Georgian president sets up anti-monopoly body in effort to combat rising prices
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has asked government members to take active part in a special group that will work to break up monopolies and ensure market diversity in Georgia. He announced the creation of the group, to be subordinated to Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, at a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers broadcast live by Rustavi-2 TV and other Georgian channels on 24 October.
"Unfortunately, it transpired that a large number of imported products are monopolized," Saakashvili said, adding that it was the government's "main task" to eradicate monopolies on foodstuffs and consumer products. He noted that it was these monopolies, as well as rising prices worldwide, that were responsible for increasing prices on the Georgian market.
He said that last year the government had successfully intervened to break up the local "meat mafia" which existed in part thanks to a corrupt official in the Veterinary Service. Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said at the meeting that his agency had recently cracked down on a company that enjoyed an artificial monopoly on salt imports. Merabishvili added that the Interior Ministry had allotted 800 tonnes of salt from its own reserves to the consumer market and that the price of the product had been more than cut in half as a result. Saakashvili also alleged that a major local sugar producing company was "smuggling" a large amount of its sugar into the country and selling it as its own.
Saakashvili said that some MPs, including a committee chair whom he did not name, were facilitating the emergence of monopolies through the legislation they pass in parliament.
"If someone thinks that I do not know what kind of lobbying goes on there and how various mechanisms are used, they are very sorely mistaken. Everyone will be called into account," he warned.
He also called for the abolition of the Competition Agency, a body subordinated to the Economic Development Ministry, which he said had been ineffective in preventing individual companies from gaining monopolies.
Also at the meeting, Saakashvili was briefed by Health Minister Davit Tqeshelashvili on the progress of a special presidential initiative to provide aid to the population this winter. Tqeshelashvili noted that under the programme, which is already under way, pensioners, teachers and the socially disadvantaged will receive vouchers to cover heating expenses and that 700,000 families living in Georgia's regions will receive a 50-kilogram sack of flour irrespective of their financial standing.
Prepared by BBC Monitoring