Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 147

After last week’s intense media speculation, yesterday Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced an overhaul of key ministries. That same day, December 14, Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania announced the structural and personnel reorganization planned for the rest of the ministries. “We are doing this to make the government more stable, consistent, and predictable,” Saakashvili said. Zhvania cited the need “for more effective management” as the main reason for the ministerial reshuffle.

Media predictions about the changes (see EDM, December 13) have been partially confirmed. Irakli Okruashvili, Minister of Internal Affairs, has become minister of defense. “As Supreme Commander-in-Chief, I was dissatisfied with the pace of modernization of our defense system and that’s why I have decided to appoint Okruashvili defense minister. He will receive a full-scale mandate for reformation of the Georgian defense system,” Saakashvili said. In an interview with Rustavi-2 television Okruashvili said that his top priority would be preparing Georgia for eventual NATO membership.

Okruashvili succeeds Giorgi Baramidze, who has moved to the newly created post of state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration. Baramidze will simultaneously act as vice-prime minister, which hardly seems to be a promotion. In an interview with Rustavi-2 television Baramidze barely concealed his dissatisfaction with his new, less important position and its vague functions.

Vano Merabishvili, Minister of State Security, will head the new Ministry for Police and Public Security, which has been created by merging the Ministries of Security and Internal Affairs. The revamped ministry will incorporate an investigative branch, which is expected to be an analogue of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, and a counterintelligence department. Saakashvili praised Merabishvili’s performance as security minister.

Saakashvili said that foreign special services have drastically increased their intelligence activities in Georgia. This development propelled the creation of a separate, autonomous external intelligence unit. “The new external intelligence service will receive maximum funding to reinforce its work to strengthen the efficacy of the country’s security system,” he said.

The reorganized municipal police, which will be led by an elected chief, will incorporate patrol units and special forces, which will protect public order.

Kakha Bendukidze, minister of economic development, has taken the newly created post of state minister for coordination of structural reforms, which, according to Zhvania, would not be a merely “symbolic post.” Zhvania said that Bendukidze has created the foundation for the unhindered development of business in Georgia. “He will have a very serious mandate from me and the President, and we have very serious expectations that, beginning next year, he will start to implement more rapid reforms in all agencies and spheres of our economy,” Zhvania said. According to Zhvania, the former Russian oligarch has “created serious plans” for deregulation, which as he said, will strip many state agencies of their redundant functions, including issuing of licenses and permits.

Alex Alexishvili now becomes minister of economic development. Until now, Alexishvili was the first deputy minister of finance and was formerly the president of the well-known Georgian Association of Young Economists. He has no partisan background.

David Shervashidze, minister of agriculture and food, is the only minister left without a job in the latest reshuffle. He has been replaced by Mikhail Svimonishvili, Tbilisi’s chief architect and a successful businessman. During the 2004 parliamentary elections, Svimonishvili financed a campaign by Koko Gamsakhurdia, son of Georgia’s first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

The ethnic Ossetian Zinaida Bestaeva, who was born in Tskhinvali and has been working in North Ossetia for the last ten years, will take the newly created post of state minister for civic integration. Zhvania made no secret that Bestaeva’s appointment was aimed at reconciliation with the Ossetians. According to Zhvania, Bestaeva’s main task will be managing the integration of ethnic minorities into Georgia’s civic life.

The reorganization has affected the affiliation of three incumbent state ministers. State Minister for Coordination of Integration into the Council of Europe Tamar Beruchashvili, State Minister for Small and Medium Business Jambul Bakuradze, and State Minister for National Reconciliation Issues Guram Absandze have lost their current jobs, but Zhvania says they will stay in the government.

When speaking about the reshuffle, Zhvania repeatedly emphasized that the main purpose of the changes is to accelerate Georgia’s integration into European structures. Neither Zhvania nor Saakashvili made any mention of failure by any of the top ministers, while many experts argue the opposite.

The government changes must be approved by parliament. This is expected to happen in the coming week and likely will not encounter any resistance, since the ruling party dominates the legislature. Nino Burjanadze, chair of the parliament, whom Saakashvili reportedly only formally consulted about the reshuffle, said that the changes were necessary.

Meanwhile, some analysts argue that the appointments of Okruashvili and Merabishvili, who are known for their hawkish attitude toward the settlement of regional conflicts, sends a clear message about Saakashvili’s future plans. The reshuffle also reveals the relative weakening of Zhvania’s team in the government.

(Resonance, 24 Hours, December 15; Rustavi-2, RIA-Novosti, Novye izvestiya,, Regnum, December 14)