Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili recently announced a sweeping government reorganization entailing the dismissal of six ministers and a reduction in the number of government bodies from 18 to 14.
Kvirikashvili expressed confidence that the changes will result in “very significant changes in the quality of management,” while parliament speaker Irakli Kobakhidze predicted they will result in financial savings and the optimization of resources.
Some observers, however, are skeptical, both with regard to the anticipated positive impact of the changes and to several new ministerial appointments.
Many commentators agree with former presidential administration head Petre Mamradze, who explained to the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Georgian Dream had inherited a bloated cabinet from then-President Mikheil Saakashvili. (Mamradze did not speculate why it has taken Georgian Dream five years to address that problem.) Mamradze said he considers 13 to 14 ministries the optimum number; Akaki Zoidze, who is a member of Georgian Dream’s parliamentary faction, opined that the number could have included a further two, but he did not specify which he considered superfluous.
Some of the structural changes, such as the incorporation of the Ministry for Integration into European and Euro-Atlantic Structures into the Foreign Ministry, appear to make eminent sense. Others, however, are puzzling. The Ministry of Energy is to be subsumed into the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, as will the responsibility for management of the natural-resources component of the Environment and Natural Resources Protection Ministry, which is to be abolished. (Responsibility for the environment will devolve to the Ministry of Agriculture.)
The Caucasian Environmental NGO Network has expressed concern at the “hasty, unjustified, and nontransparent” decision to abolish the Environment and Natural Resources Protection Ministry, civil.ge reported on November 16.
In an interview with InterPressNews.ge, independent expert Vazha Beridze suggested it would have been more logical to subsume the Agriculture Ministry into the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development. He further questioned the rationale for abolishing the Energy Ministry as a separate entity, rather than, say, the Ministry for Infrastructure. Doing so, he reasoned, suggests that energy issues are not a government priority.
The Ministry for Sport and Youth Affairs will be abolished and its responsibilities divided between the Ministry of Culture and Protection of Monuments (sport) and the Ministry of Education and Science (youth affairs).
The State Security and Crisis Management Council will be subsumed into the Interior Ministry’s Emergency Management Agency, and the Foreign Intelligence Service merged with the State Security Service.
The opposition United National Movement (ENM) that was in power from 2003-12 dismissed the changes as “an attempt to avoid political responsibility,” the news portal Caucasian Knot reported. Sergo Kapanadze, a leading member of the European Georgia parliament faction that split from the ENM early this year, said it is unclear how the changes will save money if the employees of one ministry are simply transferred to the payroll of another. (ENM parliamentarian Zaza Bibilashvili claims that since its advent to power, Georgian Dream created an additional 15,000 jobs within the government apparatus.)
The reshuffle has entailed naming four new ministers. Finance Minister Dmitri Kumsishvili has been named to head the expanded Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, replacing Giorgi Gakharia, whom Kvirikashvili has appointed interior minister in place of Giorgi Mghebrishvili, who will head the Emergency Management Agency. A former business ombudsman, Gakharia has absolutely no previous experience in law enforcement. Both Kvirikashvili and Mghebrishvili nonetheless stressed his management capabilities and predicted he will cope successfully with his new duties, according to InterPressNews.
Also unexpected was the appointment of former Georgian Railways head Mamuka Bakhtadze to succeed Kumsishvili as finance minister. Bakhtadze, 37, studied microeconomics and management at Tbilisi University and has postgraduate qualifications from Moscow State University and INSEAD. He served from 2010-December 2012 as executive director of the Georgian International Energy Corporation and from March 2013 as head of Georgian Railways.
Both the ENM and European Georgia appear convinced those ministerial appointments were based not on the candidate’s qualifications or professional expertise but thanks to the new ministers’ imputed close ties to billionaire businessman and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgian Dream’s founder, according to Caucasian Knot.
ENM lawmaker Salome Samadashvili declared that the new appointments show that “Ivanishvili is trying to impose tight control over all major state institutions.”
Deputy parliament speaker Tamar Chugoshvili responded by insisting that the changes are needed “to make the cabinet’s performance a lot more efficient and better coordinated” and that “people are tired of the opposition’s endless talk about Ivanishvili’s role.”
Despite Kvirikashvili’s insistence that the restructuring and personnel changes are intended to improve the cabinet’s performance (and, by extension, the well-being of the population at large), some observers suspect they are part of a broader plan focusing on the presidential election due in 2018. According to independent expert Beridze, Kvirikashvili is one of several possible candidates Georgian Dream might nominate to challenge incumbent Giorgi Margvelashvili, who has been accused of doggedly seeking to undermine and sabotage the constitutional reform launched by Georgian Dream. In the event of a Kvirikashvili victory, Gakharia would then succeed him as prime minister, just as then-Interior Minister Irakli Gharibashvili succeeded Ivanishvili when the latter stepped down in November 2013.