|Photo: Adjara TV|
02.12.2012. After the Georgian Dream coalition won the local elections in the Adjara Autonomous Republic, the new Georgian Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, nominated Archil Khabadze as the new head of the autonomous republic. Prior to this appointment, Khabadze was the regional head of Qartu Bank in Batumi. On October 30 local legislative body of the autonomous republic - Supreme Council - elected Khabadze with 13 votes.
With extensive experience in the banking sector, Khabadze, 31, thinks that he has skills to better manage the Adjara region. Apart from Qartu Bank, Khabadze also held senior positions at Georgian Maritime Bank and Intellect Bank– both in Batumi.
Georgia Today interviewed Khabadze via email to learn more about his future plans and strategies.
Q: Despite the very short period of your appointment as the head of Adjara Autonomous Republic, have you worked out our priorities? And are your priorities different from the previous government– especially with regard to the economy or from a political point of view?
A: Our government has come to power just recently. Even though we are still in the process of studying some cases, we have already outlined our priorities. These include social-economic improvements and the creation of a better investment climate. In addition, one of the more important aspects will be a sense of justice and property-related issues. What is important is that the government bodies have to regain their leverage of which they were deprived, so that decisions are not made subjectively.
Investors are interested in certain projects; however, our goal is to make them interested in the projects related with tourism, agriculture or healthcare. It will help us to solve our main problem which is unemployment. I think that the right economic policy must help develop agriculture and the related sectors. Our main goal is to support small and medium sized business development and improve Georgia’s social conditions.
Q: During the tenure of Levan Varshalomidze, the previous head of the Adjara Autonomous Republic, Batumi gained international recognition as an attractive city for tourism. What’s your opinion about it that and how correctly were the tourism and investment policies pursued in Batumi and throughout Adjara? What’s your strategy now?
A: I would not like to criticize my former colleges; however, in this very short period of time, I have conducted some meetings and I have to say, I am very surprised how keen foreign investors are to meet with the head of the Autonomous Republic personally, while there are many agencies which are responsible for defining them their permits and conditions, the decisions were made by one person. Those councils were set up fictionally, and this is why the investors are requesting personal meetings and presentations. It is very difficult to persuade them that from now on, their projects will be examined by the council and they will make the decisions. Yes, I may approve a project, but experts and professionals will make better evaluation. It’s impossible to know all sectors the well– business, architecture, art and economics.
As for the awareness issue, yes it is true that the awareness of Adjara as an international tourism destination has increased. We all know how large a potential Adjara has and we will do our best to develop it maximally. In order to develop this important direction, it’s important to have a well-planned strategy and we are working on it. Tourism is the driver of the region’s economy. This needs support from both the government and private sectors.
There are varieties of tourism. For instance, we can develop wine tourism, eco, ethno or agro tourism. And all of that needs much work. Our goal is to create touristic products both for locals and foreigners; it requires the development of tourism infrastructure, improvement of the quality of service and increasing the region’s awareness globally. These are our main priorities.
Q: You have announced that you will offer a project, which would fit the Georgian Dream Coalition’s pre-election program to Adjara’s needs. Please tell us about it in more detail. Have you started working on this project? And when will ordinary people feel the changes?
A: You might mean the general policy of the new government, which we will of course implement in Adjara. And of course additional programs will be added too. The work on these programs is underway. We are working on them to foresee specifics of the region’s geographical location as well as other important aspects.
Regarding positive changes for the people, we have already started to solve the citrus-related problems. This year, farmers will have no sales problems, as we are assisting them. At the same time, we are also working on developing ski tourism and negotiating with investors. Very soon a hotline will be launched and people can call and express their troubles. We are doing the best to improve each household’s social and economic conditions.
Q: Construction of the Azizie Mosque in Batumi provoked harsh debates and protests. Can you tell us what the situation is right now? And what is your position?
A: The Adjara government has expressed its position on this issue and I will reiterate it once again that we are not against any religion or religious confessions. If the believers want to build a mosque, they can do so, but only if they protect the legal requirements. In addition, we must consider the city’s infrastructure. I would like to emphasize that the locals were not against construction of the mosque. The residents of Batumi protested on the area where the construction was planned, as it is a place where “national heroes” are buried. Generally, our government thinks that the mosque issue was politically provoked– especially by the previous government in order to divert attention from the other issues.
Q: PM Ivanishvili initiated a ban on the gambling business in Adjara. Why? What’s your opinion about it? We know that many visitors come to Adjara for this reason from our neighboring countries. If the new government closes this segment, what will be the estimated decline in economic revenue for the region?
A: I understand why such rumors began to circulate. Several foreign businessmen invested huge amounts of money in the gambling business here, so they protested against the announcement. Just recently, we organized a meeting with both local and foreign businessmen where Nodar Khaduri, the Minister of Economy, answered all questions regarding the issue. He explained to them that there have not been any talks on this issue. According to Khaduri, it is important to study this sector well; estimate the income from the gambling business, the risks and after the study, the government will make its decision. However, I want to say again that currently this issue is not under consideration.
Q: Batumi has been transformed into a festival city hosting lots of international conferences and summits. Do you agree with this strategy and will your government support such events?
A: Organizing international conferences and summits are vital for the region. I think such events will help increase the region’s economic situation and investment potential. Regarding the festivals, many such events have become a tradition and I think that such projects help raise interest towards Adjara. So, the government will get involved and support these initiatives.
Q: The Georgian-American Technical University was opened in Batumi and the previous government wanted to make Batumi an educational hub. Do you see such a potential in Batumi? What’s your educational policy in general?
A: I think that the top priorities must be accessible education for everyone. Our goal is to give every citizen an equal opportunity to receive education. The central government has already announced that they are going to increase the financing of education. So another issue is the appropriate salary of our teachers. A key topic is improving the quality standards of education. As I know, the ministry of education has already started to work on this.