TBILISI: International Donors Conference Opens In Brussels

Georgia: International Donors Conference Opens In Brussels
By Ahto Lobjakas

RFE/RL Feature Article
June 16, 2004

Brussels, 16 June 2004 (RFE/RL) — An international donors conference
for Georgia opened this morning in Brussels.

Held under the aegis of the World Bank and hosted by the European
Union, the event brings together potential donors from dozens of
nations, among them EU member states, the United States, Japan,
and Russia.

The Georgian government has said it expects pledges to reach 485
million euros for the period 2004 to 2006.

Opening the event, the EU’s external relations commissioner, Chris
Patten, said the international community must seize the opportunity
to assist Georgia.

“We cannot afford to await the success of the reforms before offering
our support,” he said. “We should commit ourselves now to assisting
Georgia, since the next three years will be crucial in determining
the future course of the country.”

The European Commission has said it will pledge 125 million euros ($150
million), which officials say is likely to be the largest contribution.
It will also double the bloc’s previous assistance to the country.

However, Patten warned that the support will be conditional on
continued reforms. He also underlined the EU’s strengthening engagement
with regard to Georgia.

Referring to the two remaining South Caucasus countries, Armenia
and Azerbaijan, Patten said the EU will treat each country “on its
individual merits” within its European Neighborhood Policy.

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania promised his country will
consolidate the reform policies launched by President Mikheil
Saakashvili in the wake of the “Rose Revolution” seven months ago.

Addressing donors this morning, Zhvania said Georgia aims to become
self-sustainable and that it will make a clean break with the “donor
addiction” prevalent before.

“We want to change completely this philosophy. And the first thing
I want to convey as the main message from President Saakashvili,
from myself, from our cabinet, is that we want to use this degree of
your support to stop these practices and move towards a situation when
Georgia will not any longer be dependent on international assistance,”
Zhvania said.

Zhvania said his government wants donors to support projects aimed at
reforming Georgia’s administration, cutting law-enforcement personnel,
rehabilitating the country’s energy sector and infrastructure, and
funding social benefits.

He said Georgia also expects donors to prioritize the reintegration
of regions such as Adjara. The European Commission has said that —
in addition to today’s pledge — another grant for 12 million euros
will go for the rehabilitation of areas affected by the conflicts in
Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Calling on donors to contribute generously, the World Bank’s regional
vice president, Shigeo Katsu, said Georgia has all the preconditions
necessary for success.

“Georgia is blessed with abundant natural resources, geographical
advantage as a major transit route, and most importantly, a talented,
energetic and engaging population with a rich history and diverse
cultural heritage,” he said.

Katsu said that, in the light of the reforms undertaken by the
Georgian government, the World Bank is “optimistic about the outlook
for economic growth” in the country.