Corruption: The Enemy Within

TBILISI: Corruption is a malignant tumor, removable only with pain. So widespread is it in my country that almost every state initiative seems tainted by corruption, with the result that the implementation of some governmental programs is now highly suspect in the minds of many ordinary people. Towering levels of corruption damage not only the authority of government at home, but the very standing of Georgia as an independent state abroad. To maintain that independence, to fulfill our domestic and foreign policy priorities, the suppression of corruption must be my country's most urgent priority.

For eight years I have governed, as president, an independent Georgia. Ending the civil war that erupted almost simultaneously with Georgian independence, and putting a stop to the bloody conflicts and attempts at secession that followed, required me, at times, to compromise on some issues in order to rescue even more important values – such as the very life of the country. The eight years of my presidency, indeed, have been devoted to transforming the sick Georgian state of its early years of independence into a healthy one. Hard choices were made concerning those problems to be solved first and those to be addressed later. Now, with domestic peace restored, I must declare that nothing is more important for Georgia than combating corruption.

This decision is made more necessary because Georgia's economy is, at last, growing again. In the first part of this year, GDP increased 5% and industrial output by 11%. Exports are rising as are after-tax incomes. With financial panic in retreat, unpaid salaries, pensions, and other basic state obligations are being met. But this success, and the stability it brings, will be temporary if corruption continues, like corrosive acid, to eat away at the economy and the state.

Up to now we have not been completely inactive in seeking to narrow the "corruption space" within our economy and politics. A proper, functioning elected legislature has been created, which is very important because democratic oversight is the most reliable anti-corruption watchdog. Criminal, civil and administrative codes that reflect Georgia's contemporary democratic and market-based reality have replaced the old Leninist norms that were an open invitation to corrupt practices. The common courts and Supreme Court now have their own independent institutional basis in law.