Question about the Cold Storage Facility
Ambassador Degnan: I’m very happy to be here to celebrate another success story in the partnership between the United States and Georgia in the agricultural sector. This state-of-the-art cold storage unit is going to help farmers generate more revenue and create more jobs for communities in this region. The agricultural sector is a key sector for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s support; it has been for a long time and it is wonderful to see initiatives like Agrostore and Zurab and his partners who have taken an idea and expanded it to enable local farmers to preserve their berries, which are very perishable, for a longer period of time. This means that they will be able to expand the markets that they can sell their berries to and it would also increase the quality and the price that their farmers can receive. It’s a real success story and the United States is very proud to be part of something that combines private sector initiative with Georgian government and USAID support. Thank you!
Question about the pre-election environment and violence in Marneuli
Ambassador Degnan: It was very disappointing to hear about these incidents all over Georgia. I think we should all be very grateful to the civil society organizations who are monitoring this and which are a place for these complaints to be heard and to be brought and then of course the Ministry of Interior Affairs conducting the investigations into them. The point is, these incidents should not be happening at all. It really is incumbent on the party leaders, all party leaders, to send a clear message to their supporters that violence will not be acceptable in this election or any election. This is simply not the way to conduct a democratic election. The intimidation that we’re seeing is simply unacceptable and will certainly tarnish Georgia’s reputation if it proceeds through these elections. Each party leader and each party member should be sending a clear message that violence is unacceptable and is simply not going to be tolerated. That’s how it will stop.
Question about the legislative changes introduced in the appointment of judges
Ambassador Degnan: Georgia has taken some very important steps recently for improving its judicial system and we certainly commend this parliament for the work that they have been doing focusing in particular on Supreme Court nominations and the appointment process, which is what this legislation focused on. The additional clarity and the additional transparency in providing written reasonings for the selection or rejection of candidates and the new procedure that extends the possibility for appeal by candidates is very important, as is the more transparent voting process. These were three areas that the Venice Commission highlighted among many other recommendations and so we are very glad to see that those were addressed. There were a number of other recommendations that the Venice Commission, the United States, the European Union, and others had hoped to see included in this legislation. We would expect and hope that the new parliament will take up judicial reform with the same focus that this parliament has done and make it a priority to address the remaining recommendations of the Venice Commission and other international friends of Georgia. The goal of this process, the goal of this emphasis is for Georgia to have a more transparent, more accountable, and a more independent judiciary. It is a pillar of any healthy democracy to have an independent judiciary. And I hope that the next parliament will proceed with the work that has been done to date. Thank you!