Anaklia Development Consortium warned on Thursday that the Anaklia Deep Sea Port project was at risk after finding out that the Georgian government had sanctioned construction of the Poti port. Following backlash, the Georgian economy minister said she knew nothing about the license and revoked the document, which she insisted was not a building permit.
The controversy started on 29 May with the statement of Anaklia Development Consortium, a group of local and international companies working on the Anaklia port project. It said they were shocked to learn that the Ministry of Economy had issued a construction permit for building a new deep sea multifunctional harbour in Poti, a seaside town south of Anaklia.
‘This information is shocking to Anaklia Development Consortium, its partners, and investors, as much as this order was issued on 2 May, while on 21 May the government, together with the Consortium, held negotiations with international financial institutions (EBRD, ADB, AIIB and OPIC) about funding Anaklia Deep Sea Port, but said no word about the permit’, said the statement issued by the Consortium.
The statement said that the international partners expressed severe concerns about hiding this information and called the government to take action.
‘Anaklia Development Consortium and the parties involved in the Anaklia Port project consider that if the government does not immediately take radical measures and react to it, the Anaklia Port project will be suspended’, the statement said.
The Anaklia Development Consortium, co-owned by former TBC bank head Mamuka Khazaradze and the US-based Conti Group LLC, won the bid for the project in 2015. After Khazaradze’s claims that Interior Minister threatened him, the Anaklia Port also caught the attention of the media.
Khazaradze told weekly Kviris Palitra that a tender announced by the government to construct a railway and motorway as parts of the planned Anaklia Port’s infrastructure failed ‘three or four times’. He also criticised the authorities for prioritising a port in Poti over the Anaklia project.
[Read more about Khazaradze’s case on OC Media: Georgian Dream ‘will not open parliamentary probe’ into Khazaradze affair]
On 30 May, Economy Minister Natia Turnava fired the head of the Ministry’s Technical and Construction Supervision Agency (TCSA) who had issued the document. However, she said that the document was not a construction permit.
‘This is a so-called preliminary document on land use terms, which was issued by the head of the Technical and Construction Supervision Agency without prior consultation neither with any members of the government, nor with me’, said Turnava and added that the document contained procedural errors, such as the absence of the land owner’s — the state’s — consent.
She said the Anaklia Port project was fully supported by the state and called on the Anaklia Development Consortium to fulfil their duties.
‘We call on them to (…) focus on fulfilling their obligations in order to start building the port timely’, said Turnava.
Did the government really know nothing?
On 30 May, General Director of the Anaklia Development Consortium Levan Akhvlediani said it was ‘unbelievable that nobody in the government knew about this’.
He said that while he didn’t think that the government was opposing the Anaklia Port project, there were ‘certain forces in the government that acted with determination to stop the Anaklia project development’. He refused to specify who he meant in particular.
Despite Natia Turnava’s claims that the government knew nothing about the permit, the authorities of Poti Municipality knew about it for a fact.
In the Facebook post, Poti Mayor Gocha Kurdghelia congratulated the Poti residents with the approval and wished them a successful implementation of the project.
‘Our main interest is to build a new port, to properly [conduct] spatial planning and [set] development priorities of the city, especially for the development of railway and road infrastructure’, Kurdghelia said.
‘A total chaos’
After Turnava’s claims that the Ministry didn’t know about its own agency’s move, Zurab Tchiaberashvili, MP from the opposition United National Movement party said that it didn’t change the fact that the Anaklia Port project had already been damaged by these developments.
‘This damage wasn’t undone today by Turnava’s move, because the investors have understood that the Georgian government is unstable in their decisions’, said Tchiaberashvili and added that the government was incompetent and unqualified.
Political scientist Gia Khukhashvili told Rustavi 2 that it is impossible for the official who greenlighted the Poti Port not to know how it would damage the Anaklia project.
‘Why did they issue it necessarily at the very moment when the Anaklia Port’s finances are about to be sealed?’ said Khukhashvili.
Anaklia port and TBC
According to the Anaklia Development Consortium, the Anaklia Port unlocks a primary market of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia with their 17 million people and another 147 million people from landlocked countries in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) and Northern Iran, as Georgia is strategically situated on China’s One Belt One Road trade route.
According to the group, the Anaklia port’s location as well as its technical and infrastructure capabilities will be the primary drivers to attract cargo.
However, one of the key partners of the Anaklia Development Consortium, Mamuka Khazaraze, the former head of TBC Bank, was concerned how a ‘deliberate campaign’ against TBC coincided with his bank’s bid to build a deep-sea port in Anaklia. He reiterated this point during a parliamentary hearing on 4 March.
Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party said they would not open a parliamentary probe into the claims by former TBC head Mamuka Khazaradze about alleged threats from Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia.
Khazaradze has claimed that Gakharia demanded he influence the coverage of two TV channels on the 2018 presidential elections, and make a public statement against the opposition on the eve of the presidential run-off.
[Read more about TBC band controversy on OC Media: Former TBC head accuses Georgian interior minister of ‘threats’]