Georgian press review (June 11-18)

Georgian press review (June 11-18)

The main event of recent days in Georgia was the flood in Tbilisi, which took place on Sunday. As a result of it, 19 people died. One of the most discussed questions today is whether the natural disaster and the tragedy could have been predicted and prevented.

“It could have been forecast to some extent. The country has no full-scale monitoring. However, nature had warned us. On June 4th we witnessed natural power in the gorge. If the environmental structures, the Defense Ministry and the city administration had worked appropriately, we could have been well prepared for this. The disastrous consequences of it and the number of victims could have been reduced. The problem is not only about the new road and the river in the tunnel. The current authorities are responsible for this, as they didn’t react to this before. On the other hand, we have no system of monitoring of geological processes. Moreover, relying on the incident of June 4th, we could reduce the damage to a minimum,” Rezonansi cites Lasha Chkhartashvili, an environmental expert.

At the same time, Svetlana Nioradze, the head of the Hydro-meteorological Forecasting Department, admits that they don't have the necessary equipment, which prevents meteorologists from working effectively. “If we had radar, we could have seen the clouds gathering two hours before the disaster. Such a radar is very expensive, but without it we couldn’t have provided a precise forecast,” the newspaper cites her.

At the same time the meteorologist stresses that not only her colleagues are responsible for the tragedy, as heavy rain was only one of factors which finally led to the disastrous flood. “It was really heavy rain. In 3 hours, 49 mm of precipitation fell. However, on June 4th the  rain was also very heavy – 48 mm of precipitation in 1 hour; but the consequences were not so disastrous. This time, other processes played a role. Altogether they led to serious consequences. Rain was an initial condition; but landslides and the blocking of the Vere River played their roles. The main reason was the geological process. Tbilisi has seen heavier rains. For example, in 2011, 78 mm of precipitation fell in 3 hours; in 2012, 93 mm fell in 3 hours. In 1972, 130 mm of precipitation fell in one day. Thus, we cannot blame only heavy rain for this,” Nioradze concluded.

The mass media is actively discussing the steps taken by the authorities during the natural disaster. Not everybody is satisfied with them. “The authorities were absolutely unready for the natural force. However, our people were ready for it, especially the youth. I cannot bring my son home… Young people proved that the future of the country is in reliable hands. But the government proved that today the country is in the hands of dangerous people. The poor head of the zoo is shocked and stressed; the authorities should have played a commanding role. What do we need the government for? The authorities should be responsible and check the received information thoughtfully. A person who is shocked may probably be inadequate at the moment of providing the information. Any information which is connected with the safety of the population should be checked several times,” Alia cites the leader of the Laborite Party, Shalva Natelashvili.

Finally, both journalists and society in general are concerned about what measures can be taken to prevent such a tragedy in the future. “Everybody knows that natural disasters are happening all around the world; and in some more developed countries, disasters were greater. However, there are necessary steps, without which it won’t do. Speaking about preventive measures – a lot of mistakes were made during the construction in the Vere Gorge; for example, it is forbidden to build anything so close to a river,” Rezonansi cites the architect Lado Vardosanidze.

“The practice of constructing tunnels and bridges was taken from the Soviet period; it didn’t consider the maximum power of water spray. It was wrong to redirect the river into the tunnel. However, we should reach the right conclusions from the tragedy,” he admitted.

However, even such a large event as the flood that occurred in Tbilisi does not distract the media from other themes, one of which is the constantly discussed possibility of a return to politics of the former Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili. In particular, many are wondering what could push him to take such a step?

"If you want to talk about desire, as far as I know, he has no such intention. Politics was neither his dream nor his choice. Some previous circumstances pushed him into politics. As soon as it became possible he retired from politics and does not want to go back there. As for the impact, each of us affects the political process, of course, in varying degrees. Of course Ivanishvili's influence is stronger, but he does not want to be in politics officially. Today, the responsibility for the political process is fully on him. That is the perception of Georgian society. If the crisis reaches a certain point and it becomes clear that the authorities cannot cope with the situation, then, in my opinion, Ivanishvili will return to power. This is just a theory, I don't know about the practical meaning of this question. As you know, before he left he said that he would return if something goes wrong. There are several different variants in which he would consider that the authorities have reached a critical point," Rezonansi cites a former adviser to the Prime Minister, Gia Khukhashvili.

"I am sure that Ivanishvili will not take a hasty or rash decision. If he returns, he has to return to unite the country and not to foment personal animosity. If he returns, he has to overcome his stubbornness and not to continue the constant attacks on the president. According to my information, he is failing to implement his ideas within his own political team, which may force him to return to power. The most sensitive topic today is the change of the electoral law. I would not be surprised if a disillusioned Ivanishvili decides to return to politics and openly answer those questions posed to the authorities in the past two years," the head of the Club of Experts, Josef Tsiskarishvili, said.

The veiled increase in payments to officials also did not go unnoticed by journalists. "By order of the government of 15 July 2014, the persons authorized to pay the premium were identified, there is a need to explain the premium, some restrictions on the frequency and size of the premium were introduced. But it turned out that the government needs to adopt a new regulation which will regulate the issue of allowances to the salary. According to the Institute for Information Freedom, in 2014 the salaries of staff amounted 1296 billion GEL, which is 109 million GEL more than in 2013, and 247 million GEL more than in 2012. Despite the fact that, compared with 2013 year the size of salaries and bonuses were reduced, the overall growth of the labor remuneration is due to a significant increase in salary increments," Rezonansi writes.

"In particular, in comparison with 2013 year, they pay 20 million GEL of premiums less in 2014, but the total amount of allowances to the salary sharply increased - about 57 million GEL more. In 2014, the additions to the salary exceeded 80 million GEL. At the same time, in 2014, the highest expenditure on staff was recorded - 127.6 million GEL, which is 37 million GEL more than in 2013. The company also noted that in 2015, after the announcement of "a pulling in belts policy", in the first quarter salary costs of officials were increased compared to the same period in 2014," the newspaper adds.

Finally, the media was interested in a special operation carried out by law enforcement agencies in the Pankisi Gorge, which has once again reminded the Republic about the participation of its citizens in the conflict in Syria.

"On June 14, during a special operation in Pankisi five suspected of having links to IS were detained. Four of them were released and a member of the organization 'Nakh peoples for human rights', a former imam of the Dzhokolo village, Ayub Borchashvili, was remanded in custody, accused of promoting terrorism and sending two teenagers to take part in the fighting in Syria on the side of the terrorists in April 2015. According to the Interior Ministry, two young men already had plane tickets to Turkey with the help of Borchashvili, but were detained at the airport. According to him, 70% of Pankisi youth are associated with the ideology of radical Islam," Rezonansi writes.

"I know who Ayub Borchashvili and all who were detained during the special operation in Pankisi are, but I do not want to accuse anyone, because the investigation has not been completed. But it is indisputable that there are people in the valley who are engaged in indoctrination of local youth, creating a route for them to Turkey and from there to Syria – and both from Vale and Batumi. As far as I know, the father of one of the guys who went to Syria came to the house of Borchashvili in Pankisiand and demanded the return of his son. We have asked the law enforcers to do something in this direction. I was among the main critics, but when the blocking of Georgian-Islamic sites started, I realized that the authorities are working in this direction. Secondly, I was very encouraged by the fact that the number of our citizens in Syria and Iraq has dropped," Rezonansi cited the head of the Center for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus, Mamuka Areshidze, as saying.

"170 citizens of Georgia have left for the war in Syria and Iraq. Not only from Pankisi, but also from Adjara and Kvemo Kartli. This number was reduced by almost half. We shouldn't forget that, despite our fellow citizens being in Syria, some of them are not citizens of Georgia. For example, the well-known field commander Muslim Margoshvili, who hails from the Pankisi Gorge, but he is a citizen of Russia, not Georgia. There are other Pankisi citizens possessing the nationality of Austria, Belgium...," he added.