On April 20, the Heinrich Boell Foundation organized a public discussion in Poti entitled “Why is Lazika being built?”
This is a rhetorical question, since as moderator Irakli Absandze noted at the beginning, it is difficult to talk about a project that has no proposal or realistic budget. While there seems to be political will, there is no empirical document confirming the plan to build the second largest city in Georgia.
Otar Kikvidze of the Caucasus Economic and Social Research Institute reinforced this idea, saying, “First of all, it should be stated that there are no plans presented. From this standpoint this idea could seem utopian, since as it is declared, this city should inhabit half a million people for 10 years, and this would be a port and tourist city. Let’s review each of the components. I think the tourist component could be less realistic, since if the marshes dry up and local flora and fauna are destroyed, then the town will lose its touristic attraction. As for its importance as a port, some factors should be considered here as well, for example, the fact that neither the Batumi nor Poti ports are busy enough to generate the need for another port. Besides, even if a good port is built here (they say that this town has the best access), it is impossible to employ one hundred thousand people in the same port. Not all inhabitants would be employed, which is a factor to be considered. A business plan should be developed, and specific directions should be defined about how to lead economic politics in this town.
“As for fundraising,” Kikvidze continued, “there are several options for this. The project requires 1.5 billion US dollars. Naturally, the state budget of Georgia has no such resources. As the President has stated, funds would be raised from foreign investors, which are less reliable, since statistics of the past few years show that even total foreign investment in Georgia does not reach $1.5 billion. It is difficult to imagine how to raise such resources for one town just using foreign investment. Another source is taking a long-term loan, which will make our economic situation even worse, as we know that Georgia’s foreign debts are almost 50% of GDP. If the loan exceeds 50%, it will negatively reflect on the image and reputation of the country.”
Lasha Zarginava, Chair of Media and Society with long-term experience in researching potential negative impacts of large industrial projects near Kolkheti National Park, a unique ecological system of the world, presented potential threats to the public. According to him, the main problem is the lack of relevant information. Media and Society could not find any official documents on the exact location and planned project of Lazika. They have sent official correspondence to every ministry involved, but they have not received any responses. Zargenava spoke extensively about threats that, according to the opinion of his organization, may result from large urban constructions near the National Park.
The audience at the event showed significant interest in the given subject and said that they heard about this mega-project in their neighborhood through the President’s television statement. They expressed a lack of consideration of public opinion in similar politically promoted projects.