Alexandre Khetaguri - Minister of Energy and Natural Resources of Georgia;
Dimitri Ghlonti – Adviser to the Head, LEPL Agency of Natural Resources, Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources of Georgia;
David Tarkhnishvili - Director, Full Professor, Institute of Ecology, Ilia State University;
Irakli Macharashvili - Biodiversity Program Coordinator, Green Alternative;
Ilia Osepashvili – Forest Officer, WWF Caucasus;
Nino Chkhobadze – Co-Chairperson, Greens Movement of Georgia/Friends of the Earth Georgia.
Moderation: Medea Imerlishvili
Forest should have its owner, existing legislation should be changed as Georgia’s forestry sector is in great need of reform - participants and speakers of the debate held at the HBF on 9 November 2010 on the issue of new directions of Georgia’s forestry reform, agreed upon these postulates. Though, the speakers invited by the HBF had diverging opinions regarding mechanisms for implementing reforms.
Will privatization of forest be included in the new Code? Will specificity of Georgia’s forests be taken into consideration when replicating Austrian legislation in Georgia? What does management of forests imply, do we plan sustainable management of forests or development of economic forests? How can we preserve original conditions of forests? Why was it decided to lease out forests without conducting inventarization? Why is it so important who will conduct inventarization – the state or the lessee? What will be monitoring mechanisms for lessees - these were some of the questions asked by the participants of the debate to the speakers.
The discussion was already underway, when Mr. Alexandre Khetaguri, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources joined it. After listening to the speakers’ opinions, he talked about changes planned by his Ministry and tried to provide feedback to remarks expressed regarding these initiatives.
“If the situation does not change immediately, very soon there will be no forests left in Georgia,” stated Minister Khetaguri. In order to avoid this situation, there are a number of legislative amendments envisaged by his Ministry. For instance, leasing forests for 49 years; this, according to the Minister, should lead to increased economic interest of forest users and finish re-production cycle of the forest. In addition, it is necessary to revise regulation mechanisms and delegate functions, draft a new definition of the forest, categorize forests and other technical issues and adopt the Austrian model of the law. The new law, according to Khetaguri, provides for sustainable management of territories covered with forest.
Before beginning his speech, Irakli Macharashvili from Green Alternative, noted that his remarks were related to the draft law which the Ministry initially disseminated among NGO representatives. He did not know whether these deficiencies in the bill were cleared. In a response, Minister Khetaguri confirmed that Green Alternative’s remarks and notes from previous meetings with the representatives of the organization were already taken into account in the new version of the draft law. According to Macharashvili, still, there is a room for improving environmental legislation as it is possible to adopt a good law if taking into consideration recommendations from environmental experts.
Nino Chkhobadze, Co-Chairperson of the Greens Movement of Georgia/Friends of the Earth Georgia, criticized the Austrian model of the law. According to her, the draft law lacked economical calculations of long-term results. The law reminded her of a conceptual document developed in Georgia in 2006-2007 regarding forest management, which envisaged divisions of basins, their utilization and trading with forests. These, according to her, contradicted to sustainable principles of forest management. She also raised the issue of forest fragmentation. Minister Khetaguri objected to Ms. Chkhobadze’s argument saying it was a wrong interpretation of the law which was probably mistakenly put in the initial draft, but has been taken out since then.
According to the Minister, the new Code will divide Georgia into 44 units. The lessee will be responsible to protect protected forests and utilize economic forests for receiving economical benefits. As the Minister said, responsibility for conducting inventory of the forest will rest within the lessee, who has to conduct it during the first 2 years from the beginning of the contract. The lessee will be released from the rent obligation during this initial period. After the inventory, the lessee will have to present a plan to the state describing in detail how it intends to utilize forest. Only after approving the plan by the Ministry, the lessee will be given right to use forest.
Ilia Osepashvili and David Tarkhnishvili spoke about the need to keep balance between utilization and protection of forests. According to Tarkhnishvili, wise political decisions are always a matter of compromise. He wanted to know how business interests and conservation policies were balanced in the draft. According to him: “The issue is not about making a specific political decision, but whether or not the country is ready to establish serious interest groups interested in preserving natural environment.” It is in the country’s best interests to include all stakeholders in the development of the policy document. It is also advisable to have strategic and action plans, concluded Tarkhnishvili.
Minister Khetaguri informed the audience that the draft law will be submitted to the government within the next 2 weeks. The Minister promised NGO representatives present at the debate to continue dialogue and communication with the civil society.