POLITICS
Ex-minister about the integration of Georgia’s ministries of Environment and Agriculture
15 November, 2017
It seems strange that the Ministry of Environment is being weakened shortly after the elections of local self-governments where environmental problems were among of top priorities in electoral programs of all mayoral candidates, - Khatuna Gogaladze, former Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, says in her Facebook post, in which she responds to the integration of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment.

According to her, this change means the weakening (if not abolishment) of the Ministry as
long as the environmental permit on specific activity cannot be issued by an agency which is a proponent of this activity.

"This will be a mistake, a big mistake!" - writes Khatuna Gogaladze.

“I feel like I have déjà vu: when in 2011 the government ruled by the National Movement split the Ministry of Environment and prepared grounds for its abolition. However, it never happened due to the political changes that occurred in the country. One of the declared priorities of Georgian Dream was the strengthening of the environmental field. This election promise has been definitely kept: a lot have been done for the strengthening of the field and changing the attitude towards the environment already from October 2012.

I thought that the epoch of degrading the whole sector masked with “reduction of bureaucracy” and “reforms” was ended. I thought that the period, when such decisions were made in a single room by few people without proper analysis and consultations, has been passed.

Has anybody ever analyzed the consequences of abolition of the Department of Geology staffed by 600 geologists and the Sanitary Supervision Service years ago? or the devastation of hydrological monitoring network? Has anybody ever studied whether timely warning and prevention of at least human losses during Devdoraki natural event could be possible if the local monitoring station was operational? or could we be able to avoid the tragedy of the 13th June of 2015 if the monitoring network was still in place? Even then all these institutional changes were also justified by “reforms”, “simplification of bureaucracy”, “cutting administration costs” and other similar lofty speeches and arguments.

It seems strange that the Ministry of Environment is being weakened shortly after the elections of local self-governments where environmental problems were among of top priorities in electoral programs of all mayoral candidates. Indeed, this change means the weakening (if not abolishment) of the Ministry, since the distribution of environment related functions between the economy oriented ministries, will never lead to objective decisions, especially in the current situation, when environmental protection, unfortunately, is still considered as an obstacle to economic development by key decision-makers.

There is no relief in knowing that the new structure will be named as the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, since under this ministry the environment will never guide policy due to the high priority of agricultural sector in the country.

Even when the Ministry of Environment officially has the same power as the other ministries, the economy oriented ministries always dominate. The argument that in some European countries environmental functions are under other ministries, is not strong. This model actually exists in certain countries, however in these countries such decisions were made on the basis of deep research and analysis. While meeting with the ministers of environmental protection of the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Austria and other countries and becoming familiar with the functions of those ministries, the weight of the environmental considerations in these ministries were obvious. Moreover, the EU countries cannot escape the responsibility of implementation of strict EU directives regardless of institutional set-up. In addition, the environmental awareness among all levels of the society of these countries, including high level decision makers and the general public is very high. Let’s first reach this level of understanding, and maybe the problem might not exist even here.

But now it is a problem! Because the environmental permit on specific activity cannot be issued by an agency which is a proponent of this activity. It is a problem, because the fate of forests cannot be determined by economy oriented ministries, since 98% of our forests are mountain forests having mainly protection and not commercial functions. It is a problem, because protected areas cannot be considered as a field of tourism. This is an added value of protected areas. Their main purpose is the protection of biodiversity. This is a problem, because all these will weaken the environmental field and it is well known that the degraded environment hampers the economic growth and the development in general.

This will be a mistake, a big mistake!

Furthermore, I cannot understand, what was the necessity of splitting this low-budget and one of the most intersectoral ministries? It is also interesting who were the experts the analysis of which served as a ground for such important decision. There are also a number of other questions that require answers”, says Khatuna Gogaladze.
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