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One More Georgian Forest Flogged Off for Easy Money

23.10.2008
Gulo Kokhodze, Akhaltsikhe

Long-term license was granted on harvesting and use of wood products from the forest in Tsinaubani, which is located in the Samtskhe-Javakheti of Southern region. The local population is worried as to the economic, social and environmental implications. Environmental organizations and the parliamentary minority now demand that the law be followed when granting a long-term license is granted to one certain company over another.

On October 7 an auction was organized at the Georgian Ministry of Economical Development. The auction was for the special license for the harvest and use of wood products in the Tsinubani forest of Akhaltsikhe district within the Samtskhe-Javakheti regional forestry department. The asking price to start was 60 000 GEL. Participants of the auction were: Ltd “Tao”, Ltd “Patati”, Tariel Peradze, an individual entrepreneur; Marine Zazashvili, an individual entrepreneur; Ltd Akhaltsikhis Gandzelis Gamjgenti Satsarmo,” as well as individual entrepreneurs Vepkhvia Shubitidze; Zviad Dzabiradze and Ltd “Saknakhshiri (GIG Group).”

The license was finally sold for 126 000 GEL and Vepkhia Shubitidze prevailed in being granted the license. According to Articles 35 and 36 of Forest Code of Georgia, a long-term forest management license can only be granted to an authorized entity after there has been public notice and society has been informed, which includes local government and locals. Public hearings are also part of the license review process, and all such procedures must be followed before any decision is reached in regard to forest management contracts. The body must receive suggestions from the society and discuss them before granting a license to any applicant. This is the obligation prescribed by the UN Orhus Convention as well.

However, the inhabitants of Tsinubani, Agara, Sakuneti, Zikilia, Fersa, Mugareti, Gurkeli and Giorgitsminda villages know nothing about long-term forest management licenses and their rights have been violated, apart from the law.

“What license are you talking about? Who received the license? No one bothers to inform us the people!” say the locals. “The village takes care of the forest. When the forest was burning in Borjomi Gorge locals provided the help. They worked for weeks and months in the forest to extinguish the fire. I think they should have asked the village when they were selling the license,” stated Naira Gogoladze, the inhabitant of village Tsinubani.

Irakli Macharashvili, Biodiversity Program coordinator of NGO Green Alternative states that “when we accuse the Russians of violating Geneva Convention and burning Georgian forests we must also demand that the Georgian Government follow the same UN Conventions including Biodiversity and Orhus Conventions.”

The representatives of parliamentary minority also expressed discontent with the auction that was held on October 7 in the Ministry of Economic Development.

On October 7, at the parliament’s plenary session, Gia Tortladze, the representative of parliamentary minority and head of faction Strong Georgia – Christian Democrats demanded that Eka Tkeshelashvili, Minister of Economical Development visit Parliament and give information about the auction and share information about granting long-term licenses for forest usage.The auction was scheduled on the same day in the Ministry of Economic Development. He considered that it was inadmissible to hold the auction unless the forests were first cruised and inventoried.

“I demanded that the auction be postponed until the Ministry of Economical Development comes and gives explanations about granting of the license,” stated Gia Tortladze.

Akaki Bobokhidze, Chairperson of Parliamentary Committee for Environmental Protection considered that Tortladze’s demand was quite fair. He suggested to the opposition representatives to cooperate with the Committee for Environmental Protection.
However, the Ministry of Economical Development held the auction for granting the forest product use production in spite of everything. Simon Parunashvili, head of Forest Management Department of Samtskhe-Javakheti Forest Division states that that “Tsinubani forest was not inventoried before bidding started at the auction.”

 Irakli Macharashvili, Biodiversity Program coordinator stated that physical and legal entity with forest license must present technological map for forest management to the local forest division and must receive authorization from the division. The entity can start tree falling in the forest only after this process has been completed. The technological map must contain information on the forest length, relief, soil, tree cutting techniques, silvicultural considerations, forms for log transportation, the site for wood storage, locations where logs or cut timber are to be loaded onto trucks and the specific wood transport routes. None of this was completed as required by stipulated procedures and industry standards. .

“No one has contacted us yet,” said Simon Parunashvili. Locals say that the fact of granting forest license only to one person will make their conditions even worse.

“Half the village does not have wooden fences. We do not have 4 planks to make a coffin. We had been deprived of the right to enter the forest and now everything will become even worse. We, the peasants have certain rights … are we not right?” asks an inhabitant of village Sakuneti. He declined to reveal his identity.

“They will make some profit but won’t care about the plight of the people,” locals claim.

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