The richest man in Georgia and the informal ruler of the country has decided to buy up virtually a whole city
The chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, former Prime Minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili, plans to buy up all the hotels, baths and old spas in the resort town of Tskhaltubo.
“The state needs support, and since I have both the desire and the opportunity, I am trying to lighten the heavy burden that the Georgian state bears,” said Bidzina Ivanishvili in a published letter.
Ivanishvili writes that “since the state currently does not have resources for multi-million investments for the full-scale rehabilitation of Tskaltubo, and in the absence of a strategic development plan, business is also inert”, he has decided to take on the development project of Tskaltubo.
“I decided to start my own business and as soon as possible to carry out not only the full-scale rehabilitation of the amortized tourist and medical infrastructure, but also to ensure the development of Tskaltubo in compliance with modern international standards,” Ivanishvili writes.
He put out some specific numbers: Ivanishvili plans to buy all the hotels in Tskaltubo (22), bath houses (nine units) and ensure development according to a single plan and per a unified concept.
The statement said that at any stage of the project implementation, Bidzina Ivanishvili is ready to admit other investors in as well.
“Naturally, we are not talking about any profits for me, the businesses will be sold to the investor at a normal cost, and in order to interest businesses, the [hotels, spas] will be sold at a discount, moreover, with a significant discount,” Ivanishvili writes.
According to Ivanishvili, the development plan of Tskaltubo has already been developed by Swiss company KohL & Partners:
“According to this plan, additional playgrounds, a water park, a tropical garden, golf and tennis courts, a shopping center, a rock climbing park, cafes, bars and restaurants will appear in Tskaltubo. A scientific and educational center for the retraining of our citizens will also be opened – several hundred jobs that will be created in Tskaltubo in the near future will be taken by qualified personnel, and we must ensure their training,” the letter says.
According to his calculations, after the implementation of the project, 15-20,000 people will be employed in the Imereti region.
In Soviet times, Tskaltubo was a popular balneological resort, famous for its unique healing waters, as well as grandiose and pompous architectural structures characteristic of the Stalin empire.
Today the picture is different: most of the resort is abandoned and dilapidated.
In the very center of the resort there is a park with an area of 80 hectares, in which there are more than 150 species of plants. The resort itself is in the form of an amphitheater – there are 22 hotels around the park, and there are nine bathrooms in the park itself.
For 1 GEL?
It is possible that Tskaltubo’s property on the state balance will be transferred to Bidzina Ivanishvili at a symbolic price – one lari.
The Minister of Economic Development Natia Turnava had earlier said that the state was ready to transfer property to any investor who was ready to invest in Tskaltubo.
At the same time, the minister evaded answering the question of whether Ivanishvili can acquire all this property on the state balance for one lari.
Turnava said this is not what she meant, but that she did not deny this was a possible scenario.
Selfless charity or racketeering?
Authorities called the initiative Ivanishvili a project of unprecedented utility and an act of unprecedented charity.
“With the funding of Bidzina Ivanishvili, Tskaltubo could become the most important center of tourism and health throughout Eastern Europe in the coming years,” wrote Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze on his Facebook page.
Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia noted that the rehabilitation of Tskaltubo is a unique project, the implementation of which for many years neither the state nor the private sector have been able to implement.
“Bidzina Ivanishvili always comes to the place where our country and people need it [the most],” Gakharia said.
The opposition has a different attitude to what is happening.
Representative of the United National Movement Roman Gotsiridze says that this is another lie ‘that Ivanishvili will restore Tskhaltubo with his own money without any profit.’
“The initiative of Bidizina Ivanishvili is another lie, another election promise that today no one is ‘eating up’… He will buy up Tskhltubo for a penny and this will stop just like the project of the Treatment Center stopped, on which he was going to spend 600 million euros. In the same way, the village’s Internetization program stopped, for which 120 million were promised. 300,000 students were supposed to study at Kutaisi Technological University today, and where is all this?”, asked Gotsiridze.
Founder of the Lelo political movement Mamuka Khazaradze said that Ivanishvili’s desire to buy up Tskaltubo “is a publicly dressed statement with signs of racketeering despite the fact that its author is the sole ruler of the whole country.”
Khazaradze believes that the process of appropriating the whole country to Bidzina Ivanishvili continues exactly as “Ivanishvili did [so] in the prosecutor’s office, courts, and state institutions.”
“Bidzina Ivanishvili’s management style is the weakness of the state, the weakness of the economy, an unhealthy investment environment, the great tragedy expected in the near future – extreme poverty and total unemployment.”
According to Khazaradze, Ivanishvili is creating such an environment in the country that investors are starting to run away, and he remains the only person who can buy anything he wants in this country.
“Maybe he should be sold all the bowels of Georgia, the railroad, lakes, rivers, forests, the Black Sea, absolutely everything that is necessary for him to successfully complete the appropriation-abduction of the whole country?” says Khazaradze.
Ivanishvili’s plans for the rehabilitation of Tskaltubo are being actively discussed by the public.
The writer Lasha Bugadze writes in his blog on RFE/RL that Ivanishvili’s governance style devalues the concept of the “state”.
According to Bugadze, Ivanishvili’s actions emphasize the poverty of the state, “generate pessimism in the population regarding the state’s capabilities, Ivanishvili’s actions seem to tell people – don’t rely on the state, the state is not up to you, rely only on me!”
• According to Bloomberg, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s fortune is $5.37 billion. According to the same source, in the last week alone it has increased by $20 million.