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Georgia’s Parliament has approved a ‘temporary cabinet’ led by new Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze, voting 99 MPs in favour and 6 against. Before voting, Bakhtadze presented his plans to MPs and faced questions over a large transfer to the now-opposition United National Movement party back in 2012, which may have been illegal, and why he left certain information out of his CV.
After Georgian Dream nominated Bakhtadze as their candidate for PM, revelations emerged that he donated ₾20,000 to the United National Movement (UNM) in 2012, the year Georgian Dream came in power through parliamentary elections. The transfers were documented in a report by the State Audit Service.
Bakhtadze was urged to explain himself at the plenary hearing by UNM MP Tina Bokuchava, who stressed he was unfit for PM as he had said ‘his bank account was technically used for the transfer’.
‘You are basically saying that you were pushed or ordered to donate ₾20,000 [to UNM] by your employer. […] What if Bidzina Ivanishvili pushes you to cover a crime while you’re PM, will you do it. If you are so soft, I don’t think you’re fit for this position’, said Bokuchava.
Bakhtadze responded he had never transferred his money to the UNM.
‘You changed the law in 2012 and prohibited party donations from legal persons. It was followed by changes in the banking law. Therefore my personal account was used only technically. As for ideologically, I have been a Georgian Dream supporter since 2012’, said Bakhtadze.
Following his comments in parliament, Transparency International Georgia issued a statement urging the State Audit Office to look into Bakhtadze’s statement as ‘according to Georgian legislation, it is illegal to donate money through a third person’ and ‘this violation envisages a fine of twice the amount that was illegally donated’.
They said no legal sanctions could be imposed due to an amnesty act approved in the past, but that ‘this case is connected to a candidate for the highest political position of the country and it is thus important to study it’.
‘The candidate for Prime-Minister should once again clarify his role in the contribution made to the United National Movement. It is essential to find out whether or not he had any part in illegal activities’, it said.
PM’s Incomplete bio
The new PM’s biography submitted to parliament neglected to mention Bakhtadze’s position at the Centre Point Invest Plus, a company affiliated with Centre Point Group, whose founders are currently serving jail time for fraud and misappropriating a client’s money.
Irma Nadirashvili from opposition European Georgia party asked Bakhtadze whether he had been questioned by investigators on the case. Bakhtadze said he had not been, asking in return why he should have been.
‘You have hidden this information because you didn’t want to hear unpleasant questions. You are coming here asking for our confidence while lying’, said Nadirashvili.
Bakhtadze pointed out his biography does mention his position at hotel chain Rcheuli, which he said was associated with the company.
Criticism over the ‘temporary cabinet’
Bakhtadze introduced his ‘small government’ initiative and pledged to reduce the number of ministries from 14 to 11, as well as to keep government expenditures ‘under 3.9% of GDP’. He said he hoped to save ₾100 million to ₾120 million ($41 million to $49 million), ‘which would be redirected to social programmes’.
The current cabinet parliament voted for on Thursday consists of 14 members, and therefore is temporary. Several Georgian Dream leaders have argued that this move was necessary because structural changes as part of Bakhtadze’s ‘smaller government’ initiative will take weeks to complete, and the constitution obliged them to submit a new cabinet to Parliament within a week of Kvirikashvili’s resignation. Bakhtadze said that a final government set-up and updated cabinet would be re-submitted later for approval, in 2–3 weeks time.
President Margvelashvili was among the first to react to Bakhtadze’s ‘interim’ cabinet. ‘This masquerade of selecting prime ministers has to end’, he said during a speech at the 15th Georgia’s European Way conference on 14 June. He then called on the ruling party ‘to appoint Bidzina Ivanishvili as the Prime Minister’.
[Read more about voting in the parliament on OC Media: Georgian PM candidate submits ‘temporary cabinet’ to parliament]
Ex-chair of the Georgian parliament and current head of the opposition Development Movement party Davit Usupashvili was quick to criticise the ruling party’s plan for a ‘temporary cabinet’. ‘Even a bakery isn’t run this way’, he stressed.
‘What does it mean you will temporarily approve it and then do something else and then approve it again? What if they don’t initiate changes or new members, should they stay in office?’, said Usupashvili.
Vakhushti Menabde, an expert in constitutional law, told OC Media the ruling party did have enough time to make legal amendments which would have avoided the necessity of a ‘temporary cabinet’, but either way, their move does not offend the constitution.
‘Parliament had two options and they have made their choice. I don’t think their decision is tragic and I don’t think it was an insult to or manipulation of the Georgian constitution. They approved the cabinet with consideration of the political context. They knew it was temporary and debates in parliament bore this in mind’, Menabde said.
He added that the way ruling party did it might have been ‘clumsy’, but was ‘seemingly more comfortable for them’.
[Read more about Georgia’s new PM on OC Media: Georgian Dream name political newcomer as candidate for PM]