Issue 6, 2014. December-January

   

TBILISI MAYOR DAVIT NARMANIA: THE CAPITAL IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS

Tbilisi's new mayor has a message for investors: the city in open for business.
Elected in June, Davit Narmania acted as the Georgian Dream coalition's Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure until he was handpicked for the mayoral candidacy by billionaire and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. Investor.ge's Heather Yundt spoke to him about the most pressing problem facing the city - employment - as well as about planting a million trees and development in Tbilisi.


Heather Yundt

Tbilisi's new mayor has a message for investors: the city in open for business.

Elected in June, Davit Narmania acted as the Georgian Dream coalition's Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure until he was handpicked for the mayoral candidacy by billionaire and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Mayor Davit Narmania lists economic development as among his top priorities for the city.

"When economic development is at a higher level, when most of the population is employed, it means we will have fewer problems in protecting the socially vulnerable," Narmania said in Georgian in a recent interview with Investor.ge. "That's why economic development and creating new work places is very important."

Engaging Citizens

But it's not only businesses Narmania intends to engage as mayor. He says he encourages citizens, as key stakeholders, to get involved in decision-making processes.

As one of Narmania's campaign promises, in August, City Hall began holding meetings with the city's residents every Monday afternoon.

The idea was so popular that hundreds of citizens showed up outside City Hall to speak with the mayor during the first few sessions. Local media reported that a scuffle broke out as residents pushed their way into line. City Hall now requires interested residents to register in advance.

"People have a big interest (in the sessions) and we are solving most problems," he said. "We use the instruments of citizen engagement in decision-making process."

Based on these weekly sessions, as well as public surveys, Narmania says Tbilisi's residents' have two main concerns: finding jobs and improving housing.

To tackle the latter, Narmania said the municipality will be rehabilitating damaged homes. For residents living in particularly run-down houses, the city will rent a flat for them until the work is done. Narmania said flats for 1,000 families have been rented already.

He also hopes to engage Tbilisi's residents in implementing another one of his campaign promises: the planting of one million trees.

"We would like to plant trees together with the citizens, and we also would like to give them the possibility to plant trees on their own property," he said.

Narmania points to images of tree species fanned out on the coffee table in his office. He says the tree-planting process is still in the early stages.

"This autumn we are planning to plant 20,000 trees in squares, in parks, in gardens, and in the yards of the city's kindergartens," Narmania said.

In the spring, large-scale planting will begin, particularly near Tbilisi Sea, the city's reservoir. He says two companies have also requested to take part in the project.

Allegations of Political Persecution

But the mayor's term hit controversy early on.

In early October, Transparency International Georgia published allegations of political persecution through forced resignations at City Hall since the mayor's term began.

Responding to these allegations, the mayor stressed that his government works "very transparently and openly."

To emphasize this, City Hall recently required all employees to take a competency exam, followed by interviews. Narmania said representatives of non-governmental organizations participated as observers throughout the process.

Yet, when 60 percent of employees failed the exams, opposition politicians claimed the testing was not objective. Employees who failed the initial tests will have an opportunity to re-write them in December. Those who fail the testing process will be replaced.

Prioritizing Development

The mayor's focus on development, however, has not been popular with everyone. Guerilla Gardeners, an active citizens group, rallied in front of City Hall in October to protest a series of construction projects it sees as problematic. Vice Mayor Nina Khatiskatsi responded by agreeing to meet with the group to discuss the projects.

Among the developments the group was protesting was the Panorama Tbilisi project, a $1 billion construction project of hotels, apartments, offices, and conference halls connected by a series of cable cars.

Narmania says the project will ultimately have to be approved by the Ministry of Culture as it affects areas of Tbilisi's historical Old Town.

"It's a very important project for the city because it implies huge investment," he said.

"Lots of people would be employed in the development of the project for the construction process."

Ultimately, Narmania says his government is ready to do what it can to facilitate further investment.

"We are ready to cooperate with any investors; we are ready to welcome any investors to come to Tbilisi and invest money in our country.

We don't intend to suspend any previous projects; on the contrary, we are ready to support any kind of projects, on-going projects and forthcoming projects as well. We have a wide number of new projects, which might be very interesting for them."

"We have very simplified procedures and we would like to make these procedures even simpler.

To remove these bureaucratic barriers, we would like to introduce one-stop-shop services for investors to make it easier for them to come to invest money, to invest in projects. We are ready for cooperation."

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