Georgia’s poverty and unemployment rates hit 13.3% and 18.5% respectively in 2020. A vast number of factors have contributed to these statistics. The Borgen Project spoke with Toby Davis, the former division chief for the Caucasus and Central Asia Office for the Analysis for Russia and Eurasia, to explore the economic landscape of Georgia and the factors impacting Georgia’s economic policies.
Unemployment and Poverty in Georgia
Davis explains that 70% of polled citizens will declare unemployment. However, when taking away pensioners, students and people who are not currently looking for work, only about a third of the 70% are actually unemployed. For example, many subsistence farmers register as unemployed because they are not currently working for a recognized business and thus do not consider their trade as a job.
Davis explains that “Unfortunately, this tilts the balance of the statistics, resulting in government decisions that may not always be the best for those who are genuinely unemployed and struggling to find work.” Despite a sometimes inaccurate reflection of statistics, Georgia is nevertheless working to improve the level of poverty and unemployment within the country with solutions that can bring Georgia’s citizens out of their current state of poverty.
Causes of Georgia’s Economic State
Two main factors impact Georgia’s economic state. First, Davis states that Georgia’s economic problems stem from the establishment of the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party in 2012. Billionaire politician, Bidzina Ivanishvili, established Georgia’s previous state of government, changing the motives of politicians within the country.
Teona Zurabashvili, policy analyst at the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP), explains that when the Georgian Dream came into power, it “squandered the political capital” it accumulated and supporters “never received the social justice they were promised.” She explains that the political climate reflected “an unfocused economic program, clannish rule in the judiciary system, rampant nepotism in the civil service, decreased direct foreign investments, a devaluation of the national currency and clear signs of state capture.”
Due to poor governance, poverty in Georgia has largely gone unaddressed. Davis reaffirms that because of political interests and weak governance, many of Georgia’s economic policies do not help the economy reach its fullest potential.
The second major contributor to Georgia’s economic state is the imbalance between exports and imports. Currently, Georgia spends more than it sells and produces, with export levels barely making one-third of the number of imports. The statistics show that the total exports are around 3.3 million, whereas its imports are at approximately 9.1 million. In 2016, Georgia imported most of its oil and natural gas to satisfy the energy demand in Georgia. With a transition to renewable energy, Georgia may be able to reduce these imports.
Past Plans and Current Projects
The Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Programme was a past proposal to fix Georgia’s poverty. It was approved in 2003 but was never implemented. Although the plan had funding from the World Bank and the IMF, Georgia’s government lacked interest and never followed through with it. Davis seconds this point, stating that, “there are individual party projects trying to fix [poverty rates], but nothing ever reaches the grand government scale. The projects improve it in increments, but there are a lot of questions as to why it isn’t improving faster.”
The Namakhvani HPP project aims to help Georgia gain “energy independence” through hydropower. The project’s goal is to satisfy 20% of the energy demand in Georgia, increasing domestic annual generation by 15%. A large portion of Georgia’s spending goes toward importing oil and fuel for energy demands. Therefore, Namakhvani HPP would reduce these expenditures. Wealth from this project would allow Georgia to gain energy independence and focus on implementing poverty reduction programs.
Reviving the Deep Sea Port Project
Another option regarding Georgia’s economic policies is the revival of the canceled deep sea port construction that would have taken place on the coast of the Black Sea. The project has the potential to generate cargo trade with China and Central Asia, with the potential to bring in significant revenue. The project was canceled due to a lack of funding. Thus, if the project were able to garner the international support and funding it needs, the project could positively impact the import and export sector.
The government of Georgia needs to prioritize developing the economy and reducing poverty, which should be reflected in Georgia’s economic policies. With politics aside, Georgia has the potential to thrive.
– Seren Dere