Georgia's anti-corruption drive is entering a crucial phase. While expecting fierce resistance to the "task of eradicating this horrible disease [corruption] of society," President Eduard Shevardnadze is publicly expressing confidence that government graft can be contained, leading to more stable development. Other top officials are more guarded, however. Justice Minister Mikheil Saakashvili, who visited the United States in early April, has cautioned that the unless Georgia's anti-corruption efforts produce quick results, the country risks losing critical international support.
Shevardnadze, who has long spoken of the need to curb bribery, has characterized corruption as a mortal danger to Georgia's national security. "The country's independence and its statehood, gained through the shedding of blood and tears, is on one pan of the scales, and corruption with all its horrendous manifestations is on the other," Shevardnadze told Georgian radio on March 26.
In mid March, the Georgian president opened a new phase in the anti-corruption effort by signing a decree authorizing the formation of a 12-member coordinating council. Several days later, he sacked the minister of state property management, Mikheil Ukleba, who, while not suspected of any personal wrongdoing, was accused of being incapable of preventing others from indulging in illegal activity connected with state assets.
Shevardnadze has predicted ultimate victory for the anti-corruption effort. "Our nation has managed to break many other chains," he said, "and I am confident that it will break this one, as well." At the same time, Shevardnadze indicated that success will depend greatly on the determination and the resilience of coordinating council members. "We are perfectly aware of resistance
Dimitri Bit-Suleiman is a freelance journalist based in Georgia.