Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: It is a great privilege to be here today to celebrate International Customs Day and the United States’ long partnership with Georgia Customs. It is a day when we can recognize the very important work that customs officers do every day. You see what they are doing to facilitate the entry and exit of legal goods from Georgia, but what you may not see is how hard they work to protect Georgia from the illicit contraband that tries to enter or leave this country. They are truly Georgia heroes and today is the day to recognize all that they do to keep Georgia and, from there, the rest of the world safe.
Question on the entry of the UNM into parliament
Ambassador Degnan: Of course, the United States encourages all parties, especially the UNM, to enter parliament since the legislative elections, because we believe that the place to defend your interests and your convictions is inside parliament. Use the democratic institutions that Georgia is trying to build and create a representative parliament that reflects the diversity and views of all Georgian citizens. So, we sincerely hope that the UNM will enter the parliament. And once in parliament, we would love to see the ruling party and the opposition working together on initiatives that are in the best interests of this country. This will require negotiations. It will take time. There will be back and forth, but that is how parliaments work. And I think it will be in the best interests of Georgia if the ruling party and the opposition in good faith can work together to adopt initiatives and then implement initiatives that are in the best interests of this country .
Question about the ambassador’s 30th anniversary speech, when she mentioned “democratic shortcomings”.
Ambassador Degnan: As I said, this is partly because of the deep polarization in this country that has existed for some time, but it is also more fundamentally due to the fact that Georgia has been working to build its democratic institutions for a very short time time, really 20 years or more. So, of course, there is more to do. Everyone understands that the progress made is really impressive, but there is still a lot to do. We have been working on our democracy for 245 years, and we see that we can still do much more. A truly healthy democracy is constantly reforming, improving, and looking for ways to strengthen its democratic institutions, because there is always more to do. And I hope that would be true here in Georgia as well. Again, there have been really significant advances over the past 20 years. This should not stop: the country must continue to build its democratic institutions. This is the best way to protect Georgia’s freedom, to protect Georgia’s independence, to protect Georgia’s freedom. In our view, strong democratic institutions are the best security and stability for this country and for ours as well.
Question about the CEC selection process
Ambassador Degnan: What is more important than what I think is what the Georgian public thinks. The process must be transparent so that the Georgian public has confidence that this is a fair process and that the people who will be appointed to these very important positions will be impartial and professional people who will administer your elections. Obviously, the last elections were contentious, and the public needs to see now that they have a CEC administration they can trust to be impartial and professional in administering your elections.
So hopefully that’s going to be the result of that process: something transparent that puts in place skilled leaders that the hard core can trust. If I may just add one thing to the first question, I failed to mention that we signed a very important memorandum today with the Revenue Department of the Customs Administration that will modernize the information systems here. This is very important because the modernization and improvement of the system will facilitate the way goods are handled and information about what is entering and leaving Georgia will be shared. So this was a very important memorandum and a sign of our continued partnership with Georgia Customs.