The Dispatch

Dispatch, April 23: Drugs and Dragons

Parliamentary deadlock and its perks | Government invents “drugs or rock‘n’roll” dilemma

We told you so – the government’s decision to fence off its own building with a metal curtain was a bad idea. For several days now, the tin sheets vibrate with the noise of resentment, making the spirit of discontent louder, echoing the troubles from the nearby Parliament building where the governing party has been driven into a corner and up the wall. But can the sounds of wild music quell the summer of many a discontent? The government hopes so, while we demur.

Here is Nini with the Dispatch, updating you on the happy and unhappy noises that reverberate across the Georgian streets these days.

The Ruling Party Goes AWOL

Yet another deadlock in the Georgian parliament comes hardly as a surprise. But bear with us – things are a bit different now. The opposition MPs, after many splits and reunions, finally patched up the coalition of 50 MPs – enough votes to use their Constitutional right to launch the commission to probe corruption in the judiciary – already after the top justices were hit by U.S. sanctions.

The ruling Georgian Dream responded with a procedural war: for three consecutive session days, the majority MPs have refused to report being present, thus leaving the chamber without a quorum required for decisions. A singular tactic, you may agree: nothing shows weakness like refusing to convene a chamber in which you hold the majority.

Indeed, these MPs are being forced to defend the indefensible. They are backing to the hilt the judges who built their notoriety already under the former administration. The very judges whose dirty dealings the GD pledged to end – but instead deepened and encouraged them, putting the legislative godfathers into informal and by now already formal control of the judiciary. But while the hypocrisy in politics is hardly news, this sort of parliamentary sabotage is begging the question – why didn’t the opposition exert pressure in this way before?

They could have done this to investigate allegations of rigging the 2020 elections instead of starting a self-destructive boycott. They could have done this when the boycott ended in a predictable disaster, but the controversial judicial appointments triggered discontent among the partners. Indeed, there have been too many scandals with potentially deep repercussions – whistleblower reports on mass surveillance, Shalva Ramishvili’s harassment allegations, questionable sources of David Kezerashvili’s wealth – you name it. The inquest commissions could have been the way to question the alleged culprits publicly instead of handing them the bully pulpit of TV stations cozy with the government.

Better late than never, but what exactly does this recent sabotage from GD demonstrate? That the parliamentary work indeed made little sense from the beginning, or the opposite, that with fewer votes, the opposition still has some levers to exert pressure?

The truth is the deadlock comes as the nation is recovering from the trauma of the foreign agent bills. Trauma means that we secretly fear its repetition – particularly as reports start coming from Brussels that the twelve stars are aligning so that the EU Commission could be leaning towards granting Georgia a candidate status. Having a procedural tool to scare the GD may come in handy should the party MPs get creative in ruining the happy European end.

Unless, of course, Georgian Dream comes up with a favorable solution out of the deadlock. After all, the party is chaired by Mr. Irakli Kobakhidze, a self-appointed legal expert who is patting himself on the back for reforming the Constitution but is even better at disregarding it. Mr. Kobakhidze penned a textbook where he argues the right to form the investigation commission is a Constitutional prerogative given to the opposition, and that the majority’s failure to comply violates the principles of the basic law. He might be working on the dissenting opinion (from his earlier opinion) right now.

Mr. Brightsides 

Drugs and rock’n’roll may match nicely in popular language, but when it comes to legitimate but expensive drugs with a chance to cure rare diseases, the two can apparently turn into a dilemma.

The parents of children with achondroplasia continue to protest near the government building and make noise by hitting on the freshly-installed iron fence in the hope of pushing the authorities into importing Voxzogo, an innovative drug hoped to ameliorate the condition. The disorder interferes with bone growth, resulting in shorter stature, but is also known to cause serious health complications. There are reportedly only a handful of children with the condition in Georgia. Still, authorities are hesitant to pay for the drug, citing insufficient proof of its efficacy – even though it has been approved in most European jurisdictions.

The parents, however, think the actual reason behind the hesitancy lies in the unwillingness of authorities to allocate funds: the treatment costs $200,000 annually per person. The parents are in a rush, knowing that the drug only has effects if administered until a certain age.

As the protest solicited sympathy and solidarity, the government poured oil on the fire by announcing it invited popular bands like Killers and Imagine Dragons for gigs in Georgia. The government hopes to attract tourists and burnish its image but is apparently doing so at the public expense. The exact budget is unknown, but it follows the government’s announcement last year that they would spend up to $28 mln for such concerts within the next two years. 

Such announcements are met with a mixture of hype and controversy: some are simply happy to see their favorite bands play in Georgia. Others think the government got its priorities wrong: they could easily direct some of that money to fund medical treatments. Of course, the cynical answer is that the government would rather have the throngs of teenagers expend their energy by watching the oft-naked torso of the Dragon’s frontman rather than braving the teargas canisters in front of the parliament. But this argument only holds if the solidarity among those who care about the long-term effects of public policy is weak.

Judging by what the political leaders have been doing and saying recently, it might be easier for them to imagine dragons than face reality. And in that reality, their position seems ridiculously untenable.


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