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Aid Use Questioned

Fears raised over distribution of post-war international support.
By Tamar Khorbaladze
Western donors promised billions of dollars in aid to Georgia after its war last year with Russia but Georgian experts fear some of the funds are being disposed of carelessly and without proper oversight.



At a meeting in Brussels last October, the United States, Japan, the European Union and international organisations pledged 4.5 billion US dollars - much of which has already arrived – to repair an estimated one billion dollars worth of damage to Georgian infrastructure, support refugees from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and rebuild the economy.



“Sadly, getting information connected to this money is very hard. This raises doubts. How correctly is it being spent? Is it being used for the aims for which it was intended? Sadly, I have not been able to receive answers to these questions,” said Giorgi Khukhashvili, an economic expert.



He said the main problem was caused by the sheer number of government agencies and bodies using the money, which meant it was hard to assess expenditure and the flow of funds.



The government denied there was any problem, and said that the donor money had been dealt with transparently.



“On the finance ministry website there is a special table, which is permanently being updated and where all data is published on help which has come to the country and on contracts which have been signed,” said finance ministry spokeswoman Marika Khoperia.



“The ministry has also created a civic council, which is made up of representatives of non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and society. The council meets every month and gets answers to all its questions.”



But experts and journalists attempting to monitor the money flows say the ministry’s table does not provide enough information to judge how it is being used. They do not go so far as to say the money has been embezzled, but they believe the system as it stands would make embezzlement possible.



“The deficit of easily-accessible information about the assistance increases the risk that the money may in the future be distributed incorrectly,” said Tamar Karosanidze, head of the NGO Transparency International – Georgia, which has monitored the money flows since October.



Opposition parties have also picked up on the lack of reliable information about the sums. A council was set up by the government in October to keep tabs on the effectiveness of the distribution of the assistance. It convened several times, but since March it has not met, paralysed by a political stand-off which has also brought much of the country to a halt.



The chairman of the council, opposition deputy Gia Tortladze, blames the government for boycotting meetings. “Members of the council from the parliamentary majority permanently decline to attend meetings. If this continues, I do not see the point of the council existing and may even raise the question of its dissolution,” he said.



“The council is effectively not fulfilling the functions of a monitor.”



The audit chamber also established groups to check on the distribution of the cash, but its recommendations have not been published. It was due to report by June, but has not done so.



Those NGOs that have investigated the expenditure for themselves have come up with disquieting revelations. Most of the 220 million dollars given last year as assistance for refugees was spent on building new houses and repairing apartment buildings. However, according to Karosanidze, the work was done too quickly.



“They have damp walls, the roofs leak, the floors are not flat, there are other problems too,” Karosanidze said.



The refugees, she said, would need extra money for fuel if they were to survive in these buildings, “Apart from this, one of the big problems faced by those living in refugee villages is the lack of information about the help available to them, and also the problem of finding work.”



The authorities do not hide the fact that the accommodation is not perfect, but blame the outstanding issues on the short amount of time that has passed since the war.



“At parliament’s autumn session, we will definitely study how and on what the money was spent, and invite the government to account for it to parliament. As for the objections of non-governmental organisations, it is their job to make objections,” said Mikheil Machavariani, deputy speaker of the Georgian parliament.



The experts say that two billion dollars of the sum provided to Georgia is in the form of long-term credits that have to be paid back. If the country does not correctly invest the sums, then this could harm the economy’s future chances, they said.



“Without international help the Georgian budget and, accordingly, all those organisations financed from the budget, would be in a very difficult condition, and the Georgian banking system may not survive the pressure,” said Shota Gvenetadze, an economic expert.



“But if the authorities do not recognise the existing economic, and budgetary, problem, and do not begin to react to them adequately, then an autumn budgetary crisis is unavoidable.”



Tamar Khorbaladze is a correspondent with 24 hours newspaper in Tbilisi.

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