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Risks of Alienation of Agriculture Land Plots

Alienation of agriculture land plots to foreign citizens remains the sharpest and most painful issue in the Georgian society. Public opinion has split.

One part of politicians and society expects serious threats from alienation of Georgian land plots and categorically objects to selling land plots to foreign citizens, while another part asserts that the process is harmless and welcomes alienation of agriculture land plots.

After Georgian Dream came to power, in July 2013, Government announced moratorium on sales of agriculture land plots to foreign citizens. However, shortly the Constitutional Court passed decision and abolished the moratorium. Discussions arose after Justice Ministry statement that agriculture lands could be sold to foreign citizens as part of major investment projects. The Justice Minister expressed hopes that the parliament of new convocation would discuss the bill as soon as possible.

Concerning the issue, Nino Burjanadze and Democratic Movement political party demand for constitutional amendments. Dimitri Lortkipanidze, one of the members of the party, noted that constitutional amendments are to protect Georgian land plots from alienation.

“Sure, Democratic Movement has proposed this important constitutional bill, along with an explanatory card. We have worked on the document for a long period. I personally was member of land plot protection committee, when this issue was raised by academicians Mikheil Jibuti, Paata Koghuashvili. Our academic circles developed a very interesting concept and later the land plots protection committee and the committee members performed huge job to outline the  importance for protection of land plot ownership rights in the state organic law of Georgia. Essence of the bill is that Georgian land plots must be protected, amid lack of regulations that inspire squandering agriculture land plots by electronic auctions. This ugly practice started 8 years ago. I would also remember the village of Ditsi, Gori District, where 34 hectares  of land plots were sold in one night. Currently, there is a 400 000 hectare land plot space compatible with investment purposes and I completely disagree with Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who declared that agriculture land plots may be sold in case of major investment projects”, Dimitri Lortkipanidze noted.

Developed countries have set considerable barriers against sales of agriculture land plots and consequently, Georgia should also carry out reforms to insure ourselves from certain risks and threats, Dimitri Lortkipanidze noted.

“Nino Burjanadze has declared openly that this is a strategic resource of special importance. This is a key value that must not be sold. This phrase was promulgated by His Holiness  and Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia. No reasonable patriot will agree ever on sales of agriculture land plots to foreign citizens. The explanatory card that was submitted to the state constitution commission overviews samples of about 9 countries (Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria) and all these countries practice significant barriers  against sales of agriculture land plots to foreign citizens. First of all, there is a certain agreement, that, besides experience in agrarian sector, the applicants must have a 5-10 year history of business activities in the specific country and they must be licensed from Agriculture Ministry of the country. Only after satisfaction of due requirements, applicants are given hypothetical chances to become land plot owners. For example, in the USA only 0.7% of agriculture land plots have been sold”, Lortkipanidze noted.

Availability of attracting investments is one of the key arguments that supporters of land plot sales make accent on. Democratic Movement leader Dimitri Lortkipanidze does not agree with this opinion and asserts that in the process of attracting investments the state interests are reduced to minimum and only investors’ interests are promoted.

“All countries with self-esteem practice constitutional regulations, including our neighboring Armenia in the 31st article of the state constitution on property rights directly promulgates that foreign citizens cannot register land plots with ownership rights. Organic law of all countries, naturally, must reflect regulations on land plots and by-laws should determine state attitude towards land plots, while our country has not adopted due regulations for land plots so far, and this is not a normal situation.

State statistics department has no information on dynamics of sales of agriculture land plots, but at Public Registry you will hasty people trying to obtain ownership rights on agriculture land plots. As to the so-called investments, they represent the interests of investor countries. We should turn a blind eye and agree with unacceptable statements of Tea Tsulukiani”, Lortkipanidze said.

Unlike Democratic Movement members, Girchi political organization adheres to entirely different considerations. The party member Iago Khvichia noted that arguments of objectors are only populism and nothing more.

“I believe this is an ordinary populism, like the past experience. We should expect similar populism in the future too. Georgian politicians frequently make speculative statements over land plot issues. Mrs. Nino Burjanadze noted that lands represent a key wealth of our country, but I think this is not correct, because I believe Georgian people represent an only wealth of our country. At this stage, only 0.7% of land plots have been legalized by foreign companies and foreign citizens. Therefore, we have no grounds for alarm.

As to Land Code, I have no idea what we should insert in it. We have already adopted many harmful articles and additional harmful law is excessive. At the beginning of the 20th century quantity of people was far fewer compared to nowadays. Development of agriculture technologies suggests  that in the future the earth population will need less land plots for growing agriculture products”, Khvichia noted.

Current problems with land plots derive from incorrect reforms of previous years. Government should unconditionally legalize all land plots to owners if these land plots are not disputable, the Girchi movement member noted.

“In due time land reform was carried out invaluably. As a result of land reforms in 1990s, we have the situation when about 25% of land plots have been registered by Georgian citizens, while the remaining 75% has not been legalized by anyone. A major part of these lands are owned by Georgian citizens in actual possession or, on the other hand, all these persons own a certain land plot, that are traditionally considered as a property of their ancestors. When Government keeps legal rights on similar land plots, there is no difference whether similar land plots go to foreign citizens or Georgian citizens. All these factors provoke protests of Georgian citizens. I believe Government should not sell similar land plots to anybody. Authorities should conduct in the following way: It should legalize land plots to people, who have certain land plots in actual ownership, if these land plots are not disputable. The issue of 80% of agriculture land plots should be resolved in this way and after this Georgian citizens should be authorized to sell these land plots  to anybody, including to foreign citizens so as real estate, including land plots acquire real value in Georgia. If we say land plots should not be sold to foreign citizens, in automatic regime, price of land plots will halve. Land plots should be owned by those, who would efficiently employ them”, Khvichia said.