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Mikheil Saakashvili’s Statements in Regard to the Namakhvani HPP Cascade

Verdict: FactCheck concludes that Mikheil Saakashvili FLIPPED POSITION.

Resume: It was during Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency when the issue of building the Namakhvani Hydro Power Plant was raised and the government took respective steps. On 8 December 2009, Georgia and the joint Turkey-South Korea consortium signed a memorandum on the construction of the Namakhvani HPP cascade. Nevertheless, today Mikheil Saakashvili expresses solidarity with the so-called “Guardians of the Rioni Valley” says that the Namakhvani HPP cascade should not be built.

Analysis:

On 19 March 2019, negotiations between the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia and the investor on the construction of the Namakhvani HPP cascade was brought to an end. The contract states that ENKA Renewables will build the Namakhvani HPP cascade. According to the official website of the Namakhvani HPP: “The Namakhvani project is the largest energy project in the history of independent Georgia which will be implemented by ENKA Renewables with a direct foreign investment of USD 800 million. The Namakhvani HPP Cascade project encompasses two separate HPPs on the Rioni River; namely, the Lower Namakhvani HPP (333 MW) and the Upper Namakhvani HPP (100 MW). The reservoir surface area of the Lower Namakhvani HPP will be 5.1 square kilometres.”

It has been several months since the local population, the so-called “Guardians of the Rioni Valley,” environmental activists and some NGOs have started protests against the construction of the Namakhvani HPP. Thousands rallied in Kutaisi demanding the halt of the construction of the HPP. In the course of the past few months, there were numerous instances of tensions between the protesters and law enforcement in the Rioni Valley. The tensions started to rise particularly from the second half of March and the first half of April 2021. The protesters demanded scraping the contract between the government and ENKA Renewables on construction of the Namakhvani HPP cascade. They also demanded annulling the construction permit issued for the Namakhvani HPP cascade in 2015 as well as revoking the ordinance on ENKA Renewables’ direct purchase of the state owned land and called for the resignation of the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development.

The third President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, made remarks on the construction of the Namakhvani HPP cascade. On 28 February 2021, Mr Saakashvili released a video expressing his solidarity with the organisers and participants of the Kutaisi rally which was held in protest of the construction of the Namakhvani HPP cascade. As stated by Mr Saakashvili: “Modern economy is built in a completely different way. In fact, saving the environment, the improvement of a living habitat and the development of tourism is of a bigger priority for Georgia than being a supplier of cheap energy to Turkey or to any other neighbours… Nature should remain intact. We simply have to understand that there are many other sources of energy such as wind turbines, solar energy, etc. Keep your hands off Georgian nature. Georgia needs a specific, correct and long-term development.”

Of note is that after gaining independence, the implementation of the Namakhvani HPP Cascade project first started precisely during Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency. On 8 December 2009, Georgia and the joint Turkey-South Korea consortium signed a memorandum on the construction of the Namakhvani HPP cascade. Speaking about the occasion, Mikheil Saakashvili stated that the Namakhvani HPP would be the second biggest HPP in Georgia and create 20,000 jobs both in Imereti and Racha.

On 23 April 2021, Mikheil Saakashvili made another statement in regard to the Namakhvani HPP cascade. Speaking in Svaneti before opening the construction of the Nenskra HPP, he stated: “This is not the biggest event of the year. In just about two months we will start the construction of the HPP in Namakhvani which would be two times as big as this [Nenskra HPP] and even bigger. The aggregate output of this [Nenskra HPP] together with Namakhvani will be equal to what the Enguri HPP was at the beginning.”

Given all of the aforementioned, Mikheil Saakashvili made a major reversal of his position in regard to large HPPs, in general, and to the Namakhvani HPP cascade, in particular. As mentioned earlier, it was during Mr Saakashvili’s presidency when the issue of building the Namakhvani Hydro Power Plant was raised and the government took respective steps. Nevertheless, today he expresses solidarity with the so-called “Guardians of the Rioni Valley” and says that the Namakhvani HPP cascade should not be built.

Of note is that the Georgian Dream also did a major reversal of its position in regard to the HPP construction issue. See FactCheck’s article for more details.

FactCheck does not make a value judgment about flip-flopping. Whilst some people believe that flip-flopping demonstrates incoherent principles or/and a lack of solid values, others say that it is a sign of pragmatism and a willingness to compromise. As part of verifying position reversal (FLIP-O-METRE), similar with the classical fact-checking, our goal is to help the public make a more informed choice.


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