Georgia’s photogenic mountains, woodlands and coastlines are often featured in tourism ad campaigns, but environmentalists say a radical restructuring of the government’s leading environmental agency indicates that officials in Tbilisi are ready to trash the environment. Officials strenuously deny such allegations.
Parliament on March 11 adopted a package of amendments to over 40 laws that had the effect of dramatically downsizing the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. Under the changes, five ministries, ranging from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, will assume responsibility for parts of the Environment Ministry’s erstwhile portfolio. The Ministry of Energy, the former domain of Prime Minister Nika Gilauri, will take over most of the portfolio, and the Environment Ministry’s inspectorate will eventually be scrapped.
Officials say the reforms are designed to reduce alleged corruption in the Environment Ministry, particularly in its Forestry Department. President Mikheil Saakashvili called for the ministry’s reorganization in December 2010, following the arrests of the Forestry Department head and several colleagues.
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Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi and editor of the American Chamber of Commerce’s Investor.ge magazine.