The democratic values of Mikhail Saakashvili's Georgia will come under scrutiny next week when Georgian environment group Green Alternative brings legal proceedings against the Georgian government and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline Company (BTC Co).
The court action will focus on the controversial environmental clearance granted by the Georgian government on November 30, 2002 for the construction of the BTC pipeline's Georgian section.
"We do not know why there has been such a lengthy delay in this case coming to trial," commented Manana Kochladze of Green Alternative. "However, we fully appreciate that the previous government responsible for issuing the environmental permit was uncomfortable with a truly independent court revision process. We are hopeful that those days are over now in Georgia."
Following heavy pressure from the BP led BTC Co on the former president, Edward Shevardnadze, and his Minister of the Environment, the routing of the pipeline through the highly sensitive support zone of the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park and the Tsalka region was approved in violation of Georgian environmental law.
Green Alternative will point out that the routing decision also violated the statutory rights of Georgian citizens, which provide for proper access to information and meaningful participation in the decision-making process (as per article 37 of the Georgian constitution), the Aarhuus Convention and the actual Host Government Agreement signed by the Georgian government and BTC Co.
Towards the end of last year the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) separately agreed to finance the BTC pipeline, moves which have both provided USD 500 million of the USD 3.6 billion total and, more significantly, a priceless seal of western approval for the project.
Yet verifiable breaches of World Bank standards as well as international and domestic law continue to dog the pipeline. With the IFC, the EBRD and other project creditors due to sign the project credit agreement in Baku on February 3, this Georgian legal challenge to the pipeline is one of three which are currently in process.
The case will be heard in the Appeal (Regional) Court in Tbilisi by the administrative and tax issues jury on Tuesday, January 20, 2004. The hearing starts at 2pm.
Members of Tbilisi based Green Alternative can be contacted in advance: