Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili delivers annual address to parliament
Mr. Chairman, dear Members of Parliament, distinguished guests, it is a great honor for me to be here today to deliver my annual Presidential report on the situation in our state, on the challenges facing our country, on the results of past years, on our future plans, and on the course we have chosen.
Tradition dictates that this report gives the President a chance to present his own vision, assessment, and goals.
But I do not wish to monopolize this microphone today. With your permission, I would like give this high tribune to our people as well. I want to communicate not only my own views, but above all those of our people. I want to communicate their voice to the Parliament and the Government of Georgia; I wish to communicate their pain and problems, their goals and wishes, their needs and requirements to you...
My job affords me the chance to travel more than any other Georgian politician not only abroad, but throughout our country as well - in the cities and villages of Georgia's regions.
I meet thousands of our citizens, sometimes in front of cameras, but most of the time when there are no cameras in sight.
I have the honor to listen to so many people from all strata of society, and mainly from the poorer parts of our population.
I speak to representatives of all professions...doctors, teachers, and agronomists, and road workers, farmers, and factory hands, builders and miners.
I also meet people who have professional skills, but do not have sufficient work, and those whose professional skills faded due to long periods of unemployment.
I meet people who now are just now acquiring their professional credentials and those are acquiring news professions in order to become more competitive in today's marketplace.
I dedicate my Presidency to the improvement of their lives, to lessening their problems, to the future of their families and of their children.
I see what makes their eyes sparkle with hope, and, unfortunately, I also see what dims this sparkle. I see what cheers them and also what deprives them of their joy. Just one word from them is enough sometimes for me to feel that we have done something in the right way... But sometimes it becomes clear to me, through just a single glance, that we have fallen short or that there's something we're simply not doing well enough.
I want to highlight for you their hopes and expectations... I want to speak about their problems and hardship.
And there is no other problem that is more painful for our people than rising prices, which have made life more expensive.
Throughout the entire country, from the largest cities to the smallest villages, I see so many people who are desperate because of higher prices. Many of these people have lost hope in the future...
I can tell you even more: some of them are even afraid to think about their future. Many of them have a sense that their lives are going backwards and find it hard to articulate a single reason that could give them hope of a better future.
Just imagine how they start their morning: for a mother who counts each Tetri, who knows exactly how many GEL she needs to make it through an ordinary day, an ordinary week, to make sure that her children have enough food and somehow maintain her family...all the sudden she discovers that the price of sugar is about three GEL instead of one-and-a-half GEL... cooking oil costs about four GEL instead of one-and-a-half GEL.
Imagine for a minute, how a day starts for an unemployed father, who returns home every night and does not know what to tell his wife about the next day, how to look into his children's eyes... He does not know where to find even the most elementary means of subsistence to support his family... and yet he knows that tomorrow it will be even more difficult to bring home some bread than it was today. . .
Imagine for a moment how each day starts for a student, who has to eat less meat in order to be able to afford to simply commute to his or her school.
Every day for me starts with these images, I constantly recall people like these, and I spend my days seeking solutions for them. I shall do everything in order to give them hope again and to secure the means for us to overcome this frustration together.
However, we know and see that this frustration is not confined to Georgia alone. Inflation has spread around the entire world; every country is affected, without exceptions. In many places, the conditions are even worse, which is the result of the global economic crisis that has lasted for many months. Of course, this has a dramatic influence on such a small economy as ours. This is especially true given that we have not yet developed local industry. We had just started to take the first steps needed to increase our economic potential when we were hit by the global economic crisis, then with the war, and now with global inflation.
Nevertheless, I will not let us lose heart and blame everything on global economic processes. While the causes of inflation are of course international, our duty is to find local solutions to address this problem.
As such, we are working very actively and taking all the necessary measures to protect our economy as much as possible from inflation pressures, so that we can navigate away from this area of turbulence that has been created by the rise in prices.
The Government of Georgia is undertaking all the necessary monetary and fiscal measures to protect society from further inflationary pressures. Georgia has enough reserves for this, and we also have enough experience.
However, beyond monetary policy, there are other means by which we are trying to alleviate, at least to some degree, the burdens that have made life so expensive for our people.
Starting this month, we will begin to distribute vouchers for electricity to all families in Georgia. Each voucher will cover 20 GEL worth of energy. Of course, this is a very small benefit, but I think it is important for those who most need help today. In addition, this voucher provides not only the opportunity for the Government to help the people, but each member of society to help each other, since vouchers will be transferable - so that people, if they desire, can give their vouchers to others who are in greater need.
Starting in March, meanwhile, every family in Georgia will receive 30 GEL in food vouchers, which will be distributed to their permanent place of residence, as with the electricity vouchers. These vouchers also will be transferable, so that their owners can decide if they want to give them to those in greater need.
One of the main instruments we have to fight rising food prices is to develop our own local agricultural industry. If our agricultural industry were more developed, if we produced more local food products, Georgia would be able to confront food inflation from a position of greater strength.
This is why we have begun a program to increase the production of grains, by making available to our farmers and peasants high-yield wheat and maize seeds.
Anyone who wishes to participate in this program will receive high-yield, high-quality seeds and will have seven months to pay for them - that is, after they have profited from the increased harvest.
The average productivity of maize was 2.2 tons per hectare in our country in 2010. Amiran Macharashvili, who is our guest today, managed to get a record harvest of maize last year in the village of Vardisubani in the Laghodekhi region. He sowed high-yield maize seeds and harvested 8.5 tons per hectare. The success of Amiran is exemplary and we heartily congratulate him.
However, not many farmers can repeat this feat, because the seeds they have are not good enough - and good seeds are expensive. For example, Mamuka Gogoladze, who is also with us today, is in no way less hard-working than Amiran. But like many other farmers, his dedicated work did not result in a big harvest, due to the poor quality of seeds. Our crop production intensification program will give Mamuka and plenty of other participating farmers the possibility to set record harvests.
Mamuka already has registered for the program, as have 15,300 other farmers; the registration process is ongoing on and we expect this number to double.
If these large-scale programs succeed, Georgia will become a maize exporting country this year; and by 2013, we will have raised local wheat production by up to 35%, bringing additional income to farmers in our villages. Most important, this will decrease Georgia's dependence on volatile global prices for maize and wheat.
Five years ago, Georgian agriculture was in a shambles. Since then, we have seen certain progress: we have better irrigation and we have made progress with respect to mechanization as well. Our first agricultural products appeared, local production became more competitive, and in several sectors - for example in juice production and canned foods - we have seen many Georgian products on our store shelves, whereas there were none several years ago.
However, despite this, the overall state of our agricultural industry is unsatisfactory. We are still well below our potential. The process of opening new agricultural enterprises is very slow.
In recent years, we have tried many times to spur private initiatives in agriculture, with cheap credits and regional development funds. These programs produced results and changed the lives of many people. However, in total, with some exceptions, there is not enough progress. New technologies are being implemented slowly, and new agricultural techniques are not adopted quickly enough.
However, we cannot afford to leave our villages to their own devices. It is essential to develop local industry in order to lower our dependence on global food markets. That is why we have decided to increase the Government involvement in developing agriculture, based on the principle of partnering with business.
We will seek to help in areas that have proven most challenging for our agriculture industry. For instance, there are no warehousing enterprises in Georgia today that, on the one hand, could receive products from farmers and, on the other hand, would be able to export these products to foreign markets.
That is why our new program calls for agricultural warehousing facilities and logistical centers to be built with the participation of the Government. This will qualitatively change how our export infrastructure, creating new opportunities for our farmers, who will no longer have to find export markets on their own.
The logistical centers will be able to certify the products of our farmers so that they will be competitive in foreign markets. These centers will select the most advantageous international markets and simplify the process of transporting our products to them. In this way, they will overcome those challenges that Georgian farmers cannot solve with their own resources.
The logistical centers will serve as an effective mechanism for sharing information between farmers and exporters; this will allow farmers to know which products are in greatest demand and yield the greatest profits, allowing them to plan for more profitable production.
Beyond this, we will increase financing of agriculture by 150 million GEL this year. This will allow us to look beyond short-term actions to counter high inflation over the coming months, and will help us establish a long-term development program that can create stable, sustainable jobs.
Our minimum goals are as follows: Georgian agricultural production will double by 2015, agricultural exports will double as well, and the number of bottles of wine produced in Georgia will reach 50 million annually.
In addition to lowering our dependence on global food markets, these enterprises will create thousands of new jobs.
The creation of new jobs is our main priority to improve our economy and the lives of our people, including alleviating the burden of inflation.
From this tribune, I want to speak for all our unemployed citizens and to share their pain with you. Unemployment is the main obstacle we face in developing Georgia; unemployment multiplies the pain caused by inflation; for too many of our fellow citizens, unemployment kills the joy of life and hope in the future.
Nothing will be considered a success until we break unemployment.
That is why we are continuing to invest in major infrastructure projects, to build new roads, new railway lines, and continue to supply Georgia with gas.
All this helps guarantee that new jobs and new economic prospects will be created for our people. Without this, we cannot even dream of economic success. As a result, in accordance with our infrastructure development plan, by 2015:
- Every city in Georgia will be connected by a road of international standards.
- The Tbilisi-Batumi railway rehabilitation will be completed and travel time will decrease from 8-10 hours to just 3.
- Construction of the Tbilisi bypass railway will be completed.
- Construction of the railway connecting Georgia to Europe (Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi) will be completed, and freight will then travel from Beijing via Georgia to London.
- More than 70% of the population will have natural gas (including village populations).
In the fight against corruption, one very important tool is the development of those spheres of the economy where Georgia has great potential and a comparative advantage. Tourism and energy are two such spheres.
No doubt you will agree that the enormous potential to develop tourism in Georgia is quite obvious. We are blessed to have a motherland with gorgeous and beautiful nature, in addition to Georgia's unique culture, history, and our exceptionally hospitable people. There is no reason why we cannot transform Georgia into a center of tourism renowned throughout the world. There is no reason why Georgia should not become a leisure dreamland.
And most important of all, we seek to develop our tourism not only so that we can show off our country to foreign visitors, but, above all, to improve the welfare of our citizens and to spur rapid economic growth, to create jobs and increase the income of our people. This is because tourism can help raise income faster than other spheres of the economy. Tourism is a tool to revive our economy in a relatively short timeframe in regions where recession and unemployment are prevalent today.
This is why the state of Georgia is so active in developing tourism zones in Georgia. As with agriculture, the state's active and close partnership with business can lead to more rapid, well-organized development.
This is why today, with the state's direct participation and very intensive cooperation with the private sector, new resorts are being built and traditional tourism is being developed. We are building tourism infrastructure and arranging free tourism zones where we provide incentives for investors. We are rehabilitating cities that have great tourist potential. We are constructing new ski resorts. We are changing the design and architecture of tourism zones. Up to 20 hotels are in the process of construction in Kobuleti, we anticipate another 15 in Anaklia, and the same number in Mestia. And we are very actively promoting our country throughout the world.
But still, all of this is just a drop in the ocean compared to the potential we have in this realm. This is why we still have a lot to do, and there are still many jobs that need to be created in the tourism sphere.
Our plan is pretty ambitious, but we will fulfill it by all means: In 2015, the number of visitors to Georgia will reach 5 million, and by that time Georgia will be one of the world's centers for winter tourism. This might sound impossible to many people, but believe me, three years ago it sounded even more impossible that the New York Times would nominate Georgia as one of the world's best places to visit.
Now about energy: the potential of our country is unique in this sphere as well, and in the nearest future we will turn the energy sphere not only into an even greater source of electricity, but also a source of tens of thousands jobs. By 2015, 17 power plants will be constructed in Georgia, producing 717 MW in total... 13 power plants will be in the process of construction, with the capacity to produce 1 GW of electricity. This represents billions of dollars in investment to bolster our economy and to create new jobs.
Several years ago we faced the threat of energy dependence. We had aimed then to achieve energy independence and we have reached this goal.
Now we have a new priority - we are still not processing oil in Georgia and our economy depends completely on imported oil products. This of course increases prices. This is why we have begun the construction of an oil refinery that will produce oil products made in Georgia to satisfy our country's needs, and also will export surplus production. This will stabilize fuel prices as a result. We are actively cooperating with our Azerbaijani colleagues to fulfill this grand project.
Beyond these strategic spheres, and in order to fight unemployment and create long-term protection in the battle against inflation, our goal is to continue to improve the business climate in Georgia.
At the end of last year, we declared a new economic course that aims to make state structures and fiscal institutions responsive to business. Our goal is to create a better business climate in Georgia so that entrepreneurs can operate in an appropriate legal environment, and, equally important, in a just environment.
This new course represents an extremely difficult challenge for our state system. I will try to explain briefly to you why: in many countries (I would not name any, so as not to upset them) it is impossible even to dream that financial institutions would operate in adherence with the principle of the rule of law. The reason is one word that we all remember well from our recent past - corruption.
The major goal of our reform efforts was to overcome corruption and reach a point where the tax-collecting bodies of the state would operate corruption-free and strictly in line with the law. This in itself seemed like an impossible task 6-7 years ago; but we achieved it with our huge collective efforts. All international assessments now rank Georgian fiscal institutions as among the least corrupt in the world today.
But everything has its side effects and, in our case, it emerged that by creating a corruption-free system, we ended up with a system that is rather strict and intolerant of even the slightest misconduct. As a result, it seemed that the state could only punish and that could not cooperate.
Given that we have taken the first steps in our statehood, even this is not too much of a surprise. Naturally, enforcing the law in a way that eliminates corruption free necessitates strictness, especially in a country like Georgia whose "traditions" of respecting the law in recent decades were rather unusual.
The challenge of the new course we announced a month ago lies in the fact that we made it our goal to elevate the quality of state financial institutions to a new level.
We said that we cannot be satisfied only with the fact that the system is devoid of corruption and is now guided by the rule of law (which in itself is a huge achievement). In announcing this new course, in addition to readjusting the state system to become responsive to business, we made it our goal to:
- Not only administer but serve business;
- While not closing our eyes to breaches of law, to monitor these in such a way as to make dealing with the state comfortable for business;
- Maintain austerity, but to be objective and just;
- Be not only the source of punishment, but also an assistant and supporter so that even in case of intentional or unintentional misconduct, businesses can survive, stand on their feet, and continue to develop.
All businessmen who deal with the state should feel these merits of the system, without exception.
This is the main challenge of this new economic course - it entails instilling a new working culture and philosophy and mobilizing to the maximum possible extent all civil servants towards this end. It also involves exercising self-restraint on the part of the Government and creating an atmosphere where both business and state feel that we are united as a single team, that we are building one common house, and that we are driven by one common purpose. Mobilizing every civil servant is essential if we are to achieve all of this.
It also is a fact, however, that human motivation alone cannot lead us to such a culture. Nor will the actions of certain officials or even the president's speech suffice.
To succeed in this new course, changes in legislation are needed. It has not even been a month since the new Tax Code entered into force; its main merit it is to majorly reduce pressures on business from the state administration. In addition to many other merits, it creates a system that eliminates multiple interpretations of the Tax Code by the Revenue Service, which until now has been a serious problem for business.
The major simplification of various procedures is also necessary if we are we are to succeed in our new course; this is already taking place. For example, unique opportunities on the Internet are being introduced for our businesses, allowing them to use various services without leaving their offices.
What is more important, success in our new course is contingent on infrastructure that is constructed in such a way to allow, for example, imported goods to clear customs in one hour; in which the details needed for a business to be more efficient and quick are thought out; in which businessman do not have to run from office to office seeking stamps or permits; in which there would be no queues and, most importantly, in which both civil servants and businesses would work together with dignity, in a co-operative environment of partnership. The state should not be some kind of punitive body, but rather a service center.
We embarked on the first such innovation in Tbilisi a month-and-a-half ago, when instead of a "terminal," we launched a new term - Economic Zone of Registration. Such a zone opened in Batumi and will soon be opened in Poti as well. We all remember well traditional image of the terminals - endless queues, inhumane conditions for importers, and goods stranded sometimes for weeks. These new zones offer customers exactly the opposite.
Tamta Kharebava, 22, a new employee of one such zone is our guest today, since she managed to register all goods imported by an importer. Those who know how much time is consumed in clearing customs until now would agree that doing all that in just in six minutes is a fantasy. Today, this is reality. Today, Tamta is the face of the new economic course of Georgia.
In our fight against unemployment, our main goal is to keep businesses optimistic and self-confident and to feel that they will not be treated unjustly. Only under these circumstances are businesses willing to risks, invest money in expansion, and thus create jobs.
We know that the World Bank ranked Georgia 12th in the world in terms of the ease of doing business. Our plan is for Georgia to be in the top 10 by 2015.
Business confidence is in large part bases on access to markets and an open economy - that is, an economy without monopolies!
If an economy is locked up by monopolistic structures, it cannot develop. Only if there is competition, can the economy provide goods to consumers at the best possible prices.
This is why, since day one of my presidency, we have fought monopolies and practices that lock up segments of the economy. Given the decades-old traditions in the Georgian economy, this struggle was not easy.
Numerous bureaucratic instruments, such as licenses and permits, allowed corrupt officials to lock up specific sectors in line with their interests; artificial monopolies were formed. We gradually neutralized these activities, simplified bureaucratic procedures, abolished 85% of licenses and permits, and made obtaining licenses free of subjective interference. We opened up customs and limited the potential for corrupt dealings.
As a result, only three months ago, in November last year, the most authoritative World Bank survey pointed out (and I quote): "All sectors of the Georgian economy are completely open for investors and there are no monopolistic and oligopolistic market structures in Georgia."
According to the same report, not a single case was recorded of a business having difficulty in obtaining this or that license! The manipulation of prices through monopolistic means has been rooted out, and we will not allow this to reemerge!
The development of our production capacity and the improvement of the export-import balance is necessary to create long-term safeguards against inflation.
Opening up new international markets for Georgian goods, therefore, is one of our priorities. Goods made in Georgia are appearing for the first time on store shelves in countries where nothing Georgian had been sold before. But the state of affairs is far from satisfactory. Our goal is to sign free trade agreements with both the United States and the European Union within five years. This will create enormous potential for us to enter new markets. We aim to double our exports by 2015, as well as nominal GDP. We also aim to double export-related jobs.
In addition to the strategic areas of the economy, there is enormous potential in our people's talent and intellect. Our fight against unemployment does not entail job creation only in services and manual labor. We also must realize the intellectual potential of our people.
One of the components of our economic success must be the development of high-tech production. During the next six years, we should transform Georgia into a regional center of IT and develop our economy based on IT.
Very soon, computers will be produced for the first time in Georgia. This new Georgian plant will have a license from the world computer giant Intel and will produce computers under a Georgian brand, employing Georgian specialists. In the entire EU, Intel has just one factory, in Portugal, and in the former Soviet Union, there is only one more, in Russia. Thus, Georgia will be the third European country to host an Intel plant.
We have highly qualified programmers capable of producing world-class software. Dato Sakhvadze and Irakli Kokrashvili are two such specialists. Dato and Irakli lead a 20-strong group of Georgian programmers and graphic specialists who presented the first Georgian computer game a few days ago. Their example is important because it demonstrates that our programmers also can create high-quality competitive IT products if they are properly supported. If we start supporting this industry, many Georgian specialists will have an opportunity to be employed and to transform their IT knowledge into a big business and income.
The multibillion-dollar global IT companies of today, which have changed the everyday life of humankind, emerged out of the dreams of children beguiled by IT. We have started distributing computers to first graders and, who knows, if our children already are playing with those computers in Georgia's villages and cities, a Georgian just might one day become the world's next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg.
Our plan to modernize Georgia calls for the establishment by 2013 of a world-class technological university, from which new generations of IT-producing, top-class generations will graduate.
I mentioned the new generation, and it is impossible not to speak about education. We have made clear progress in our education system. The process of studying has become more active in schools. There is no corruption and studying is more valued now than before. Parents are not scared to send their children to school and the years spent in schools are not wasted.
But there is still a great deal that we lack; the education system is not perfect. We still have many schools that don't meet modern standards. We still have many pupils who deserve greater opportunities to get a 21st-century education. The wages of our teachers are still very low.
But education is the key to our future success. Education will determine whether our country becomes prestigious or will be sunk in the swamp. Education will define whether we are able to modernize Georgia.
Thus we continue to develop our schools and the school systems. Thus we continue provide computers and Internet access in our schools. Thus we carry out our program that grants certified teachers an additional 200 GEL. The salaries of the most qualified teachers will reach 1,000 GEL.
Ketevan Klimiashvili is a young teacher. She began working recently and now teaches mathematics and computer studies at school # 27. Her salary does not exceed 400 GEL. Of course she deserves more, as do other teachers in Georgia. I am confident that Ketevan will be able to pass her certificate examination, in which case 200 GEL will be added to her salary. And if she attains the highest score and ranks among the top 25 percent of teachers, her salary will rise to 1,000 GEL. Of course, this will not address all the problems our teachers face, but it will guarantee appropriate payment for them.
By 2015, all our schools will be driven by the standards that prevail in European countries like Sweden and the Netherlands. They will be equipped with personal computers and Internet access. And every family in Georgia will have access to the Internet.
Another important challenge facing our society and country involves preparing our citizens to work and think in a global way, not confined by the boundaries of their own country. In this way, they can share in the knowledge accumulated not only by our own nation, but of all mankind. They will thus enrich our national intellect and strengthen Georgia, as Tergdaleulebi led by Ilia Chavchavadze did in the past, when they brought European education to Georgia. This challenges demands excellent knowledge of the international language of today-English. However, we also have to encourage learning of other European and leading Asian languages as well.
Peter Ruths is an English Professor from Cambridge University who has lived for 6 months in Zeda Simoneti, in the Terjola region, where he teaches English to schoolchildren. I'd like you to welcome Peter, as well as hundreds of English-language teachers from the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, who teach not only English but also pave the way towards world citizenship for our children.
At the same time, we are not forgetting to take care of every ethnic minority - we should open the doors for all of them to realize their own ambitions and abilities in Georgia. I am proud to say that last year we began to implement the special state program aimed at paving the way to our higher education system for Azerbaijani, Armenian, Abkhazian, Ossetian, and other citizens of Georgia.
Every representative of our ethnic minorities, every citizen of ours is, for us, precious and dear - like every Georgian. The higher education system was practically closed to ethnic minorities in the past. But we all have one motherland. We together build the future of Georgia and we should all have equal opportunities to achieve success.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this tribune belongs to the people and I want every servant of the state to know that all their work belongs to people as well. In most cases, the government is engrossed in big projects, solving macroeconomic problems, and it forgets about the micro, about small problems, the economy that concerns each individual - these are the small problems that preoccupy our families when go to sleep every night and wake up every morning.
In speaking with people throughout Georgia, I discover what they think. And what they think is that the government takes care of our country, but not of our people. Of course, taking care of our country means taking care of our people as well - but there is some logic in their criticism. People need support now more than ever. A separate social program might not exist to solve each and every problem - no country's budget could afford this. But ordinary people need to feel that the government is aware of their problems, that civil servants occupy their office not for their own success, but to provide services to our people.
One of the most important areas in which our people need support is healthcare. Economic crises and, later, the war had a negative impact on our program to build 100 hospitals. In today's conditions, the majority of our citizens do not have to contemporary medical facilities, and the distances they must travel double their medical expenses and make systematic treatment impossible.
We haven't forgotten our promise for 100 hospitals. We have found some new means and, as a result, more than 100 new hospitals will operate in Georgia by 2013. The whole hospital sector will be privatized and this will eliminate corruption in the healthcare sphere and provide high-class service.
However, safeguarding the health of our citizens at a high level involves activities that aren't very necessarily attractive from a commercial point of view and thus require state involvement. Among these are psychiatry, TB treatment, infectious diseases, and AIDS. Also, all healthcare programs serving our citizens below the poverty line will be maintained.
In addition, we are aiming to improve the provision of insurance in healthcare and to make it widely available. By 2015, one million more people will have insurance, making over two million people in all with insurance.
Since I addressed you from this tribune last year, our country has advanced pivotal political and legal reforms.
Legislation already is in place that will allow, for the first time in our recent history, for jury trials; ordinary, honest citizens will administer justice. This will be a pivotal, historic step in the development of Georgia's court system. Our court system will provide greater trust and justice, more protection for human rights. But we still have much more to do; we must make every possible effort.
Last year we not only chose the Mayor of Tbilisi by direct elections, but the whole campaign was much more civilized and issue-based then we were used too and I want to thank political parties, our opponents.
At the same time we changed the Constitution in such way to allow for greater parliamentary control, a government that has more accountability and a more European political system.
In last year's report to you, I called on the political parties to work together on the development of our constitution, despite the differences that existed amongst us. I want to thank the opposition parties for their very active participation in this joint working process.
Our new constitution is a real example of how partnership is possible among political parties with differing political views, and how effective such cooperation can be when on the priority is placed on defending the interests of our country and our people, rather than the interests of a political party. This marked real historic progress in building our democracy and in the process of forming our young political system.
I want to welcome those parts of our society and those NGOs that were actively involved in this process; the process that led to the Constitution, as much as the Constitution itself, is a mark of our democratic success.
Of course, there are harsh opponents who refused to participate in the development of a new Constitution. We have heard their critical positions on television and in various media extensively. I welcome them as well. It is crucial that public hears all the views.
I want to use this opportunity to once again call on all political parties to work together in future and to thereby bring the necessary balance in the control of our various branches of government.
I welcome the process of dialogue that is taking place at this moment among political parties that aims to refine our electoral code.
Cooperation among political parties is what our society needs now for a long time to come.
It is very important that our country and our politicians are unified when it comes to national security and state interests despite important political differences.
Our country still faces a very difficult reality with respect to our security. A strong enemy still opposes our independence and our territorial integrity.
But during the last year, we have numerous diplomatic achievements. Today, the entire civilized world calls Russia an occupier. There is no longer any question regarding where international law stands. Today, Georgia has more political support than ever. Our strategic partnership with the United States is getting stronger, and our course towards the EU and NATO is irreversible.
Today, everyone see that efforts to isolate Georgia have failed and that the recognition of Georgia's occupied territories is impossible. The whole world sees today who the aggressor is and who fights for freedom...who depends on military means and who refuses to resolve conflicts through violence.
Our unyielding position is to be devoted to peace and to restore what was damaged by war and aggression only through non-violence, constructive engagement, and development. This is why we are ready for dialogue with Russia, but we will never accept the dismemberment of Georgia and the occupation of our country. We will never give up the free will of the Georgian nation and our Euro-Atlantic course.
We still face huge challenges, but everyone knows that the force that tries to divide us now is swimming against the tide of history and humankind; it can never succeed.
Likewise, there is not future for the course chosen by the current Russian leadership, which tries to restore the empire. The idea of empire is still alive, but in the 21st century, it is not viable any more, it has no future, its pulse is weakened, and it will soon end. Our centuries-old experience teaches us that empires become very dangerous as they weaken. This very process is going on now and that is why we need to be a hundred times more vigilant, so that our security is not sacrificed to the natural death of the empire, on the one hand, and artificial efforts to restore its life, on the other hand.
Today, Georgia has no alternative to freedom. Today, the force of history is on our side and that is why Georgia will be united!
Until we accomplish this goal, our main priority is to care for our internally displaced population. Many of them still live in difficult conditions. Many of them are still without a home and reside in temporary shelters with poor conditions for living.
Nothing will replace what was temporarily taken away - their own homes, the houses of their ancestors - until Georgia becomes united again and every displaced person gets backs their own property.
Until that time, the State has an obligation to do everything to give our IDP compatriots the possibility of a better life.
The resettlement of displaced persons in private houses of their own, instead of shelters, is part of this obligation. Of course, moving residences produces difficulties, which why considerable material compensation has been granted to IDP families. As a result, about 25,000 IDPs already live in their own apartments or have their own houses. They have property that they own, instead of a temporary shelter.
However, this is a just a drop in the ocean; much more needs to be done for our IDP population. Our main obligation is to continue to improve their living conditions. Funds already have been allocated to renovate their housing, and for the next 12 month these rehabilitation works will be undertaken at all IDP settlements that require them.
I address all the problems and complaints of our IDPs with attention and understanding. Like them, I am discontented with the living conditions they face. That is why we are trying to help all of them improve their difficult living conditions as much as possible.
No IDP family will be left without care and support!
You probably have noticed that in speaking about various issues, I have invoked numerous times the year 2015. That is not connected with electoral cycle or anybody's personal political career. We are pursuing a long-term plan for Georgia's development and 2015 is the first major milestone in this effort. Our plan is based on the potential of Georgia, on the progress of our ongoing reforms, our actual human and material resources, and the projects that already have begun.
This development plan for Georgia includes all the main sectors of economy and all the main areas of state activity. I already have spoken about some of them; what I did not say is that by the year 2015 - based on our calculations and taking into consideration the current conditions - the population of Georgia will reach 5 million again. By this time, the budget of Georgia will double, unemployment will have been cut in half, the average salary will increase by 50%, and Georgia will be one of the fast-growing economies in the Europe. All the projects, all the programs and all the reforms we implement today and undertake perform in the future will serve to fulfill these goals.
During this speech, I have mentioned several times the word "modernization." If I had to use one word to title my report today, I would choose this word - modernization. Moreover, I would like modernization to be one of the main objectives and results of this historic stage in the life of our country.
Modernization means that we will turn Georgia into a European state from a post-Soviet country; it means replacing a clan and tribal mentality with civic consciousness. Modernization means our citizens will be more educated, more competitive, will have contemporary knowledge and feel like patriots of Georgia...but at the same time, they will be citizens of the world, standard-bearers of mankind, and free persons for whom all opportunities are open and who have no inferiority complex.
Modernization means the reforms that have been implemented and those that will be implemented by the State will make Georgia a more civilized, more progressive, and more democratic state.
It means change and innovation that will illuminate the path for Georgia to become a more open, more successful, more contemporary society. . .
A society that is not closed in its own shell has no phobias; it is multiethnic and multi-confessional, one where all communities are an integral part of the Georgian nation.
A society that rather than weeping for its past, dreams of and aspires to the future. . . A society comprised of free people. . .
Modernization means a victorious Georgia, where politicians and society join together to defend the interests of the country even when major political or ideological differences divide them... Georgia, where the ideology of the thieves-in-law will never return and corruption will never prevail, where individual freedom is a corner stone of the country... This means a Georgia that achieves its deserved place in the international system as an integral and independent state, the existence of which no empire will ever again threaten.
A modernized Georgia means a Georgia with a developed economy, in which there are many jobs and sources of income, with the means to realize the potential of our citizens.
That is why we shall not rest in this fight as we labor for the modernization of Georgia. That is why we will overcome every obstacle and any difficulty. That is why we will move only forward, and we will achieve victory!