The President of Georgia addressed students of higher and professional institutions
I would like to welcome everyone.
The “Flash Mob” made by the Technical University has brought spring!
Many outstanding and skilled people studied at Polytechnic University during Soviet times, but for some, studying here was equal to punishment – if you could not get in anywhere else, you would surely be accepted to the State Polytechnic Institute (GPI).
Things change very fast—as do our lives—based on real priorities.
Things have changed in such a way that we need professional specialists, true technologists, engineers, and IT specialists. In short, we need creators of actual products through which we can find our niche in a very rapidly changing world market.
We cannot allow the Technical University and its spirit to vanish.
We are creating new institutions of higher learning: we are founding an unbelievable technological university in Batumi with financing, facilities, and everything—but for it to have this spirit it will need many years—decades, even.
It is impossible to do this artificially.
I have studied in old and new universities and you can tell the difference right away. There is a tradition at this university and it is very important.
I would now like to talk to you about general issues.
We have started nation-building from the top down.
The state apparatus is very important element. Colonial states, whether they functioned poorly or well, at least had some administrative traditions in place, while we inherited a system that had been devastated in every sphere of public administration. Our predecessors thought that their departure was temporary and that their subjects shouldn’t be educated, as they would soon return and, for better or for worse, they would rule the laggard nation themselves.
This is what the system was like, and that is why the first task we set for ourselves was to create a functional state apparatus. We started with the police, but had it not been followed by other agencies’ reforms, this structure would have collapsed within a year.
Had we not addressed the revenue service—had we not managed to deal with taxes—we would not have managed to sustain these police reforms.
More than seventy five percent of taxes are collected electronically today, i.e. there are no tax administrators anymore and the function of the revenue service has been entirely changed. A totally new concept has been created – one of partnership.
It has been followed by the election of local government, local self-government, the development of the diplomatic service, etc.
In a nutshell, state service is developing and this is very good.
There were two main issues that the state service had to resolve: one was the eradication of corruption and the other was a change of psychology.
If you ask people today what has changed during the past year, they will tell you that the roads have been repaired, the electricity problem has been resolved, the cities have become prettier – I would say that all of this is important, but the main thing that has happened is the mental revolution and the change in attitude of the state apparatus towards the country.
It has already become a normal attitude.
We have to understand what we are dealing with.
We had two major problems: corruption and an arrogant attitude towards our own citizens.
Corruption was easier to get rid of than the other problem. To make an internal change is the most difficult thing.
We see that registration in professional and technical institutes is now underway. There are people sitting behind the information desks who greet everyone with a smile.
I want to simply remind you of the old days, so that you know what we want to prevent from returning. To see examples of the old ways, you don’t need to go to any neighboring country and meet a highway patrolman, but you can just go any foreign embassy in the center of Tbilisi to get a visa and see how foreigners, and in fact, their Georgian employees, treat citizens that go there. Do you know why they treat them like that? Because they think that they are in charge and since you go there, you clearly need something from them, which is why they have the right to look down on you, let you wait, humiliate you, and enjoy it.
Such is the institutionalized bureaucracy in many countries and how we had a feudal mentality embedded in the bone and in the flesh of Georgia.
In many foreign embassies, including those of developed countries, you can see exactly the kind of attitude that our officials had few years ago.
This is what has changed in Georgia.
Our mental revolution is precisely what drives our country’s occupier craziest.
They want to have the same kind of glass buildings that we have in Georgia. They have plenty of money, they have built bigger buildings than we have, but 99 percent of everything is stolen and the remaining 1 percent is not enough. No one steals here anymore and that is why we are building.
What they cannot understand is that for the first time in several centuries a meaningful country has emerged in the Caucasus. It did not take much to rule over Caucasians – you simply incited nations against each other so they all felt that their enemy is their neighbor and not any country from the outside. This is representative of the region and defines it as one that is easily governed from outside.
It turned out that Georgia has spoiled this logic of theirs even though this mentality was shared by our corrupt officials and state apparatus as well.
We were opening new lifts in Gudauri a while ago. Truly the best resort is being built in Gudauri—and in other places—but traditionally rich people go there, because skiing equipment is quite costly. In fact, we have opened several youth schools and have opened paths for children, including those from not so well-off families. So far, however, this is an exception.
First, this provides people with more opportunities and second, huge numbers of tourists come and spend money here which will then be redistributed, especially to vulnerable members of society.
This shows that we need to develop these resorts, but that at the same time it is a social issue that it is accessible for well-off people.
Look at what is happening now – how does our occupier think of Georgia?
Since Putin’s re-election, his main focus has been the elections in Georgia. Gazprom has many billions that they have allocated to the political spectrum here. They think that it is easy to buy the Georgian electorate.
Putin will never comprehend why the Georgian people will never be bought. There are two reasons: first they have already got the taste of independence and the pride of “belonging to ourselves” and second, the state, the rules, and laws that we will protect at any price.
It is very simple – our countries are very different from each other: You can be rich and chaotic like Russia and you can be a small country like Georgia, but a country with rule of law, like the Netherlands or Singapore for example. And when you are a country based on rules, it is hard for people without rules to enter and establish their own rules.
This is our main advantage; this mental change that is happening in Georgia.
That is why our first objective is the public sector, and then education and healthcare as well.
The first thing we founded in the education system is a sense of justice. You are all products of unified national exams, but the main thing we must be aware of is for us not to be dependent on a single element – exams. If we focus on just one thing, everything else would collapse. Good for us that we have understood that and begun to modernize rapidly.
There are other elements introduced at schools: graduation exams, assessment tests, the issue of discipline, the introduction of new technologies, monitoring studies during the studying process, exchanging experience with foreign countries, and much more.
If the system is not integrated as a whole, like the state apparatus, if we leave even one segment of it outdated and out of scope, it will weaken the rest and lead to collapse. That is why it is important to create a unified system.
We have exactly the same situation with healthcare.
We already have new hospitals today, but many questions arise already with regard to the old doctors—who everyone knows in regional centers and villages—moving to the new hospitals. I believe that we should give everyone the chance, but we need to train them so that they work effectively in the new system.
Similarly, we should embrace new people and create a system for them within which the doctor will not exploit the patient. It was the chief problem before. No one pays bribes voluntarily—which is a big change from the past.
Do you know what the biggest revolution in new hospitals was? The most difficult thing was getting hospital staff to wear shoe covers. They have also been taught to use magnetic-resonance equipment and other modern machines, but these were problems until now.
Each element matters. The moment they start to wear their old shoes, the hospital will begin to backslide and it will eventually become the same kind of old clinic that we still have nearby.
Do you why do I talk about this? It is because I want the best human resources for our economy.
For example, we are building up Telavi today and say that the state has taken control of it. Of course, private contractors are doing it, but the restoration work in Akhaltsikhe, for instance, is coordinated by the Minister of Internal Affairs and he counts every single penny to prevent any money from being stolen (though he is still mad because some still manage to swindle the Ministry) and the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General supervise the reconstruction of Kakheti. Zurab Adeishvili is actively engaged in making sure that the work is done promptly.
When the state undertakes something, the work is done two and three times quicker than it would have been by the private sector. It is an extraordinary situation. Everywhere else, it is the other way around.
It means that we have the best human resources and the best relationships in the public sector. This should be reflected in the economy, as it is the economy that ultimately creates the country’s level of development. That is why the next step is to raise the best human capital, and for this, education will be decisive. There will be many professionals, who will turn Georgia into a world-class center, like Singapore.
We are all proud of our country, but we are not satisfied to be the representatives of just another small country – we have to turn this country into a state of the utmost global significance. In terms of reforms and many other changes, we have already done it, but we should also do it in terms of economic strength, competitiveness and the creation of new technologies.
We certainly have the prerequisites for this. You probably know that we have built a Georgian battle vehicle called “Lazika.” It is indeed a thing to be proud of, as we have created a technology that is on par with the world’s best battle vehicles by all indicators and, most importantly, we did it. Except for importing metal parts from abroad, our engineers have done all the work on the ground. The same can be said about Didgori…it is not sophisticated technology, but whereas a few years ago one of our famous figures said that we did not have any inventions except for the hand-made tool “Ragatka,” this great achievement gives us a reason to be hopeful.
There are very few countries that build infantry battle vehicles making it very easy to sell the “Lazika” worldwide.
In terms of economy we are growing much faster than other countries in the region. We had seven percent growth last year, which is much higher than that of many of our neighbors. This indicator was two times higher than Russia’s, who benefits from oil and natural gas as well, but my objective is to have 8 to 10 percent economic growth this year and for the next 10 to 15 years to have at least 10 percent growth, so that we can achieve our goal: the Singaporization of the country in terms of the economic category. We will overcome poverty and live richly.
It will surely happen, but I do not want for us to be a middle class country. For this, just as we have created one of the best state mechanisms in the world. We need to create one of the best economies in the world, which will be based on new technologies, new knowledge, skills, flexibility, intellect, geography, and everything else that I read in your eyes. This is our nearest objective now.
The economy is going well, the legislation is fine, the tax system works fine, the customs service has started to work well. Certainly, there are flaws—primarily that the majority of society is still in poverty.
The level of poverty has decreased twice and three times and the concept of poverty has changed as well, as the basic means for food and medical insurance have become available, but there are still poor populations. Many say, “Abandon the restoration of cities and look after people; there is no time for the educational vouchers, building of autobahns and skyscrapers.”
I understand the people who say such things very well, but we have no oil and gas with which we would defeat poverty. Our wealth is created by skyscrapers, roads, tourism, and by everything we are doing and all of this is, in turn, possible through education.
I was visiting one trustworthy, hardworking and intelligent man’s family, who runs a small business and saw that every kid in the family (they have four children of different ages) had a computer. You should look into the eyes of these kids and see their intelligence! These children will achieve a lot in life.
There are kids in many poor families as well, who have computers and study English beginning in the first grade. They will then get educational vouchers or other opportunities and they will never want to go back to poverty again. A child like this will never give up, as he will have seen the possibilities.
This is something that all of us, and especially you, need to create together, as knowledge and the most important things are being created here, in this territory.
I thank you for listening to me.
You have a great prospects as well as an important duty ahead of you.