning the National Security Council and its office. It is critically important to ensure the council's political neutrality and powerful analytical office. We are working in this direction and, as a result of this short period of work, we can list the country's critically important security directions developed by this office, such as the national security concept, not sufficiently advanced in the previous years but currently under development by the council, also the equally important threats assessment document, and cybersecurity as a new but extremely important direction for cooperation with our strategic partners, this direction incorporating engagement not only from the Security Council, but also from the country's special services, such as the Interior Ministry, the State Security Service, and the Defense Ministry and their relevant units. Cybersecurity is the country's increasingly important direction, similar to necessary steps to be taken toward protecting critically important infrastructure. We are working on an effective list of critically important infrastructure, its standards and criteria, secured on a legislative level. And, of course, there are hybrid threats. All these directions are important not only to us, but also to our strategic partners, and it is in these directions that Georgia can acquire an important function and become an effective ally to our strategic partners," the Prime Minister said.

According to the Head of Government, effective defense steps have been taken, and the Defense Ministry's system enjoys the most effective and advanced cooperation with strategic partners within the framework of NATO. Strengthening the country's resilience and creating mobile and effective armed forces compatible with NATO counterparts is key, the Prime Minister added.

Extremely important steps have taken in the course of past few months to improve the socioeconomic conditions of Georgian service members, Gakharia said.

"The Georgian Defense Readiness Program, which has retrained 6 infantry battalions and will retrain 3 more before the end of 2021, is a program training the Georgian army to enhance its defense capabilities, and secure greater mobility and effectiveness. Initiatives under SNGP enjoy very active involvement from the Defense Ministry. And in coming years, this effectiveness will only grow, and so will our cooperation and joint exercises. In terms of improving socioeconomic conditions for every service member, extremely important steps have been taken in the course of past few months, from salary raises to upgraded insurance packages, from NATO-standard uniforms to the modernization of infrastructure in general, all of which enables our fighters to live, exercise, and work in decent conditions-and to secure that, the Ministry is implementing impressive activities. And there is of course technical rearmament, also key to increasing the effectiveness of our armed forces, in which we enjoy help from our strategic partners," Giorgi Gakharia underlined.

The Head of Government singled out the Interior Ministry's role in strengthening domestic security and order.
According to the Head of Government, the Interior Ministry continues systemic updating, with particular results already in place, implying structural and substantial reforms.

"The Interior Ministry is the institution fundamental for strengthening domestic security and order. As you know, the Interior Ministry has launched Criminal Police reform for the purpose of separating functions, with operative, investigative, and district directions delineated. This reform is already finalized at the Central Criminal Police Department and the Criminal Police Departments of Tbilisi and Abkhazia, and its further implementation will continue in every Interior Ministry department. The institute of Law and Order Officers has been created, with 262 such officers operating in Georgia as the foundation of public-oriented police services. It is police with a human face, one that looks after the citizens. It is the best European practice, and much preparatory work has been done to separate investigative and prosecutorial functions. Legislative framework is almost finalized after passing Venice Commission filters providing positive recommendations for further implementation, and the action plan is currently under development. It is a fundamental systemic reform that requires several important components in advance, notably the retraining and enhanced competencies of our investigators from the Interior Ministry's investigative division," the Head of Government emphasized.

In discussing the development of public services, the Prime Minister underlined unified service centers already operating in Tbilisi and Rustavi.

"Express branches are opening in many places because this practice has proved successful, and it is planned to open new ones in Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Guria, and Shida Kartli. I must emphasize the merger of 112 and the Center for Joint Operations into a very effective unit providing the entire infrastructure and epidemiologists invaluable assistance in the same fight against coronavirus, for instance, in terms of contact tracing. Equally noteworthy is the state-of-the-art ProQa system, the only way of for rapid remote emergency management, the best Western practice, which we have already adopted and are using increasingly. In terms of infrastructural upgrading, the Interior Ministry has opened numerous new stations, particular infrastructure renovated, remodeled, or built. I will only single out the new buildings set up for the Sighnaghi Fire and Rescue Station and the Zugdidi Rescue Station, which I have personally visited in the course of past few months. 556 new surveillance cameras were recently installed, totaling 4,508 cameras monitoring crime and traffic in the country today, this technical infrastructure enabling our police forces to reach our goals rapidly and effectively, and our goal in this case is, of course, the safety of our citizens. The police forces continue development projects seeking to improve living conditions for our police officers, and for the state to assist them in this goal," Giorgi Gakharia stated.

The Head of Government also discussed the penitentiary system, with the Government's key goal being to set up a European-standard penitentiary system and effectively prevent crime.

"The penitentiary system presently focuses on this direction, meaning smaller facilities, and numerous vitally important projects have already been drafted, soon to enter the construction phase. As you know, the so-called Matrosov Prison has been shut down, and its inmates have been transferred to the Facility #12 with humane conditions assuring them that they are full citizens of this country and enabling them to enjoy elementary services they are entitled to receive. The mechanism of early release has obviously improved in the past few months, with 329 inmates granted early release in a period from February through April of 2020. The vocational training mechanism for inmates was set in motion on January 1, 2020, and the Justice Ministry spares no effort to secure their resocialization, which is the duty of the state, and this direction must improve further, with the juvenile referral center as an important component. Legislative amendments have been developed and adopted, and this mechanism is already in use. That's was the concluding stage, and now we can say that the Georgian judiciary treats juveniles humanely and adequately, and we must do everything to return these young ones to normal social life," Giorgi Gakharia said.

The Head of Government also spoke about human rights and pointed out that keeping high European human rights standards is the Government's important obligation.

"We can achieve significant progress, especially in our judiciary and law enforcement system, in the country's security, but it is an equally important duty to keep European human rights standards, and we must do everything to ensure that our everyday lives involve progress and steps forward to higher human rights," Giorgi Gakharia said.

The Prime Minister discussed the Strasbourg Court's decision obligating the Russian Federation to pay Georgia 10 million euro for non-pecuniary damages.

"Complaints filed with the Strasbourg Court have decreased in half. In addition, the Strasbourg Court, on January 31, 2019, made a decision on the so-called deportees' case, and obligated the Russian Federation to pay 10 million euro for non-pecuniary damages suffered by those deported from the Russian Federation. You must remember those emotionally distressing and devastating moments for every Georgian," Giorgi Gakharia said.
According to the Head of Government, Georgia's second Strategy for Human Rights Protection is under development, which is indicative of the importance ascribed by the Georgian Government to this work.

According to the Prime Minister, the relevant platform has been enhanced to engage a wide array of representatives of the civil sector and society as a whole.

"We will do everything to ensure that the second Strategy for Human Rights Protection is based on consensus. The new composition of the Human Rights Council has commenced its work, in which we have also done our best maximally to enhance the level of engagement. As one of the indicators, I would like to recall that, even under the pandemic and a state of emergency in the country, we did everything to prevent human rights violations by taking conscious steps. As you know, Georgia was not the only one to face this problem; it faced the whole world, being a global issue, including our European partners. It was quite problematic in terms of cases of domestic violence, for example, and we, together with the Interior Ministry, spared no effort to minimize such cases in Georgia, and to ensure proactive work in this direction," the Prime Minister said.

According to Giorgi Gakharia, social workers' salaries were raised in February of 2020, though it is not enough.

"In addition, a four-year plan has been developed to increase the number of social workers and enhance their competencies and, at the same time, to raise their salaries as well," the Prime Minister underlined.

According to the Head of Government, security infrastructure is vitally important for the country's further democratic development.

"Our steps toward full membership of the Euro-Atlantic community and NATO are designed primarily to ensure minimal standards of the country's security, which is, at the same time, an important precondition for the country to develop in every directions, from economy to culture, politics, sports, and so on," Giorgi Gakharia said.

The Head of Government emphasized that the country's full-fledged development is extremely difficult because of the country's ongoing borderization.

"We must understand that it is extremely difficult to discuss the country's full-fledged development as long as so-called borderization continues the country. In terms of ensuring the country's domestic security, a special role is played by the unified system of justice, in which every governmental and state institution must fulfil its own function. The implementation of analysis-based criminal justice policy is of utmost importance for forging and further developing the country's judiciary in line with humane standards. Ensuring the inevitability of punishment is the only right way to foster justice among our citizens, and the unified system of justice-with its constituents like the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor's Office, courts, and special services-and their effective and independent work are critically important. And it is our task to build this infrastructure together. As for defense, compatibility with NATO standards and the country's continuous preparedness for membership-in terms of the effectiveness, equipment, social status, and budget expenses of our armed forces-must be our constant component, and we must always be ready for it," the Prime Minister said.
The Head of Government emphasized the importance of politically neutral and effective police forces.

"I would like to underline the importance of politically neutral and effective police forces for securing a sense of stability in the country. This is critically important, and we must do everything to ensure the daily development of this system," Giorgi Gakharia said.

According to the Prime Minister, appreciation for police forces, service members, firefighters and rescuers, and prosecutors is a mandatory component in the country's development which is extremely important for the country's success in every other area.

"Ultimately, it all comes down to individuals, each citizen, and each representative of the law enforcement system. Consequently, duly appreciated police officers, service members, firefighters and rescuers, and prosecutors make up a mandatory component in the country's development which is extremely important for the country's success in every other area. I reaffirm that all these systems must develop and grow in effectiveness on one condition, which lies in relevant human rights standards," Giorgi Gakharia said.

The Head of Government, in discussing economic directions, underscored that the economy remains the country's top priority. A strong private sector is the backbone of Georgia's economy, the Prime Minister added.

"We all understand that the economy remains the country's top priority. When the country's security, law and order, and domestic security are in place, we have an opportunity to consider economic development. Ultimately, it all comes down to individuals and the eradication of poverty. We all understand that a strong private sector is the cornerstone and backbone of Georgia's economy-a free private sector creating jobs as the only tool to overcome poverty. This is the main determinant of our economic policy, and job creation, for its part, is the only rapid and effective way to eradicate poverty. When discussing economic policy, we do not mean just tax cuts, or just business environment, but also macroeconomic stability as the biggest determinant of economic policy. It is impossible to speak about economic development without peace and stability in the country. Similarly, we cannot discuss economic development without the country's macroeconomic stability, the foundation enabling us to consider business and other types of development," the Prime Minister said.

Giorgi Gakharia, in discussing economic statistics for 2019, emphasized that 2019 has been one of the best years in this regard.

"2019 has been one of the best years in this regard. The current account deficit hit the lowest, and it is, generally, the Georgian economy's structural problem that has yet to be overcome, but we did have particular results and progress, including in economic growth by 5.1% in 2019, more than projected. Also, allow me to point out significant improvement of fiscal parameters and effectiveness in fiscal consolidation-both critically important in 2019-as one of the most important components underpinning macroeconomic stability. I would like to emphasize that the share of the combined budget in GDP dropped to 21% in 2019, from which remuneration expenditure dropped to 3.6%. Thanks to effective fiscal consolidation, we were able to increase expenditure for investment and infrastructural projects to 8.4%. The deficit of the combined budget in 2019 made up 2.7%, and the threshold of government debt was 39.8%. Accordingly, these solid macroeconomic indicators enabled international ranking agencies Fitch and S&P to upgrade Georgia's ranking to BB Outlook Stable. However, it is also clear that, speaking objectively, although Georgia completed the year 2019 with good economic and macroeconomic indicators to start the year 2020 with solid positions, the pandemic and subsequent global recession have undermined these results and created new challenges for the country, which is why we must understand that said progress, achievements, and results refer to the starting point, while the situation today is totally different," the Prime Minister said.

According to Giorgi Gakharia, the Government, during the pandemic, has sought to provide business with maximal assistance, using the country's resources to improve the business environment.

The Head of Government emphasized that concrete steps have been taken in this direction, also pointing out a few noteworthy examples.

"Particular steps were taken in this direction-and I will skip the part already discussed during my previous visit-and I will only list a few concrete steps that have a structural impact on economic development and, at the same time, are important to business, meaning the adoption of the Insolvency Law, another systemic change in our legislative framework regarding business. Also, I would like to emphasize a component we launched before the pandemic, new state investment programs, 100 Investment Offers to Business. It was a simple model. We picked 100 state-owned properties with their combined market value exceeding 300 million GEL. This direction involved both private property and minerals throughout the country. Today, the Government has this obligation, and 100 private property and minerals investment projects are continuously auctioned off through the relevant websites of the Economy Ministry, which has been instructed to offer, at any given moment, on behalf of the state no fewer than 100 privatization/investment offers," the Prime Minister emphasized.

According to the Head of Government, the state continues supporting the private sector through various programs.

Although the Enterprise Georgia is operating successfully, the Prime Minister explained, certain technical flaws were identified at some point. Accordingly, on the decision of the Government, the system of state support for business, that is, so-called front office will be replaced to reach out to each citizen in every settlement, through public service halls or other infrastructural units of the Ministry of Justice.

"In every settlement, citizens who are willing to assume certain economic risks to start a business, and employ their family members or neighbors, will no longer have to travel to Tbilisi. Instead, they will enjoy in their own towns or regional centers the same services provided by the state through these programs, meaning the services that previously required a trip to Tbilisi," the Prime Minister pointed out.

Giorgi Gakharia also spoke about various agricultural directions, notably measures taken in the fight against stinkbugs, and thanked the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture for their success in this endeavor.

"Today, we can say that the problem of stinkbugs in the country has been solved, as evidenced by international assessments and the FAO praising the Georgian practice of combatting stinkbugs are one of the most effective. Our professionals have enough on their plate as is, though they are often invited to share experience," the Prime Minister stated.

According to the Head of Government, 2019 was a record-breaking year for Georgian wine export.

In 2019, 94 million bottles of wine were exported by Georgia, the Prime Minister said. In discussing various agricultural directions, Giorgi Gakharia also emphasized protected territories.

"I would like to focus on agricultural directions in terms of protected areas, also the steps taken by the Ministry of Agriculture. As of today, more than 200,000 hectares of land are actually recognized as protected areas or their status as such has been toughened. 2019 was a record-breaking year for Georgian wine export, with 94 million bottles of wine exported to bring to the country's population 240 million USD. These are the key directions with an economic impact," Giorgi Gakharia said.

The Prime Minister, in discussing land reform, said that it has been posing a problem for the country for years.

According to the Head of Government, over 800,000 applications upheld in 2019 through sporadic registration mechanisms, which means that, under the reform, lot registered for citizens through simplified procedures make up a total of more than 1 million hectares.

"Still, the problem remains, which is why this program continues. In addition, through the Justice Ministry, a new program was added, systemic land registration, under which the country is expected to solve the land registration issue within 3 years, and that will regulate a very important structural problem to enable Georgia's economy to use in full the available land resources," the Prime Minister said.

According to Giorgi Gakharia, serious positive steps have taken toward regulating forest resources.

The Head of Government emphasized that forests are one of the country's largest resources that requires proper management.

"This challenge has always been there, but the initiatives presently implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture are careful, measured and yet progressive. It is not easy, and challenges remain. Forests are one of the biggest resources in the country, and they require proper management. Otherwise, it may turn into the country's ecological and economic problem alike," Giorgi Gakharia said.

Giorgi Gakharia underlined infrastructural development and pointed out that, in 2019, record-breaking 804 kilometers of road were under rehabilitation and periodical renovation.

According to the Head of Government, 2 additional lanes of the Kutaisi bypass, also the Khashuri bypass, and the Japana-Lanchkhuti section of the Samtredia-Grigoleti highway will open before the end of this year.

"As of today, a new 140-kilometer international expressway is under construction, and a total of 70 kilometers: 2 additional lanes of the Kutaisi bypass, also the Khashuri bypass, and the Japana-Lanchkhuti section of the Samtredia-Grigoleti highway will open before the end of 2020. These sections of our international expressways to open in summer and fall, before the end of the year. Active work is underway on the Rikoti section's Griogoleti-Kobuleti and Batumi bypasses, as seen by all our citizens taking these roads. Preparation words are also underway on drafting the Kvesheti-Kobi road plan," Giorgi Gakharia stated.

According to the Head of Government, 70 thousand more citizens were provided with 24-hours water supply in 2019.

"Water supply is our country's structural and systemic problem. We all must understand that it is not a problem back from a year or two, and it cannot be solved overnight, in a year or two. In 2019, 70 thousand more citizens were provided with 24-hours water supply," Giorgi Gakharia stated.
According to the Prime Minister the water supply projects of Zugdidi, Ozurgeti, Lanchkhuti, Agara, Abastumani, Kutaisi (second phase), Vale, Tskaltubo, Telavi, Sighnaghi, Marneuli, Gudauri, and Abasha will be finalized before the end of this year.

"24-hour water supply projects have been finalized in Ureki, Mestia, Anaklia, Khobi, and Kaspi, and so has the 1stphase of the Kutaisi water supply project to benefit about 90,000 citizens. By the end of this year, the water supply projects of Zugdidi, Ozurgeti, Lanchkhuti, Agara, Abastumani, Kutaisi (second phase), Vale, Tskaltubo, Telavi, Sighnaghi, Marneuli, Gudauri, and Abasha will be finalized. Consequently, a total of 300,000 Georgian citizens will enjoy 24-hour water supply by the end of 2020. That will not eradicate the problem of Georgia's switching to 24-hour water supply, and to solve this problem once and for all, about 3-5 years to bring the country's water supply and sewage close to acceptable standards. When we say that 300,000 beneficiaries will enjoy water 24/7, we understand well that the remaining hundreds of thousands have yet to be provided with water supply," Giorgi Gakharia said.

The Head of Government, in commenting on spatial planning, emphasized that the country must be advanced to European standards in this regard.
"I will only touch on spatial planning by saying that it is a very important component of developing our country's historical appearance, comfortable living conditions for citizens, and the country's sustainable development. It is not cheap, and often very discomforting to our citizens, but it is the inly chance at bringing our country closer to European standards not only from the point of view of values, legislation, or institutions, but also in terms of spatial planning. It is equally important infrastructurally to plan Georgia's Black Sea Basin, meaning pipelines, roads, and railway, and concrete steps have been taken in the directions of Poti and Anaklia, and I will not go into details here, but only emphasize that this report was submitted just a month ago, and all statistics and details are defined clearly and scrupulously," Giorgi Gakharia said.

According to the Head of Government, the primary goal of any government in following years will be macroeconomic stability.

"In terms of economic development, we must understand that the primary goal of any government in following years will be macroeconomic stability. It is a major challenge facing our country given our economy's still weak state, regional challenges, and many other components. Macroeconomic stability is the foundation enabling us to ensure success in terms of both the country's economic development and eradication of poverty," Giorgi Gakharia said.

According to the Head of Government, it is important for Georgia at this stage to have additional economic advantages to engage in global competition.

"Business environment has always been, and should be, our country's primary goal. The country has structural economic gaps, notably the current account deficit and our country's further economic diversification. We often hear that tourism should be key, or industrialization should be key, or transport, and all that is taken into account, of course, but we must also understand that the global economic crisis due to the pandemic has absolutely changed reality," Giorgi Gakharia said.

According to the Prime Minister, the Georgian Government is working with international partners, scientific hubs, and large international consultative groups to make sure that the postcrisis medium- and long-term economic revival plan is realistic and effective.

"We must turn this crisis and pandemic into an economic opportunity for our country. The global economy is changing, and we have a chance to transform Georgia's economy from one of challenges into one of opportunity, and must do everything and use every tool to that end. That is why the Georgian Government is working with international partners, scientific hubs, and large international consultative groups to make sure that the postcrisis medium- and long-term economic revival plan is realistic and effective. We must do everything to make sure that Georgia has additional economic advantages to engage in global competition," Giorgi Gakharia added.

In discussing the importance of human capital, the Prime Minister emphasized human capital in Georgia's case is the main driver of economic development.

"Human capital in Georgia's case is the main driver of economic development, and ultimately its main resource, which is why systemic educational reform is the only right solution in order to ensure the effective growth of human capital competencies in the country," Giorgi Gakharia said.

According to the Head of Government, the foregoing has a very simple goal: everything must be done to enable youth to be competitive in the global market after being trained by Georgia's system of education.

"Otherwise, Georgian youth, educated by Georgia's system of education, will not be able to compete with their peers in the global market, those with backgrounds in more honorable, effective, and successful systems of education. It is a systemic problem that must be corrected. At the same time, we must be realistic and understand that systemic educational reform is a complex long-term endeavor encompassing every stage of education, from primary and secondary to higher and scientific. And we should not have an illusion that it is doable in just a couple of years. We must be ready to accept that several generations will have to work on educational reform to make Georgia's educational system increasingly sustainable, which does not mean that we should not start working on it. On the contrary, we must work as fast as possible to have initial results in the nearest future," the Prime Minister emphasized.

According to Giorgi Gakharia, relevant steps have already been taken in the system of education.

"For example, there is a new school model bringing together 166 schools and almost 4,000 teachers. Also, an important project is underway to provide schools with internet connection, to cover up to 2,000 schools. Universal access to education is ensured through several components, though even the simpler ones like transport were problematic, because children could not make it to school, and access to learning the Georgian language was equally problematic. Under the social program, presently 1,395 students enjoy state scholarships. Of course, equally important is our new remuneration policy. It is impossible to talk about the educational system's effective reform unless we have highly competent teachers with decent remuneration. That is why the program for raising teachers' salaries must and will continue," the Prime Minister underlined.

8,426 practitioner teachers eligible for retirement have retired and received monetary awards equaling 2 years' combined salaries, the Head of Government added.

"Besides receiving one-time monetary awards equaling 2 years' combined salaries, our teachers enjoy lifelong health insurance coverage. It is a very important step, and we must understand that this program absolutely must continue. This program has two goals: to make sure that honorable retirement is secured for our meritorious pedagogues, and to replenish the system with young teachers able of enhancing their competencies fast," Giorgi Gakharia stated.

According to the Prime Minister, unified national exams are a widely debated issue, which is why it is important the plan announced by the Ministry of Education remains in force, and the Government will do everything to hold decent national exams in line with the Health Ministry's recommendations, as befits entrants.

According to the Head of Government, the safe school concept is of vital importance.

"As you know, tragic incidents involving juveniles in our schools have been a persisting problem, and solving this problem takes systemic work. In this direction, the safe school concept is a crucially important component, and in 2019 the effectiveness of the mandaturi office grew significantly both quantitatively and in terms of remuneration. As for developing school infrastructure, the construction of 8 new school was completed, and 70 more public schools are under construction and will be completed before the end of this year. 717 public schools have been rehabilitated, and 111 others are under rehabilitation to be completed before the end of this year," the Prime Minister said.

The Head of Government, in discussing vocational education, pointed out that the country's system of vocational education must meet economic and business requirements.

"It is extremely important to link our system of vocational education to the requirements of our economy and business, which is why the dual model becomes increasingly effective," Giorgi Gakharia said.

According to the Head of Government, amendments made to vocational education authorization charters will enable schools of vocational education to adopt authorization norms meeting European standards, as a result of which graduates from Georgia's schools of vocational education will be able to work honorably outside Georgia, in European countries where their respective schools of vocational education enjoy accreditation.

"New vocational colleges have been built in Kaspi and Shuakhevi, and the Khulo branch and Zestaponi construction college have opened. Moving to regional centers, given related accommodation expenses, has been a problem facing vocational students, which is why we must relocate schools of vocational education closer to students," the Prime Minister added.

The Head of Government, in discussing Kutaisi International University, emphasized that it will be one of the greatest achievements in 2020.

After graduation from Kutaisi International University, students will be more than prepared to compete on a global level.

"Kutaisi International University will be one of the biggest achievements in 2020 in that it must introduce new higher education standards in the country. It must be a city of student life, with higher education students capable of competing on an international level, easily able to compete globally. It is a most important standard-setting project that must encompass more and more directions," Giorgi Gakharia underlined.

In discussing healthcare and social security, Giorgi Gakharia emphasized that everything is being done to provide each citizen with minimal living conditions based on blanket healthcare and social security programs.

"As for healthcare and social security, as you know, these are the fundamental directions in caring for human beings. We, based on blanket healthcare and social security programs, are doing everything to set up minimal living conditions for every citizen, and to create healthcare conditions as well," Giorgi Gakharia said.

According to the Head of Government, the outcomes of the reforms implemented in the healthcare system over the past few years materialized in the context of the fight against coronavirus. Every case of infection without exception has received inpatient treatment in Georgia, Gakharia added.
"We all know that various tools of social security are constantly under fire, sometimes objectively, though the consistent, sustainable, and daily development of this direction year after year is a major challenge for a struggling economy. When we say that our country's priority is universal healthcare, looking after our citizens' health, and meeting their basic social needs, we understand well that it is not enough, but this process must be sustainable, consistent, and constantly developing-and that is a task the Government looks to accomplish. The outcomes of the reforms implemented in the healthcare system over the past few years materialized clearly in the context of the fight against coronavirus, and the healthcare systems of many systemic states have failed against this challenge. A simple example, if you will: Every single case of infection without exception has received inpatient treatment in Georgia. Healthcare systems in many European countries have failed to provide inpatient treatment, recommending treatment at home instead. This is a systemic result achieved through our healthcare system's reform. As of today-I would not vouch for precise statistics, though-of about 270-280 people treated for the virus, only half have confirmed infections, while the other half only risk carriers and yet even risk carriers are treated in Georgia, which is extremely important," the Prime Minister said.

Giorgi Gakharia emphasized the issues of tariffication and selective contracting.

"Access of medical infrastructure and basic medical treatment was the primary task to be solved by the healthcare system. Next, however, along with the system's development, the Ministry of Health encountered new challenges and tasks, and that involved keeping the system's further sustainable development. And that end was served by the reforms launched in the areas of tariffication and selective contracting. I understand that it may have been discomforting to many healthcare players, but they all admit that the system needs greater sustainability to ensure against a collapse. That is why these are reforms that the system absolutely must implement, and we are doing it based on healthcare and business interests, and we are doing it together. We understand that there will be particular obstacles, but our task is to make sure that the country's universal healthcare system is sustainable, progressing and developing on a daily basis. That is why the models of tariffication and selective contracting introduced by us must be accepted as inevitable," Giorgi Gakharia underlined.

According to the Head of Government, almost 400 village outpatient clinics were built or renovated in 2019.

The Prime Minister emphasized village outpatient clinics as an important link in primary healthcare.

"Village physicians are our citizens' primary contacts. These rehabilitated outpatient clinics will be equipped next year, with innovations like telemedicine to be used, though primary healthcare still is an extremely important component to enjoy the Health Ministry's reforms and attention in the future. Importantly, 41 new emergency units have been built," the Prime Minister said.

The Head of Government also spoke about the Hepatitis C Program and pointed out that, in 2019, more than 774,000 citizens were screened for hepatitis C.

"Of them, presently 9,770 citizens are using the elimination program, and today the Government ensures that the Hepatitis C Program in its entirety, from diagnostics and treatment to follow-up supervision, is provided to our citizens free of charge," Giorgi Gakharia said.

According to the Prime Minister, the integration of the program for chronic diseases medical supplies into universal healthcare promotes greater public access to medications.

"As you know, the free medical supplies program has raised particular questions and even caused discontent in some cases. That is why the Health Ministry took the right step by integrating the component of financing for chronic diseases medications into the system of universal healthcare. This way, it is far more effective and sustainable, and it was the right decision. Further solving the problem of medications must, of course, solve the issue of paying from the pocket, which, sadly, persists in the country. I have emphasized repeatedly that e-healthcare is one of the priority directions, remote medical assistance which is extremely important, especially to a country with a location like ours," Giorgi Gakharia said.

The Prime Minister, while discussing various directions of social security, underlined that, effective January 1, 2020, pensions for all categories of pensioners increased by 20 GEL to make up 220 GEL.

According to Giorgi Gakharia, that is the minimum the Government can offer to citizens today.

"Of course, it is very little, and we understand that it is not enough, that it is the minimum we can offer our citizens today. In addition, effective July 1, 2020, pensioners aged 70 and over will receive 30 GEL more to make their pensions about 250 GEL. Pensioners over 70 in mountainous regions will receive 300 GEL. But that is not what matters most, and we know that it is not enough. What matters most is the creation of a mechanism ensuring an annual growth of pensions, albeit minimal, but a growth nonetheless, one not depending on political speculations of any kind. The Government has adopted and launched this mechanism of indexation linked to economic indicators, which makes any political speculations impossible in relation to a growth or decrease in pensions," Giorgi Gakharia pointed out.

The Prime Minister emphasized the issue of refugees and ecomigrants, saying that constantly looking after these groups is the Government's direct obligation.

"I would like to emphasize our refugees and ecomigrants. It is our direct obligation to look after them, every day and every minute, to ease the tragedy they have been through to the best of our ability," Giorgi Gakharia stated.

According to the Head of Government, as of today, 772 refugee families have been allocated living spaces, and the construction of 2,265 apartments is underway.

Under the Village House project, which seeks to procure rural lands and houses for refugees, 509 village houses have been procured, the Prime Minister added.

As for ecomigrants, 167 residential spaces and lots have been procured for them.

"Additionally, in response to the economic crisis, we have allocated 150 million GEL to enable the state to procure, based on tender competitions, additional apartments for refugees from the private sector," the Prime Minister said.

The Head of Government, emphasized the link between human capital and economic development, and added that the system of education must encompass every direction necessary to advance the country's further development.

"The system of education is linked directly to the quality of human capital. The quality of human capital is linked directly to the further development of our country's economy and every other field alike. This challenge involves preparing young people for global competition. Highly competent public servants are critically important, and the system of education must encompass every direction necessary to advance the country's further development. Given the current stage in Georgia's development, we must be ready for continuous reforming in the next 10 or maybe 15 years, in a number of directions, because we must empower our institutions, and continuous reforms are in order in the directions of healthcare, social assistance, and many others. And the key goal of these reforms must be to align, as fast as possible, the country's everyday life to European standards as our key values we aspire to embrace, so that we may have every opportunity to be more persistent, reasonable, effective, and fast in requesting membership in the European family, which is the ultimate goal of our citizens," the Prime Minister said.

According to the Head of Government, public administration is the key priority for the effectiveness of the public sector.

"An effective system of state governance has as its primary goal to ensure that the state machinery, our public servants, and the Government as a whole are effective and fast in delivering all resources and reformed institutions to our citizens, so that they may have access to all state services offered to them today. When speaking about the public sector, we all must understand that political neutrality and an effective public sector are preconditions allowing for all our achievements on political and institutional levels to be delivered to each citizen fast, effectively, and fairly. And that is why public governance is so important for achieving the higher effectiveness of the public sector," Giorgi Gakharia stated.

The Prime Minister elaborated on steps taken toward the empowerment of public governance.

"A regulatory framework for policy implementation and monitoring has been adopted, and the 2020-2025 decentralization strategy has been approved. As you know, the country's priority is local government, and regulating decision-making on the ground is the fundamental structural constituent for further reforming public governance and our governance system. We understand that may have competence issues on the ground, but we should be able to deal with that, too-it will take time to enhance competence. In terms of e-governance, the Government, through mygov.ge mechanisms, provides citizens with 680 services. Service delivery and front-office relocation is a crucially important priority for which we use public service halls, with new ones built on a regular basis. Three are under construction, one opened in Bolnisi, and more will open in Tskaltubo, Gardabani, and Kareli, with 11 community centers to open before the end of this year in various regions, in Khobi, Kharagauli, Chiatura, and many others," Giorgi Gakharia stated.

The Head of Government, in discussing the importance of delivering services to citizens, emphasized the relocation of front offices as an important priority.

According to the Head of Government, public service halls are used to that end, those built in Bolnisi and to open before the end of the year in Tskaltubo, Gardabani, and Kareli.

In addition, 11 community centers are already operating, and 3 have been completed in Khobi, Kharagauli, and Chiatura.

"Community centers are mechanisms enabling us to provide citizens, directly on the ground, with services offered by various state institutions, such as the state program Enterprise Georgia or a variety of programs implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, for example. Instead of locals traveling from Khobi to Tbilisi to receive information about becoming beneficiaries of various state programs, they now can do the same on the ground. And this way we simplify things for them," the Prime Minister stated.

According to the Head of Government, Georgia is and will continue active participation in the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

According to the Prime Minister, Georgia has kept 5th spot in the 2019 Open Budget Survey.

"It is a very important result in terms of citizen engagement, in which we improved our standing from 22 to 28 points," Giorgi Gakharia said.
The Head of Government, in discussing combatting corruption, emphasized that it is a constant challenge, and the Government's mechanisms against corruption must be upgraded on a daily basis.

According to the Prime Minister, prevention and fight against corruption in general make up a persistent challenge facing developing economies, and it would be wrong to say that corruption has been defeated.

"The advancement and progress of relevant mechanisms is reflected in international rankings that clearly, unequivocally indicate Georgia's growing effectiveness in the fight against corruption. According to the 2020 World Justice Project survey, Georgia is the regional leader and 42nd in the world in the absence of corruption category. The 2019 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Georgia 1st in the region and 44th in the world. That does not mean that the country has defeated corruption. It means that we are carefully progressing and understand that the fight against corruption is crucially important to economies in transition. And we must always keep in mind that constantly bettering anticorruption mechanisms is our duty," Giorgi Gakharia said.

According to the Head of Government, Georgia has had good macroeconomic results in completing the year 2019 and starting 2020, despite the pandemic changing the situation.

The main task today is to defeat the pandemic and bounce back from the global economic crisis, the Prime Minister added.
"Today's main task is to defeat the pandemic and bounce back from the global economic crisis, also to turn the global recession into an opportunity for our economy, so that the country may be better prepared and more effective to engage in global postcrisis competition, as the world's economic architecture changes drastically. In terms of both our Euro-Atlantic aspirations and human rights, we must keep in mind that these most important aspects of our daily lives require further reforms year after year. No one can say that we have achieved something, and now we can relax. On the contrary, we must achieve progress every year. We must tell our citizens honestly that progress is our most important goal, and final results may be achieved in a year in some cases, or maybe in 10 years in others, but we must keep pressing on this path. Our key goal rests in our values, Euro-Atlantic integration, and we must prepare the country for it," Giorgi Gakharia said.

According to the Prime Minister, the most important ongoing constitutional process in the country today concerns the electoral system, one under consideration in Parliament.

"Today, the most important ongoing constitutional process in the country today concerns the electoral system, one under consideration in Parliament. It has passed two readings already. Third reading is scheduled for Monday. I would like to conclude my speech in a simple manner. We all must understand that Georgia today is in fact a parliamentary democracy. Better still, on Monday voting will be held, and we will have a parliamentary democracy based on proportional representation," Giorgi Gakharia said.

The Head of Government pointed out that parliamentary democracy based on a proportional electoral system requires, above all else, a flawlessly effective and politically neutral public sector. The Prime Minister thanked all public servants who have participated in the implementation of the Government Program.

"Parliamentary democracy resting in a proportional electoral system requires, above all else, a flawlessly effective and politically neutral public sector. That is a mandatory precondition, and without it the country's further development under said political system will be simply impossible. That is why I express gratitude to every public servant who has participated in the implementation of the Government Program. And I urge you to be even more effective in the years to come, and I encourage you, because it is the greatest honor to be serving daily-honestly and fairly-your fellow citizens, their interests, safety, and development, and ultimately to be doing everything to make sure that this country, a developed democracy and a strong economy, becomes a full member of the European family," the Prime Minister stated.

Press Service of the Government Administration