Georgia for Grab
16 August, 2012
Georgia for Grab

 

Agriculture land, acquisition in Georgia became available to non-residents due to liberal changes in the law on agriculture lands, introduced this summer. Georgian experts worry this super-liberal approach is equal to high treason as it puts the entire country for grab and lays ground to demographic expansion of other ethnicities in Georgia at the expense of infringing the rights of local people.

 

“Amendment to the law on Agriculture Lands Ownership admitting land divesture to foreign citizens equals to divesture of Georgia

and is a crime against the indigenous nation,” Paata Koguashvili, a former MP and  agriculture expert, said. “Constitutional Court of Georgia is the body that committed this crime on June 27, 2012 when settled the case of Hayek Kronkkwist [citizen of Denmark] against Georgian parliament [disputing land ownership right]  in favor to Danish citizen.”

The Constitutional Court acknowledged paragraphs in the law on Agriculture Land Ownership restricting and prohibiting land ownership rights to non-residents in Georgia as non-constitutional. Justification for the amendment was super-liberal: the questioned restrictions violated human rights that are equal to all irrespective citizenship.

Meantime the removed paragraphs granting ownership rights on agriculture lands to Georgian citizens as well as legal entities registered in Georgia were much milder than similar regulations in developed world prohibiting divesture of lands to non-resident legal entities, Koguashvili assures.

“There was no restriction in fact. The late Primer Zurab Zhvania initiated the change to allow non-resident legal entities to buy land in ownership in 1996 when he was a Speaker at parliament while the western law absolutely prohibits land divesture to legal entities. It has been kept in similar spirit since then. In 2007 Georgian parliament mandated the President to divest lands to foreigners at his own discretion by putting a signature. And the Constitutional Court crowned the anti-national move now,” Koguashvili said in the interview with Georgian Journal.

Nobody can say how much of Georgian lands are already sold to foreigners for lands registration/cadastre is not implemented since 2004 when authority revoked management department. The UN special service warned Georgian government to restore the service but to no avail. Now only privatized lands are registered and out of 3 million 25 thousand hectares (ha) of agriculture land fund [based on old statistics] only 850 thousand of privatized lands are registered according to official statistics.  About 30-40 thousand ha is already divested on foreigners without any clear reasoning and much more is in store apparently due to the recent change leaving the country vulnerable to demographic expansion risks. Georgian authorities have already successfully practiced expropriation of lands in tourist zones through infringing rights of local people. The seized lands are eventually divested to foreign investors. But experts say lands-sale alone is no investment but deprivation of local population of their living source.

Koguashvili assures such pseudo-liberal land disposal may ultimately transmit Georgian people into minority in their own country.

However the hazardous decision came in force without much noise overlapped by the ongoing rampant pre-election campaign buzz and fuss. Authorities chose a right moment to slip the most dangerous changes off the public sight.

“This hazardous process is going on relatively noiseless but by essence it equals to loss of national identity, it befits to Georgian society to react as soon as possible because the process can be catastrophic and irretrievable soon,” Koguashvili elaborates. “Maybe at the moment the jeopardy of making Georgian historical ethnographic population into minority seems not clear but it will be inevitable after a sufficient basis for demographic expansion is created. I mean settlement of several hundred people of other ethnicity on Georgian lands would be quite a ground for that. Therefore it is inacceptable to make Georgian peasantry torn from lands and be not the owner and key producer of product here.”

Nobody sells agriculture lands globe over even the most liberal countries. Small lands-deficient countries [to which classification Georgia belongs too] do not allow acquisition of even urban lands.

”Let’s take Israel. You cannot buy a single meter of land there, you can buy a house but not the land spot where the dwelling house or whatever building stands on,” Ditrikh Muller, a legal expert and co-founder of Georgian Investments Group, said. “Admitting divesture of agriculture lands in Georgia is a high treasure, it undermines Georgian national spirit. Georgia means a land-worker nation in Greek and once deprived of land it will lose its identification and self-respect. The authors of this initiative can go to Mtastminda pantheon [Holy Mountain sacred pantheon where the bright minds of Georgia are buried] and spit on the grave of Ilia Chavchavadze, the father of the nation who created a bank of noblemen of Georgia in 19th century to spare lands from divesture. And now behold, lands are for grab.”

According to Koguashvili, in developed world the state handles very carefully with agriculture lands, has a special strategy and diligently researches each divesture case even to its own citizens. The EU theoretically allows its member-state citizens to purchase lands within the EU space but practically it is almost impossible for multiple preferences [for locals] and requirements. The newly joined EU member-states announced a 10-15-year moratorium and suspended divesture of lands on non-residents completely.

The US admits lands divesture to foreign citizens but each case is discussed by the US Agriculture Ministry and solved on the state level. The more agriculture-oriented the state is the stronger restrictions and prohibitions it puts out on land divesture like future proprietors education skills in agriculture, living experience in rural area, capital resources etc. As a result only 0.7% of agriculture lands are owned by foreign citizens.

Sector pundits believe the super-liberal approach of Georgia in land issue must be cut out too in line with the best world practice. As far as nobody can revoke the constitutional court decision,  Koguashvili believes the only way-out is change of existing power when a new parliament will approve new land law and disposal strategy.

 

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