Tourist Zones’ development violates property rights
28 April, 2011
Tourist  Zones’ development violates property rights

Protection of property rights became more challenging in Georgia; especially after declaring that Svaneti, Anaklia, Gonio and Black Sea adjacent territories would be granted the status of tourist zones and launching large-scale infrastructural projects. Growing interest of potential investors apparently creates background for the economic development but in addition to attracting positive outcomes, the interests of local population have been greatly infringed following the transformation of territories into touristic zones. 
Property rights were often infringed in the post-rose-revolution period in

Georgia and the process still goes ahead. “Absence of concrete legal regulations for the protection of citizens’ property rights, mechanisms of respective compensation for the injured persons, and the uniform state policy on “resettlement” in general, as well as non-awareness of citizens on their own rights and obligations enables interested parties to breach property rights through the improper application or interpretation of the law,” -  this is the message sent by non-governmental watch-dogs after having researched the property violation cases of 271 residents of Gonio village on the Black Sea coast of  Ajara.
Number of property rights violation cases recorded in tourist zones up to now urged four non-governmental watchdogs [Green Alternative, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Transparency International Georgia and Regional Media Association of Georgia] to research the protection of property rights in new touristic regions in 2011.
NGOs came to conclusion that property rights are vastly violated in tourist zones, resettlements are carried out non-transparently and without due compensations, and cultural heritage zone concept is either misused or ignored.
Cases  are being studied in Svaneti where locals own real estate for centuries as the so-called “traditional ownership” and this property in most cases is not registered.
The report describes the recognition and deprivation of property of 271 residents of village Gonio in 2007-2010, without any compensation whatsoever. Many of them were left without a sole source of income and a place to live.
Under the decision of the Commission for Recognition of Right to Ownership of the Khelvachauri Municipality Sakrebulo, the land plots being in the possession of local residents of village Gonio for years were transferred in their ownership in 2007-2010 with due registration  at Public Registry under official certificates of the Commission.
Nevertheless, on 9 November 2010 the Commission has simultaneously revoked the ownership certificates without examining factual circumstances and undertaking compensation measures.
The Commission justified the revocation of ownership right by various legal arguments. In some cases the reason was non-existence of evidence required by law for recognition, in other cases the reason was the coverage of the questioned land plots by the cultural heritage zone [near Gonio Fortification monument of antic period], as well as coverage of them by such a resort strip, which requires the observance of procedures foreseen by the infrastructure development.
Residents of Gonio assert that the deprived land plots were handed to Arab investors. The Commission head acknowledged in comments with the media that so called Sheikhs really purchased certain lands but did not elaborate who these investors are and why the lands were obtained.
The interesting thing is that when the tourist zone in Kobuleti, Ajara, coincided with certain part of cultural heritage zone with the antique  city remnants where the team of archeologists from Oxford and Batumi Archeological Museum has implemented works for 12 years, the status of cultural heritage was revoked to the questioned territory and it is put free for hotel infrastructure works.
Over 90% of 271 revoked ownership certificates were issued during the pre-presidential and pre-parliamentary election periods in 2008 when Georgian authorities launched an active large-scale advertising campaign (“What is yours is yours”), which aimed to simplify the registration of land and real estate in the private ownership even if the possessor missed some due legal papers. However, after the 2008 parliamentary elections the law was changed and recognition of the ownership rights became tougher again.
The report asserts that violations of the law had taken place at the moment of issuing ownership certificates to at least 271 citizens, as well as at the moment of their revocation.
Analysis of activities of the Khelvachauri Municipality cast doubt on qualification of  the Commission members. Their illegal actions caused significant damage to the interests of the state and physical persons and the issue of liability of the Commission members should be raised, NGOs believe.

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