A protest took place yesterday in Tbilisi against the proposed Panorama project in the historical old district of the city. I tweeted a few links with the background of the project, but I’d like to bring up another aspect to all of this.
In March 2014, the Georgian Co-Investment Fund brought its proposal for the Panorama development to Tbilisi City Hall.
The following month City Hall rejected the plans saying that the Fund had provided insufficient documentation. The city authorities also indicated that they were unhappy with the location Ivanishvili had chosen for the project, and suggested an alternative.
“The planning and technical-economic research of the project needs more justification. It is also important to make the correct selection of city planning in terms of a comparative study, based on the analysis,” read the report.
City Hall was not opposed to more development for tourism, but the location of Panorama was problematic for both environmental and historical reasons.
The local NGO “Green Alternative” says that “the project will upset the ecological balance in the region. In addition, historic conservationists assert that the development plans will end any chance the city has of being a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Tbilisi will lose money as a result. The old district of Tbilisi was proposed as a World Heritage site in 2007.
The Fund’s CEO, Giorgi Baciashvili, insists that Panorama will boost tourism. But Ivanishvili, who says he’s doing this out of the goodness of his heart, admits that the project is unprofitable. At least at first. He claims that the project could become profitable eventually if others join. But so far Ivanishvili still appears to be the only investor in the estimated $500 million project.
In addition, several plots of land that Ivanishvili owned were sold to the Georgian Co-Investment Fund. The Fund was established by Ivanishvili in 2013, with an initial investment of $1 billion by the billionaire. The amount paid by the Fund to Ivanishvili has not been disclosed.
Meanwhile, Ivanishvili appears to be stacking Tbilisi City Hall with his own people. In January, a new Deputy Mayor was appointed. Grigol Liluashvili previously worked at Ivanishvili’s Cartu Bank, and at another company associated with the Panorama Project.
According to the news portal Civil.ge: “Liluashivli…said that “timely” implementation of infrastructure projects would be among his priorities.”
His predecessor had reportedly been sacked due to the fact that he was taking too long to implement infrastructure projects.
A former City Hall employee has recently alleged that he was sacked and then charged with bribery due to his boss’s refusal to approve Ivanishvili’s pet project. This has not been confirmed, but rather denied by others involved.
City Hall’s Irakli Abesadze has also accused Ivanishvili of installing his own people at City Hall to further his own agenda.
“The recent personnel changes have nothing to do with the problems at the capita or improvement of the living standards of citizens. The appointment of Cartu Group employees at the government of Tbilisi serves for contribution of Bidzina Ivanishvili”s personal interests,”- Irakli Abesadze said.
What should be a straight-forward request for the municipal government to follow standard procedures has now turned into another example of the country’s king-maker imposing his will on the local government.