Sunday, January 2, 2011

Week 27 Dec.- 2 Jan.: The centres (and beyond)

The literature about South Caucasus is full with analysis of the centre-periphery relations, regional development gaps and so on.
Perhaps a new chapter should be written, entitled: the Georgian case.

Georgia is moving part of its power in its regions. It’s somehow a weird process, started few years ago, when the Constitutional Court was placed in Adjara. Now it’s going to be the Parliament’s turn. Kutaisi, the second city of Georgia, will be the temple of Georgian Legislative power.

Kutaisi is the main city of Western Georgia. It was the capital city of the Western region of the zarist governatorate (1864-1917) and of the Region of Kutaisi in Soviet time (1951-1953). According to President Saakashvili, 2011 will be Kutaisi’s year. The opening of the Parliament there will help to re-qualify the city, which will be targeted by some other works and investments.
Вack to 2009, the city became the focus of interest of the "Fresh Electric Company", an Egyptian company that, after the signature of a memorandum of cooperation, turned the area of the previous KAZ, Kutaisi Car Industry, into a free industrial zone. The project implied at its first stage an investment of $ and, as typical of many similar ones in the post Soviet space, replaced heavy industry production with light one (furniture, textile), and was supposed to give occupation up to 15 000 workers. The then Minister of Economic Development Lasha Zhvania described the company’s plans as “unprecedented investments for Georgia”.

Remaining seized on the matter of the consequences of localization of powers, which to many observers looks like an alienation from the center of power, it has to be seen if it’s really going to be a good chance for western Georgia to develop its own way to growth, politically and economically.

At Georgia’s east, Azerbaijan keeps its door wide open towards its neighbour. SOCAR is keeping high level of investments in Georgia in 2011, up to $50-60 million, as already foreseen in the agreed investment projects for which permits were obtained. There is still place for improvement, adding some extras available to a maximum sum of $100 million, save additional investments in the implementation of gas transport project AGRI, which will have a separate funding. The core of investment plans is the gasification program in Georgia.

In the Azerbaijani centre a new Ambassador is –eventually- waited: Matthew Bryza, appointed by the White House bypassing the Senate, where the Armenian lobby had ostracized his candidacy due to his allegedly doubtful impartiality over the NK issue. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs he had gained knowledge and experience about South Caucasus, in conflict solution and in energy policy. About the later topic, it should be recalled that from July 1998 to March 2001, as the deputy to the Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State on Caspian Basin Energy Diplomacy, he coordinated the U.S. Government’s inter-agency effort to develop a network of oil and gas pipelines in the Caspian region.

In Armenia, in Yerevan the Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan chaired a sitting with the newly appointed Ministers of Economy and Finance, Hrayr Tovmasyan and Vache Gabrielyan. The Government approved the draft law on free economic zones and the amendments to 6 other laws to be in line with the implementation of the budget recently approved. This is the first time that a separate bill is adopted on free economic zones. It is all part of a package to improve the business environment in Armenia, according to the guidelines of the “Doing Business in Armenia” memorandum of understanding.

In the southernmost Marz of the country, Syunik, a new wave of demonstrations to halt uranium mining might start. Local residents believe that their health and the environment should be prioritized to mining profits.

The year has just begun, priorities are on the way to be defined, in the centres and beyond.

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