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Lawmakers Question PM over Georgia’s Handling of COVID-19

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Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia answered Georgian lawmakers’ questions over his Cabinet’s handling of the coronavirus crisis just after he had delivered an hour-and-a-half long speech in the Parliament on May 27. 

MPs’ questions covered a wide range of topics, including an appeal to abolish fines issued for breaching emergency rules, the belated submission of the amended budget to the parliament, the possible signs of corruption in the public procurements made by the Government during the state of emergency, “double-standard treatment” of citizens, and the “political crisis” in the country.

Asked about the abolition of fines, the PM said it was a punitive measure at Government’s disposal, in order to effectively enforce some of public health recommendations – flouted by some parts of the population. 

“We cannot call for abolishing these fees, for the constraining power shall be null in that case,” Gakharia remarked. 

Gakharia dubbed opposition’s proposal to cut taxes as “demagogic” and urged them to put forward better “thought-out recommendations” for the executive branch.

“Should we abolish the state altogether? Nowadays, tax burden in Georgia is so minimal, that further tax cuts will only have a marginal impact on businesses and this [opposition’s proposal] is a piece of sheer demagogy,” stated the Premier. 

He said the Government was eligible to submit a revised budget to the Parliament by June 5, and pledged his Cabinet would not miss the deadline.

Gakharia rebuffed European Georgia’s proposal to dole out money already accrued in the pension fund to citizens. Noting that the pension fund was a a linchpin of financial stability, the PM said “pension fund will guarantee that socially vulnerable senior citizens will be more protected during troubled times [like this].”

According to the Prime Minister, the citizens who had lost their income due to the pandemic will be able to claim unemployment benefits by the end of this week.

Gakharia also mentioned that employees who have been paying income tax will receive assistance automatically. As for the self-employed, they will have to submit a “single form” confirming their income in order to receive the assistance.

Gakharia asserted that in case the virus made a comeback, the country would be better placed in terms of essential stockpiles and that preparatory works to weather the next stage of the pandemic have been underway. 

He also stressed the importance of the preparedness of the healthcare system in this regard, adding it should be able to handle next stage of the pandemic without imposing strict restrictive measures nationwide.

PM put a special emphasis on the civic responsibility, arguing that “it depends on us [Georgian citizens] whether it will be necessary to put in place strict restrictions.”

The Prime Minister also noted that the government is most eager to end the “political crisis” in the country. Insisting that there are no “political prisoners” in Georgia, Gakharia said it was necessary to adopt amendments with regard to the electoral system. 

“[At this time] it will be clear which side will be taken and who will be in favor of this political consensus, and who will take the opposite steps – destabilization and politicization,” the Prime Minister said.

He argued that it would prove a litmus test for the political class of Georgia – demonstrating who would opt for “political consensus,” and who would take steps towards destabilization and polarization. 

Gakharia said that observers of the October parliamentary polls would not by stymied by the pandemic and vowed to do utmost for preventing a further outbreak of the infection. 

Political Assessments

The Prime Minister’s speech was well received by the ruling party representatives. Irakli Kobakhidze, Executive Secretary of the Georgian Dream, said Gakharia “has delivered a master class” to opposition deputies. 

Another Georgian Dream MP, Dimitri Khundadze, said that Giorgi Gakharia’s speech was “academic” and “business-like” and that he had delivered  “comprehensive answers” to all questions.

Roman Gotsiridze, MP from the United National Movement, called the Prime Minister’s speech “mere words” and said that nothing was done for people who had lost their income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, except for covering part of utility bills. 

European Georgia MP Sergi Kapanadze said the Prime minister had no plans to tackle the economic crisis and skirted “many critical questions”.

Levan Koberidze, a former Georgian Dream lawmaker, remarked that the Government was out of touch with the reality and expectations that “every citizen holds today.”

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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