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Whose Membership Is More Important in Parliament: “Businessmen or Drivers?”

April 3, 2008
Nona Suvariani, Tbilisi

The pre-election battle has already started heating up for the up-coming Parliamentary Elections on May 21. Political parties, both oppositional and governmental ones, have been actively involved the process with finger pointing, name calling and deal making. Each party has its own selective method of fighting it out in the political trenches. The National Movement tries to gain the sympathy of people in various ways, not only by making various promises but tries to improve its image by offering familiar faces for future parliament members.  In the new list of National Movement you will see not only culture figures but pragmatic business leaders as well. Why would such upstanding and successful people ever want to get politics in the first place? Are they ready to give up their successful businesses and get into the fight against the opposition and become public servants?

Part of society got annoyed by seeing businessmen on the list of National Movement. Opposition representatives consider that the members of the ruling party pressured those business leaders to be willing to sand for parliament seats.

MP Gia Tsagareishvili said those people who are taking part in the parliamentary elections are not only businessmen but they also are well-connected oligarchs. They are forced to raise their candidature because most of them have mostly benefited during the current government and they don’t want to lose what they have gained.

“Participation in the elections is not expression of the independent and free will of such people. When a journalist asked Rusudan Kervalishvili, a candidate for the Samgori District, Tbilisi, why she accepted the offer to take part in the parliamentary elections, she answered that accepted a polite offer and nothing more. I know what kind of “polite offer,” Vano Merabishvili, Ministry of Internal Affairs made to her: “either you will take part in the elections or you will be sent to prison tomorrow. Most of these people are not very honest in their business activities.”

The MP added that the National Movement tuned up a soap-bubble. It is easily proved by the fact that Davit Kirkitadze, Secretary General of the leading party, is not on the list.

MP Levan Berdzenishvili agrees with the idea that businessmen do not enter parliament based on their own free will. He thinks that the government persuaded them because it does not have its own proper candidates.

“They do not have people who do not turn the stomach of the people and cause discontent; sometimes they are so contemptuous that they can even irritate the vast majority of the Georgian population. The businessmen who are candidates in Tbilisi districts stand opposed to the will of nearly 80 percent of those in the city.”

Levan Berdzenishvili thinks that for such undesirables coming into the parliament will be bad as they will start making rules and acting in a way that is only in the best interests of their own businesses. “If any of them gives up business and entirely goes into the politics it will not be bad. However I cannot predict great success for those people who come into the politics through the National Movement. They will be representing a political party that is hated by the Georgian people.”

In accordance to the current Georgian legislation the MP are not allowed to run private business. Thus, a businessperson, having entered the parliament, shall cease his/her business activities or be in violation of the law. MP Nodar Grigalashvili, a majority MP from Borjomi District, draws attention to the issue and says.

“Membership of the parliament and business activities cannot be mixed. Those businesspersons coming to the parliament should either cease their business activities or they will be breaking the law. Now you should realize what they will choose out of these two? It is obvious that they would rather violate the law. In a short time they will start assigning contracts and special treatment to their businesses and provide special shares to their relatives. They will do all that is necessary to deceive people in looking after their special interests. We should either change the law or admit that the current law is everlastingly breached.”

Nodar Grigalashvili claims that both businessmen and drivers can write laws. However, driver’s profession is more important in the parliament. “Parliament does not need businesspersons drivers are needed. If any MP does not have a car, the driver will give him/her a lift.”

Gia Tsagareishvili is sure that the businessperson who will enter the parliament will protect the projects which will benefit to their own businesses. They will protect those governmental officials who will support their business interests in various districts. But Georgian state will not have any profit from their activities.

“These people are favorites and they become victims of state harassment. I do not think these people will bother about their voters.”

Businesspersons used to enter parliament in the past too thus we have some kind of experience of their activities in the parliament. Many of them are in opposition now but mostly they remain in the government. According to Nodar Grigalashvili although most businessmen register their business on strange names, still continues business activities. However, it is strange that none of them have ever been punished for breaking the law. Why? Maybe because the state does not really care about such violations and perhaps there is a lack of corresponding structures to investigate the activities of each and every MP.

Zviad Dzidziguri said that the businesspersons could take part in the elections independently. However, they have opted to  join parties in standing for office.

“Today we have different situation. Businesspersons are joining the parties out of the need to improve their own conditions.”

For example, the Human Rights Center was informed that an MP from Dmanisi District, Kakhaber Okriashvili has not left his business though he has been in the parliament for the last four years. He still visits the hospitals purchased by his company “PSP Group” and speaks with the personnel as the owner of the  company.

Gia Tsagareishvili: “Has Okriashvili done anything good for the Dmanisi District? I have not heard anything positive thus far. Or, just tell me one politician-businessperson who has assisted his/her district.”

Levan Berdzenishvili: “Businesspersons have always been in the parliament during many years. However, they have neither introduced any draft law or had any different opinion from others. Actually, we have not seen most of them during sessions at all. These people come to the parliament to have a good rest; it is kind of resort for them – a place to hang out.”

Nodar Grigalashvili stated during the interview that he supports Platoon’s idea of “Ideal State”. That means, “people who do not very much care about their personal lives should be involved in politics; they should bother about state interests above all. The business has different character; businesspersons first thinks about his/her business and only after that they think about the country.”