Environment Ministry downgraded
03 March, 2011
Environment Ministry downgraded

To make the environment and natural resources Ministry more effective Georgian government decided to dissect the organization and redistribute its functions among several ministries. The sector pundits worry the underway reforms downsize the instance that may lead to piling environmental problems and contradictions with the international responsibilities.


In the epoch of global challenges to the environment when the entire world applies tremendous efforts to make their environmental regulation and protection bodies as strong as possible to meet all arising climate

challenges well-prepared Georgian government downscales its environment-oriented ministry, this is the message Georgian non-governmental environmental watchdogs send to society.
The underway reforms of the environment and natural resources ministry carried out too hastily make non-governmental watchdogs worry.  This ministry is responsible for state control [including protection and regulation] over four key categories including land, water, air, and biodiversity. To make its wok more effective government separates two key functions like the management of natural resources/economic benefit from environment protection function.
“The natural resources function will be separated from the environment ministry and it will attain much stronger control function for it will be focused on environment protection issues alone. This ministry will be implementing stronger policy,” Nika Gilauri, Prime Minister of Georgia, stated on February 22, 2011.
According to the bill that has already passed the first parliamentary hearing past week, the Ministry of Environment Protection and  Natural Resources will be renamed as the Environment Ministry and be deprived of natural resources inventory and licensing function for land, water and biodiversity. Only air and surface waters remain within its competence.
The competence for control and licensing of the remainder three key sectors is redistributed among several ministries. Experts fear that function confusion and an interest clash looms in prospect as a result.
Two things alarm environmentalists most of all: hand-over of the Agency for Forests and the Agency for Protected Areas [both public law entities] to the energy ministry and economic ministry respectively.  Both ministries are focused on consumption and economic benefit while the environment ministry cares for protection. Forests that cover two third of Georgia is a potential firewood for energy ministry, and the primary purpose of the country’s Protected Areas is conservation of biodiversity, the unique natural heritage and preservation of undisturbed environment for future generations while economic ministry assesses them as potential tourist haunts expected to give economic profit.    
The World Wild Fund (WWF) office in Georgia reminded Georgian government that 98% of forests grow on mountain slopes in Georgia and have highest ecological value for erosion, landslide and avalanches control first of all as well as for regulation of water balance, recreation is evidently increasingly important vessel in the context of global climate change. And in the long-term perspective, hand-over of forests and protected areas to energy and economic ministries may lead to drastically negative results impairing not only the health of environment, but also country’s economic welfare.
Nanuka Janashia, an environmental expert with the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN), reminds of ecological migrants from Georgian highlands who left homes due to landslides and natural disasters like floods, that about 600 lives were taken as a result of these natural disasters during the last ten years, and most probably much more is in store if forests are divested and cut that can happen if energy ministry will be put in charge of forests.

According to Nugzar Zazanashvili, project coordinator at Georgian WWF Caucasus Programme office, government argumentation is that the environment ministry failed to manage with forests properly. “In this case it would be better to give forests to agriculture ministry and not to the energy ministry that includes conceptual risks,” He said.  “I cannot claim whether or not the underway reform is good or bad, reform was essential but it is too hasty I say and hasty decisions include risks.”   “We all are well aware that the environment ministry was an ineffective body swamped in corruption and it really needs reforms, but not in this humpty-dumpty manner when the ministry is ruined in fact,” Janashia told Georgian Journal. “It is responsible for the state control and protection of environment but now when three key areas of environment land, water and biodiversity is beyond its competence what on the earth this body is responsible for ? What does the state control on environment mean actually?”
The reform project was not consulted with any independent expert and non-governmental watchdog. The only expert involved in the project is Georgian government, Nino Enukidze, Deputy Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, said. Such nonchalant approach contradicts responsibilities assumed by Georgia against international community including European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) and World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as Aarhus Secretary that forbids government to make decisions without preliminary consultations with the non-governmental organizations.  “Georgia takes about EUR 300 million in frames of ENP and part of this financing should be diverted on environmental issues, and the underway reform contradicts with the ENP demands. EU has already sent a letter to Gilauri that includes cautious warning. We [Georgian non-governmental watchdogs] plan to send a complaint to Aarhus Secretary in Geneva and inform that the provision on compulsory consultations with interested sides was not observed by government during preparation of the bill for refoms,” Janashia said.

 

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