Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze has dismissed Giorgi Kobulia as Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, after appointing him just nine months ago.
Kobulia was replaced on Thursday evening by Natia Turnava, who served as one of his deputy ministers.
Reports first began to circulate the Kobulia was about to go after government-leaning channel Imedi TV stated they had learned Kobulia was going to resign.
Following the report, Kobulia himself seemed uncertain whether or not he was going to be ousted.
Asked by journalists if he intended to step down, Kobulia was unwilling to answer.
‘Don’t ask me about that. It is the PM who makes decisions on that and you can address him [with that question]’, said Kobulia.
Within a few hours of his comment, two orders signed by PM were published on the government’s website, one dismissing Kobulia and another appointing Turnava.
Giorgi Kobulia was appointed as a minister in July 2018. He previously worked for 18 years at American consulting company McKinsey in Moscow, where he held the position of chief partner. According to the ministry, ‘for many years, he has been providing consultancy services regarding economic issues for the leading and large-scale companies assisting them in solving problems in strategic management systems and production’.
When announcing his appointment in July, Bakhtadze said Kobulia had great experience in many sectors, including energy, integrating different sectors of the economy into the global economy, as well as competitiveness, the labour market, and much more.
‘I am sure that he will contribute significantly to the implementation of the reforms that we have addressed and included in our government programme’, said the PM.
Kobulia’s nine months in office were marked by a number of controversial statements and gaffes.
Even before he was appointed, when summoned before parliament to be voted on as a candidate, Kobulia presented himself as ‘a person who has no problems in life’. He said that he was an accomplished person who needs nothing for ‘a normal existence’.
‘I’m not afraid to lose my job. I always have a lot of perspectives to go and do whatever I want, either in Georgia, Russia, or the US. I’m not a showoff, but I held a pretty exclusive position at a very big company’, said Kobulia.
During the same hearing, he surprised fellow MPs from the Georgian Dream party by saying that he had met former president Mikheil Saakashvili in 2007 and they had a great time at the Salobie restaurant in Mtskheta, where ‘they had great beans’.
Kobulia made headlines in December and was harshly criticised by women’s rights groups after he said ‘there are housewives who say that they don’t want to work’.
‘We have a bunch of people who are “outside the workforce”. The most typical example is housewives who claim “we don’t want to work”. There are different categories of people who say that they don’t want to work at all. It’s our goal to involve them in the economy’, said Kobulia.
The minister was immediately criticised by feminist groups, who said that domestic work should not be disregarded and that ‘there are no unemployed women’.
Addressing criticism over the devaluation of the Georgian lari, Kobulia said in December that ‘the lari may devalue only if there’s huge psychological pressure and panic-like developments. The dollar is fundamentally more, how can Lari go down?! This is against the laws of physics and economics’.
The value of the lari fell from ₾2.4 to $1 when he was appointed in July to a low of ₾2.8 to $1 in November, before recovering slightly.
Who is Georgia’s new Economy Minister
Natia Turnava is the fourth woman to be appointed to the current Georgian cabinet, after Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, Infrastructure Minister Maia Tskitishvili and State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili.
Turnava held was appointed Deputy Economy Minister in September 2018.
Prior to that, she was deputy CEO of the Partnership Fund, a state-owned investment fund established in 2011.
She has held the position of Deputy Economy Minister in the past as well, between 2000–2005 and later in 2005–2006, both in the governments of the now opposition United National Movement Party.