Reshuffle In Georgia “force” Agencies

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 28

Prior to this week’s cabinet of ministers’ parliamentary vote of confidence, according the new Constitution, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili issued a surprise reshuffling of officials to lead the “force” ministries. Today he is expected to make the announcement official. At a news conference on June 5, Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania confirmed that Prosecutor General Irakli Okruashvili would replace Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze. In turn, Baramidze will replace Gela Bezhuashvili as defense minister. Bezhuashvili will replace Vano Merabishvili, secretary of the National Security Council. Merabishvili will become minister of state security, replacing Zurab Adeishvili, who will take the office of prosecutor general. “This is the picture we have today after intensive consultations with the president and other state officials,” said Zhvania (Rustavi-2, TV “Mze TV”, TV-Imedi June 5-6).

Zhvania also noted that in the coming days some other personnel changes might occur within the cabinet. According to the knowledgeable sources, Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Tamar Lebanidze, and Minister of Infrastructure and Development Tamar Sulikhia are most likely to lose jobs, reportedly for underperformance (Resonance June 2, 4). Other sources predict the same destiny for the Minister of Energy and Fuel Nick Gilauri, and Minister of Agriculture David Shervashidze (“Resonance,” “Alia” June 5), although Zhvania and other government officials deny these supposed developments. It is noteworthy that for the past week Saakashvili and Zhvania have denied media allegations about the pending changes in government.

The reshuffle in the leadership of the force agencies is a topic of particular attention and raises many still unanswered questions. “Optimization of the government’s composition” was the most widespread explanation cited by top government officials and members of Parliament concerning Saakashvili’s decision. It was only a month ago that Saakashvili praised the performance of all the leaders of the force agencies. Perhaps, by the reshuffling Saakashvili is either attempting to minimize criticism of the poor performance of force ministers or attempting to install his closest confidants to key posts.

For example, Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze has never been a member of Saakashvili’s team. He is known as Zhvania’s protégé. His six-month term as minister has been marked by several unprofessionally conducted anti-crime measures and a series of human rights violations and illegal arrests (see EDM June 3). Gela Bezhuashvili, classmate of Saakashvili in Kiev University, has good reason to be dissatisfied, as his new appointment represents a demotion both for him and a dilution of the role of the National Security Council. This agency under Vano Merabishvili, one of the Saakashvili’s closest loyalists, has been a key unit in the Georgian force agencies community. Merabishvili is known for transforming the president’s ideas into reality (Mtavari Gazeti, June 1). The majority of the work undertaken during the Ajaria “revolution” had rested on the on the shoulders of the National Security Council. More important, Merabishvili is known for good organizational skills and lack of political ambition. Saakashvili’s support helped Merabishvili to overcome problems associated with the arrest of corrupt MP Giorgi Kenchadze, who reportedly was taking money to Merabishvili when arrested (See EDM May 21).

The role of the Ministry of State Security under Merabishvili would undoubtedly increase. His predecessor Zurab Adeishvili who has a background as a highly qualified lawyer combined with authorship of many important Georgian legal initiatives, including the Administrative Code, demonstrated himself as a weak minister, sources say. The position of prosecutor general probably better suits his background. Adeishvili is a staunch Saakashvili supporter.

Saakashvili also fully relies on Irakli Okruashvili who has gained a reputation as an incorruptible official by spearheading reprisals against Shevardnadze-era officials while prosecutor general. It was Okruashvili who charged that the arrested officials had bought their freedom by paying millions to the state budget. A once famous lawyer, Okruashvili, as interior minister is likely to focus on legal anti-crime measures and serve as an additional support for Saakashvili.

The new leaders of the force agencies are most likely to be confirmed by Parliament where Saakashvili’s party holds an overwhelming majority. Another question concerns how this ministerial reshuffle will affect the work of those agencies, which are the key elements in Georgia’s ongoing efforts to suppress rampant crime, secure rule of law and restore territorial integrity of the country.