Donors pledge billions to rebuild Georgia

The international community has pledged $4.5 billion (€3.4 billion) toward the rebuilding of Georgia hit by the short war with Russia over South Ossetia in August, with the European Commission alone putting aside up to €500 million to address Tbillisi's needs between 2008-2010.

"It is a moral imperative to help a neighbour in need," commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said when opening a donor's conference in Brussels (22 October).

He added that it was also in the interest of the EU to help Georgia to get back on its feet - for wider stability as well as energy security reasons.

Prior to the outbreak of the conflict, the Georgian economy was booming, with growth expected to reach 10 percent this year. But with a large chunk of infrastructure damaged and the flow of foreign investement decreased, current forecasts put the figure at around five percent.

According to EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the commission package of up to €500 million will be channelled to three main purposes - to strengthen the Georgian economy, build strategic infrastructure, including energy infrastructure, and provide food and shelter to those in need.

However, Ms Ferrero-Waldner stressed that the recent war should not distract Georgia from economic and political reforms, which are "essential" and which "should further advance."

In response to their pledges, Georgian deputy prime minister Lado Gurgenidze expressed a "big thank you" to all donors, saying that the final cheque exceeded Georgia's expectations.

"We are deeply moved and humbled by the solidarity" especially in the time of the financial crisis, he said.

Some 38 countries and 15 international organisations took part in the donor's conference.

Concerns over use of funds

But shortly before the conference opened, representatives of civil society and the opposition in Georgia issued an open letter, urging all donors to ensure the funding is used to improve living conditions, not to strengthen the current regime.

"Financial support should be delivered through the most direct channels and with the utmost transparency and within a strict monitoring mechanism, which avoids unconditional funding," reads the letter.

It continues by saying that "any additional funds available should go to supporting concrete democratisation programmes." The media, the judiciary and the electoral processes are cited as areas with the biggest shortcomings.

The signatories were not part of the Georgian official delegation nor present at the conference.

When asked about the letter, deputy prime minister Lado Gurgenidze said he had not read it and limited himself to the pledge that every euro would be spent to "the best possible use."

"Today is just the beginning. There are three years of hard and productive work ahead of us," the politician concluded.

[Source: Euobserver, Brussels, 22oct08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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