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«Շաթդաուն». ԱՄՆ կառավարությունը մնում է փակ. VOA

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«Շաթդաուն». ԱՄՆ կառավարությունը մնում է փակ. VOA

Դեռևս չկա որևէ առաջընթաց ԱՄՆ-ում կառավարության վերաբացման հարցում: Դեմ

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Լարսը բաց է միայն մարդատար մեքենաների համար

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Լարսը բաց է միայն մարդատար մեքենաների համար

Վրաստանում Հայաստանի դեսպանատնից ՀՀ տրանսպորտի, կապի և տեղեկատվական տեխնոլոգիաների նախարարությանը տեղեկացնում են, որ

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Սամվել Մայրապետյանի փաստաբանական խմբի պատասխանը` ՀՀ գլխավոր դատախազությանը

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Սամվել Մայրապետյանի փաստաբանական խմբի պատասխանը` ՀՀ գլխավոր դատախազությանը

Սույն թվականի հունվարի 18-ին ՀՀ գլխավոր դատախազությունը պարզաբանում է տարածել, որի հիմնական բովանդակությունը կարելի է ամփոփել հետևյալ երկու նախադասությամբ՝

1. Սամվել Մայրապետյանի իրավունքի խախտում տեղի չի ունեցել:

2. Սամվել Մայրապետյանի առողջական վիճակի վերաբերյալ հարցերը, ինչպես նախքան ՄԻԵԴ-ի կողմից միջանկյալ միջոցի կիրառումը, այնպես էլ դրանից հետո գտնվել և գտնվում են ՀՀ դատախազության և վարույթն իրականացնող մարմնի ուշադրության կենտրոնում, և հիմք ընդունելով ոլորտի բժիշկ մասնագետների ցուցումներն ու եզրակացությունները՝ ձեռնարկվել և ձեռնարկվում են բոլոր անհրաժեշտ միջոցները քրեական հետապնդման ենթարկված անձի՝ պատշաճ բժշկական օգնության ապահովման երաշխավորման ուղղությամբ:

Չենք կարող չանդրադառնալ վերը հիշատակված՝ իրականությանը ակնհայտորեն չհամապատասխանող, հանրային կարծիքը մանիպուլացնող ապատեղեկատվությանը, որը տարածվում է ՀՀ գլխավոր դատախազության կողմից:

Նախ և առաջ փաստենք, որ անհույս են փորձերը՝ ներկայացնելու մի իրավիճակ, երբ Հայաստանի ներպետական մարմինները գործել են իրավունքի ու օրենքի տառին համապատասխան, իսկ Մարդու Իրավունքների Եվրոպական Դատարանը միջանկյալ միջոց է կիրառել։

ՄԻԵԴ-ը պետությունների նկատմամբ միջանկյալ միջոցներ է կիրառում միայն այն դեպքերում, երբ գործին վերաբերող ամբողջ տեղեկատվության ուսումնասիրության արդյունքում գալիս է եզրահանգման այն մասին, որ նման միջոցներ չձեռնարկելու պարագայում Դիմողին կպատճառվի իրական և անդառնալի վնաս։

Սամվել Մայրապետյանի իրավունքների պատշաճ պահպանման դեպքում ՄԻԵԴ-ի կողմից կմերժվեր միջանկյալ միջոց կիրառելու մասին միջնորդությունը, քանի որ երբ ՄԻԵԴ-ը չի տիրապետում այնպիսի անհերքելի տեղեկատվության, որով հիմնավորվում է իրական ու անդառնալի վնասի անխուսափելի ռիսկը, ՄԻԵԴ-ը մերժում է միջանկյալ միջոց կիրառելու միջնորդությունը: Անհնար է պատկերացնել իրավիճակ, երբ ՄԻԵԴ-ն իր կողմից կայացված որոշմամբ պետությանը ցուցում տա իրականացնելու գործողություններ, որոնք վերջինս առանց այդ էլ իրականացնում է։

Վերը նշվածը հիմնավորում և միաժամանակ կայացված որոշման լրջության մասին է վկայում նաև ՄԻԵԴ պաշտոնական վիճակագ

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ՀՅԴ Հայ Դատի պատվիրակությունը վերահաստատել է կուսակցության հանձնառությունը Արցախի արտաքին քաղաքականության իրականացմանն աջակցելու ուղղությամբ

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ՀՅԴ Հայ Դատի պատվիրակությունը վերահաստատել է կուսակցության հանձնառությունը Արցախի արտաքին քաղաքականության իրականացմանն աջակցելու ուղղությամբ

Հունվարի 19-ին Արցախի Հանրապետության արտաքին գործերի նախարար Մասիս Մայիլյանն ընդունել է ՀՅԴ Հայ Դատի Կենտրոնական խորհուրդի նախագահ, ՀՅԴ Բյուրոյի անդամ Հակոբ Տեր Խաչատուրյանի գլխավորած պատվիրակությանը։

Ավելի քան մեկուկես ժամ տևած հանդիպմանը քննարկվել է Արցախի Հանրապետության միջազգային ճանաչման ուղղությամբ տարվող աշխատանքներն ու առաջիկա ծրագրերը, ինչպես նաև ԱՀ ԱԳՆ-ՀՅԴ Հայ Դատի կառույցներ համագործակցության առաջնահերթությունները։ ՀՅԴ Հայ Դատի պատվիրակությունը վերահաստատել է կուս

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Վարդենյաց լեռնանցքը կցորդիչով տրանսպորտային միջոցների համար փակ է

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Վարդենյաց  լեռնանցքը կցորդիչով տրանսպորտային միջոցների համար փակ է
ՀՀ տրանսպորտի, կապի և տեղեկատվական տեխնոլոգիաների նախարարությունը
տեղեկացնում է, որ հունվարի 19-ին՝ ժամը 17:00-ի դրությամբ, Վարդենյաց
լեռնանցքը դժվարանցանելի է մարդատար մեքենաների համար, իսկ ծանրաքաշ և
կցորդիչով տրանսպորտային միջոցների համար փակ է:

Մեղրու ավտոճանապա




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Proposed Georgian defamation law ‘puts freedom of speech at risk’

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Proposed Georgian defamation law ‘puts freedom of speech at risk’

Tbilisi City Court (Dato Parulava / OC Media)

Several Georgian media advocacy groups have warned that a proposed defamation law put forward by the president could put freedom of speech in the country at risk. The groups pointed out that there are already legal mechanisms in place against defamation, and that any new restrictions would ‘endanger Georgia’s democratic development’.

Georgian officials began discussing the proposal after the leader of the Orthodox Church spoke out against ‘malicious use of free speech’.

Officials said the law would also target ‘fake news’. Members of the ruling Georgian Dream party have long accused leading opposition-leaning TV channel Rustavi 2 of disseminating false information.

The first Georgian official to propose the law was Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who announced at an 11 January press conference that she was coming up with a ‘moral initiative’ to tackle ‘an issue which has triggered a lot of turbulence in the Georgian society’.

‘We have to work in this direction’, Zurabishvili said, stressing that other European countries, such as France, ‘have adopted anti-defamation laws and the [French] constitutional court ruled it didn’t conflict with either freedom of expression or with basic human rights’.

Her announcement came after the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II, spoke in his Christmas Epistle of ‘attempts to normalise deteriorated perceptions of free speech’.

The Patriarch said that ‘free speech is one of the most important rights of the community, […] but unfortunately, reality is often distorted and freedom of speech is abused’.

‘Lies and obscenity have become ordinary occurrences. The most serious kind of a lie has become more common, an intentional deception — a slander — which is obscured so well that sometimes, at least initially, it deceives listeners’, the patriarch said.

MPs support anti-slander initiative

Zurabishvili’s proposal gained support among a number of key officials, with Parliamentary Chair Irakli Kobakhidze saying on 12 January that ‘we need to talk about obscenity, verbal abuse, and slander and if it’s possible to take measures [that do not infringe upon] within freedom of expression, we should take them’.

He said that ‘serious insults and obscenity, which can be seen daily on TV, in social networks, and elsewhere, don’t fit in Georgian culture’.

The parliamentary leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Archil Talakvadze, said on 13 January that discussions about the bill were not groundless as there was ‘ongoing hate speech that started in the election period and hasn’t stopped since’.

‘I’d like to tell our society that France has adopted a law against fake news. We will go through this law and probably hold meetings with the authors of this law. By all means, a decision we might make in the future will be considered with high standards of free speech in mind’, said Talakvadze.

What is the bill about

On 14 January, the president’s administration announced they would soon start consultations with NGOs and other interested parties about the initiative.

They said that freedom of speech was untouchable, but that ‘protection of one’s dignity is of absolute importance and all Georgian citizens should be protected from insults’.

The president’s press secretary, Khatia Moistrapishvili, said they had already started looking into the best international practices, and that they were not going to copy them, but create a ‘Georgian document’, which would be the first step towards ‘creating public peacefulness’.

Despite several statements having been made about the bill, it is still unclear what and how the proposed law would regulate.

Local media advocacy groups have said they fear the proposal might erode freedom of expression in Georgia from the ‘current high standard’.

In response to the proposed initiative, the Media Advocacy Coalition — a group of Georgian rights groups — issued a statement questioning the need for a new law, pointing out that the current legislation already allows the possibility to sue for defamation in court.

‘As a result of our society’s long-term efforts, the current legislation keeps a high standard of freedom of expression and it has always been deemed an accomplishment of Georgian Democracy’, the 13 January statement said.

‘We believe deeply that any legal amendment eroding the current standard of free speech will endanger Georgia’s democratic development’.

Is free speech in danger?

On Friday, Tbilisi Mayor and General Secretary of the Georgian Dream Party Kakha Kaladze accused opposition-leaning TV channel Rustavi 2 of deliberately spreading false information suggesting the Mayor’s Office was responsible for an apparent gas leak explosion in Tbilisi that killed 4 and injured 8 on Wednesday night.

[Read more about Wednesday’s deadly explosion in Tbilisi on OC Media: Gas leak’ explosion kills 4 and injures 8 in Tbilisi]

‘It’s not a novelty to suggest that Rustavi 2’s editorial policy is based on lies. We know this. We’ve caught them red-handed lying numerous times’, said Kaladze.

Tamar Kintsurashvili, the head of the Media Development Foundation, a local rights group advocating for freedom of speech and expression, told OC Media that in countries with transitional democracy, any limitation can be risky as they may be used to crack down on free speech.

Rustavi 2 is a good example as it has become unacceptable for the government because of its criticisms’, said Kintsurashvili.

She said attention should be paid to who was supporting the bill as ‘these are people who stand out with their hate speech and dissemination of false information’.

‘We are an exceptional country in this respect, where a very high standard of free speech has been set. It equals the American standard, where the idea is given absolute privilege. When you have such a high standard, discussing European standards are not relevant’, said Kintsurashvili.

Nata Dzvelishvili, the executive director of the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics, a group observing professional standard in journalism, said she feared the proposed bill may be used by the government to punish critical media outlets.

‘The fears that the bill is intended to punish critical media are totally legitimate, as in countries with developing democracies like ours, any regulation used to limit freedom of expression is used as a tool for punishment’, Dzvelishvili told OC Media.

She said that any change in the legislation would worsen the current standards, which ‘find a good balance between freedom of expression and the right to honour and dignity’.

She also said that if officials wanted to improve standards, they should invest in strengthening the current mechanisms.

‘During the whole election period, the opposition and the ruling party accused each other of disseminating fake news. None of them has appealed in court for defamation. In our chamber of ethics, we have received only two appeals and even those came from the opposition. They would do better to strengthen existing mechanisms not make them stricter’, said Dzvelishvili.

Referring to fake news and French law Georgian officials have cited, Dzvelishvili said the bill in France was adopted because of the different circumstances and had not gone without criticism, and that it was ‘still unclear how it will affect free speech’.

‘The French law provides the possibility to have a court appeal if misinformation is disseminated deliberately and is aimed at influencing election outcomes. The reason for adopting this law was Russian propagandist channels. Our officials have not even mentioned Russian propaganda’, said Dzvelishvili.

American rights group Freedom House, which conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights, listed Georgia as only partly free in its 2018 Freedom in the World report.

 

‘Gas leak’ explosion kills 4 and injures 8 in Tbilisi

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‘Gas leak’ explosion kills 4 and injures 8 in Tbilisi

A man checks for an unconscious child’s heartbeat. (IPN)

An explosion in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, has left four people dead including a toddler, and eight others injured. Preliminary findings by the authorities suggest a gas leak was the cause of the blast.

As investigations into several similar incidents that recently took place are still pending, officials called for changes in legislation to prevent future fatalities.

Flags were flown at half-mast in government buildings on Thursday after Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze declared a day of mourning.

The explosion occurred on Wednesday evening on Avtandili Street, in the city’s Didi Digomi district.

A flat on the 6th floor of a newly built nine-storey residential building exploded, completely demolishing the outer wall of the flat and shattering the windows and doors of neighbouring flats.

Residents of the building told local media they had called KazTransGas Tbilisi, the city’s main gas supplier, twice to inspect a suspected gas leak, as they said they could smell gas in the neighbourhood throughout the day. According to them, inspectors from the company failed to identify the source of the leak.

Among the eight people wounded were 6 children; all of them were transported to local hospitals.

Thirty-one people affected by the incident have been provided with temporary shelter by the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office.

What caused the incident

The Georgian Interior Ministry has launched an investigation into a possible fatal breach of safety regulations during the construction or operation of gas facilities.

Georgian Energy Ombudsman Salome Vardiashvili, who is responsible for defending consumer rights under the Georgian National Energy Regulation Commission, vowed on Wednesday to ‘thoroughly study’ whether the building was properly connected to the gas network.

In her statement, she speculated of possible ‘negligence or unprofessionalism’ from a technician who reportedly failed to identify the gas leak on the location.

KazTransGas Tbilisi responded to the incident with a statement saying they were investigating what happened. The company said they would make an official statement after they clarify details.

Another revelation adding up to what could have triggered the incident was made by the Mayor’s office as they said that the building where the incident happened had not been approved for use.

A spokesperson told Georgian news site Liberali that after constructions are completed in Tbilisi, the Mayor’s Office Supervision Department must issue a decree confirming that the building is suitable for use, but that no such decree was issued for the building in question.

The explosion tore through the exterior of the building in Tbilisi’s Didi Digomi district (Agenda.ge)

But Deputy Mayor Ilia Eloshvili told TV Pirveli that legislation does not ban owners from moving into their flats before a decree is issued, although ‘it’s preferable to do so after all the procedures are over’.

He also said that while KazTransGas supplies buildings with gas infrastructure, they do not always install gas metres themselves, as other companies are allowed to do so as well.

He said that very often, unqualified companies install gas metres and heaters, although it was not yet known who was responsible for doing so in this particular flat.

A broader issue

The statement from Georgia’s Energy Ombudsman drew attention to a broader problem with regulations within the gas industry.

Ombudsman Salome Vardiashvili stressed that recent incidents indicated there were ‘systemic problems’ that needed to be addressed with a complex approach.

‘[Natural gas network management] regulations do not fully answer to the safety challenges, as they are not fulfilled by licensed companies. And service provider companies are urged to accept them in the form that building companies provide them’, the statement said.

Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria called on the government to place fire safety guarantees into the national legislation.

‘The Public Defender once again calls on the government to define a list of banned building materials, as many of them are characterised by instability, flammability, and other harmful traits’, Lomjaria said in a statement.

Gas leak fatalities

According to the Energy Ombudsman’s 2017 gas report, 2017 was the most deadly year on record in terms of consumer safety.

‘With the arrival of the winter, the situation became worse in the regions, especially in Rustavi town, where up to 10 fatalities were registered in February–March’, the report said.

This included gas leakage reports from several gas suppliers.

For example, according to the report, three explosions were reported in the operational area of KazTransGas Tbilisi in 2017, resulting in property damage and injury to one person.

Nine gas leaks were reported in the operational area of Socar Georgia Gas in the same year, resulting in 3 deaths.

In the operating area of SaqOrgGas, 142 leakages were reported, resulting in 15 fatalities.

‘Analysis of the facts showed that the majority of accidents were caused by improper installation of natural gas devices as well as the use of malfunctioning devices, such as various heaters and gas water heaters’, the report noted.

Mandatory HIV testing prior to marriage proposed in Daghestan

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Mandatory HIV testing prior to marriage proposed in Daghestan

The Federal AIDS Centre in Chechnya (Spidchr.ru)

HIV testing before marriage could become mandatory in the Russian Republic of Daghestan, if new proposals by the head of the republic’s Consumer Protection and Welfare Service are adopted.

At a session of Daghestan’s parliament, the People’s Assembly on 28 December, Eleonora Omarieva suggested MPs adopt legislation to make testing compulsory.

She argued the testing was needed to combat an annual increase in the number of HIV cases in Daghestan.

The practice of testing for HIV before marriage already exists in Chechnya and Ingushetia.

According to Russian daily Izvestia,  a similar law was submitted to Russia’s lower house, the State Duma in 2015, but was rejected by MPs.

Ziyavudin Uvaisov, the head of Daghestani patient advocacy group Patient Monitor, told OC Media that the proposal, as well as the current practices in Chechnya and Ingushetia, contradicted the Russian federal law on voluntary testing for HIV and violate patients’ right to medical secrecy.

Uvaisov said that such repressive measures were likely only to exacerbate the situation of HIV patients in Daghestan.

‘Mandatory HIV testing will generate corruption’

Dzhapar Gadzhiyev, the chair of Svoi, an organisation supporting people living with HIV/AIDS in Daghestan, told OC Media that mandatory testing would not solve the problems of those diagnosed with HIV, and would only encourage corruption.

Gadzhiyev, who has spoken publicly about his own diagnosis with HIV, said he was confident that those who wanted to hide their disease would be able to buy a certificate, as the sale of medical certificates was common in Daghestani medical institutions.

Gadzhiyev added that there was a shortage of doctors in Daghestan’s AIDS Centre, where almost two thousand patients are served by just four doctors.

Gadzhiyev’s wife, Sabiyat Gadzhiyeva, who co-chairs Svoi, told OC Media that in her opinion, the Daghestani authorities should focus more on how medical care is provided for those living with HIV.

Dzhapar and Sabiyat Gadzhiyev (etokavkaz.ru)

According to her, there are many more people with HIV in the republic than the official statistics indicate since not everyone is registered.

She said Daghestan’s Ministry of Health and the local AIDS Centre regularly reported success at combating the spread of HIV, and did not take seriously annual increases in the number of people infected with HIV reported by Daghestan’s Consumer Protection and Welfare Service.

Sabiyat Gadzhiyeva said that there were periodical failures in obtaining HIV medication in Daghestan, as well as in other regions of Russia, resulting in different drugs being prescribed.

‘But this change affects their general state of health, and the new treatment regimen is not always suitable for every patient’, she said.

Chechnya and Ingushetia

Compulsory HIV testing before marriage was introduced in Chechnya in 2011 with the support of the local Consumer Protection and Welfare Service and the local Muftiate — the traditional representative body of Muslims in the North Caucasus.

According to the rules, people are obliged to notify their partner if they test positive for HIV and a written notice of their partner’s consent is needed before a marriage can go ahead.

According to Caucasian Knot, the Chechen Ministry of Health has issued certificates showing HIV status, as well as the results of tests for hepatitis, syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections, since November 2018.

It’s possible to obtain the certificates only in the Chechen capital, Grozny, they report.

In 2015, Chechnya’s Ministry of Health announced a decrease in the incidence of HIV, claiming it was the result of the mandatory testing.

In 2018, a similar initiative was adopted in neighbouring Ingushetia, where it is now impossible to get approval for marriage from the local Muftiate without first undergoing HIV testing.

HIV in Daghestan

A spokesperson for Daghestan’s Consumer Protection and Welfare Service told OC Media that around 200 people were now diagnosed with HIV in Daghestan annually.

They said that in 2018, there were over 1,800 people diagnosed with HIV in Daghestan — 59% of which were men and 41% women.

Since 1989, when registration of HIV infections began, over 2,700 people were diagnosed, 15% of them in prisons, with just over 900 people reported to have died.

Daghestan’s Federal AIDS Centre in Makhachkala (dagspid.ru)

The spokesperson said that the majority of those infected were young people, from 20–30 years old, while the number of infected women, including pregnant women, was growing.

The main reason for the rise, they said, was families in which a man used intravenous drugs.

Sexual transmission was identified as the main source of infection, accounting for 65% of cases. This differs from Russia as a whole, where the main source of infection was a result of intravenous drug use.

According to them, since 1989, 284 children had been born with HIV in Daghestan, and 120 children under one and a half years old were under observation.

The highest rate in Europe

According to Russia’s Federal Center for the Prevention and Control of AIDS, as of June 2018, there were 1.3 million people diagnosed with HIV in Russia — 0.7% of the population.

According to them, from 2005 to 2017, the number of new HIV infections in Russia increased annually.

However, they said that the percentage of annual growth was gradually decreasing. In 2011–2015 the number of infections grew an average of 10% annually, while in 2016, this figure fell to 4.1%, and 2.2% in 2017.

The trend continued into the first half of 2018, with a decrease in the number of new cases of the disease recorded compared to the first half of 2017.

At the beginning of 2018, Russia had the highest recorded HIV incidence rate in Europe, with 71 cases per 100,000 people. It was followed by Ukraine, with 37 cases per 100,000 people, and Belarus, with 26.

South Africa recorded the highest HIV incidence globally; with 6.3 million people infected — 15% of the population.

Georgia’s new pension scheme challenged in constitutional court

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Georgia’s new pension scheme challenged in constitutional court

A retirement home in Tbilisi (Tamuna Chkareuli /OC Media)

Tbilisi-based rights group the Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI) have challenged country’s new pension system in the Constitutional Court. The group argues that the new private saving scheme contradicts Articles 11 (right to equality) and 19 (right to property) of the Georgian Constitution.

The new, cumulative pension scheme stipulates a 6% investment of a person’s income into a personal pension account, with 2% contributed each by employees, employers, and the state.

The scheme is mandatory for those under 40 living and working in Georgia.

The plaintiffs in the case are Eduard Marikashvili, a lawyer from GDI, as an employee, as well as the organisation itself as an employer.

According Marikashvili, forcing employees to participate in the scheme constitutes an intrusion into a citizen’s right to control their own property.

The group voiced similar objections based on property rights to the obligation for employers to contribute 2%.

The private pension scheme commissions co-contributions with 2% from the employer and the state each in case an employee annually earns less than ₾24,000 ($9,000); the state will credit 1% of the worker’s monthly gross salary if it is more than ₾24,000 but does not exceed ₾60,000 ($22,500).

‘The state is violating the principle of personal autonomy as it does not have the right to decide for us how to manage our property. Today, the state is limiting this right for our own personal welfare, but the constitution has no such provision. It stipulates that restrictions on the right to property can only be imposed “for the public interest” ’, Marikashvili told OC Media.

Marikashvili said they were additionally challenging the rationale for the new pensions system.

According to them, the system was supposed to reduce elderly poverty by improving the pension replacement rate — average pensions as a percentage of the average pre-retirement income in the country, which currently stands at 18% in Georgia.

Citing calculations from an as yet unpublished study from an unnamed German think-tank that they are using in Court, Marikashvili argued that with the new scheme, the rate will stagnate in 30 years time.

‘Decent retirement’

Within the new pension scheme, those who retire after having been enrolled for less than five years and those who become disabled will be eligible to withdraw the entire amount in a lump sum. For others, the payout will be distributed at a rate adjusted for the current life expectancy.

From April–May, the law will allow those who were 40 or above at the time the law entered into the force in August 2018 to opt out of the scheme entirely.

In early January, the government launched an online platform for the Pension Agency, giving workers access to their individual accounts where they can keep track of their savings. It also includes a pension scheme calculator to estimate their likely income upon retirement.

The cumulative pension scheme is supplementary and is not intended to replace the current fixed state pensions, which amounts to ₾200 ($75) per month. The retirement age in Georgia is 65 for men and 60 for women.

The Georgian government has insisted that the new system will provide pensioners with a ‘decent retirement’, alleviate elderly poverty, and will also boost the domestic capital market, as the pension funds will be invested within Georgia.

‘Unconstitutional taxation’

GDI also criticised the new pension system for making Georgians invest their money into a fund without ensuring against the risk of losing it in future.

The group, together with Transparency International — Georgia, the Economic Policy Research Centre, a local economically liberal think-tank, and several other Tbilisi-based organisations criticised the draft law as early as March 2018.

The groups argued the requirement for workers to pay 2% of the income qualified as taxation, and thus contradicted the constitution.

Constitutional amendments in 2010 and the subsequent Economic Liberty Act permit the introduction of new taxes or tax increases only through a referendum.

In their 2017 constitutional changes, the Georgian Dream government left these provisions untouched, but introduced a 12-year expiration date on the rules.

Under Georgian law, a tax is defined as a contribution to the state budget, hence the pension scheme, which puts contributions in an independently managed pension fund, would appear not to qualify.

Nevertheless, GDI said they hoped the Constitutional Court would come up with a broader definition in their consideration of the new pension scheme.

‘We consider the 2% requirement clearly a tax burden for the employer’, Marikashvili told OC Media.

According to him, while employees are meant to get their money back upon retirement, the mandatory contributions for employers will never be restituted, and hence amount to ‘property expropriation’.

The plaintiffs filed a motion earlier this months asking the court to suspend implementation of the law, considering that, according to them, employers already face a burden that would not be compensated.

The opposition European Georgian Party also came out against the new pension law, criticising its mandatory nature and laying doubt on its effectiveness in alleviating poverty.

Talking to Radio Palitra, Shalva Tskhakaia from the the Georgian Employer’s Association described the GDI’s legal action against the new pension law as an opportunity to ‘at least temporarily halt the reform’s’ implementation.

‘Employers are not getting answers from either the Pension Agency or, on many occasions, from the Revenue Service […] Tens of thousands of companies have failed to register to be in line with the law’, said Tskhakaia.

Alternative schemes

The new pension scheme has also faced criticism for leaving thousands of Georgians uncovered.

According to 2017 data from the National Statistics Office, 52% of workers are self-employed, and would have little stimulus to voluntarily formalise their activities to join the scheme and cut their income by 4%.

With the new private saving pension scheme, self-employed people are expected to credit 4% of their income with state’s additional 2% input.

The Social-Democratic faction of the ruling Georgian Dream party criticised the lack of a ‘redistributive’ element to the new pension system and forwarded an alternative version to parliament in March but it failed to pass its first reading.

They have continued to advocate for a merit and experience-based ‘pay-as-you-go’ alternative which, according to them, has an element of ‘intergenerational solidarity’ and would offer increased pensions after two years of being implemented.

[Read Tornike Chivadze’s opinion and more on Social-Democratic alternative on OC Media: Georgia’s pension reforms do nothing for most Georgians]

The government has also initiated an amendment to the administrative code that would issue ₾500 ($190) fines for employers who fail to credit the pension fund both from their side and from employees’ salaries.

Independent Georgian trade union the Solidarity Network sees the reform as a financial scheme meant to increase Georgia’s global credit rating and attract investors.

Sopo Japaridze, head of the Solidarity Network, told OC Media that ‘in order for the pension reform to work for the people it professes to help, it must change into a defined benefit scheme — according to specific needs of retirees’.

This, she said, should come ‘alongside a generous basic pension and not the current defined contribution, which will punish those with low salaries or the unemployed — the majority — during their most vulnerable time, retirement’.

Japaridze criticised the reform as the new law fails to take into account unemployment insurance, long term illnesses, and does not give options for earlier retirement to those working in hazardous and strenuous workplaces.

She also said she expected that many employers would avoid making payments.

‘Many employers will and have already switched labour contracts to service contracts that will free them from payments. In addition, people will be laid off and their salaries will be lowered’, Japaridze said.

‘The government has no effective mechanisms for holding employers accountable and avoiding shifting the burden of pension payments on to the workers. We are going to see many companies discarding labour contracts, either employing service contracts or illegally hiring workers’.