Mikheil Saakashvili Back in Ukrainian Politics? | VoxUkraine

Mikheil Saakashvili Back in Ukrainian Politics?

29 April 2020

On April 22, there were media reports that Mikheil Saakashvili would possibly be appointed Vice PM for reform. On his Facebook page, Saakashvili later confirmed receiving such an offer from Volodymyr Zelenskyi, and on April 24, he went to talk with the Servants of the People.

Saakashvili is almost an iconic figure for VoxCheck. When our project was just beginning, he was one of the first to publicly respond to our fact-check of his statements. That was in 2016, and ever since we have fact checked 169 statements made by him. He spoke the truth in forty percent of cases, with the rest being falsehoods, manipulations or overstatements.

All his statements and our fact-checks can be seen in the Anthology of Deception.

And while Saakashvili is being “interviewed” by the Servant of the People party, we have decided to create a simulator of Saakashvili’s interview with the VoxCheck team.

For reference, the quotes for this simulated interview were taken from his recent statements during Savik Shuster’s “Freedom of Speech” political talk show. They are highlighted in italics. All the other statements by Saakashvili (not italicized) are our own fantasy.

VoxCheck: Georgia’s reforms are often used as an example for Ukraine. They can really be considered successful as evidenced by Georgia’s dynamics in the Doing Business rankings. How did Georgia score in those rankings?

Mikheil Saakashvili: “You know, when I was starting out in Georgia, Georgia ranked 127th in the world on the ease of doing business, but when I finished we were 9th.”  06/03/2020 (34:51-34:58)

VoxCheck: Indeed, although Georgia ranked 100th (not 127th) in 2006, it rose to as high as 9th in the rankings.

Mikheil Saakashvili: Well, you see, it’s true.

For reference, in 2004 and 2005, DB calculated the countries’ different indicators, but without ranking them.

VoxCheck: And what did you do to make it easier to do business in your country?

Mikheil Saakashvili: “We used to have 950 permits, licenses that were mandatory in Georgia. We brought their number down to 80, that is 10 times, 11 times less. The business needed to obtain 11 times less permits for everything. We reduced the number of taxes from 22 to 7 decreasing the total tax burden by 60%. ”  06/03/2020 (19:41-20:00)

VoxCheck: Hold on a second… We know that in 2014 in Georgia, there were 909 licenses and permits, not 950. And 137 in 2011. That is 6.6 times less, not 10-11.

Mikheil Saakashvili: Well, maybe that was a slight overstatement, it may happen to anybody.

VoxCheck: And after 2013, the number of licenses and permits increased again to 176… But it is true that the total number of taxes decreased from 21 to 7, with the total tax burden decreasing from 49.7% of pre-tax profit in 2004 to 16.4% in 2013, i.e. down by 66.3%.

VoxCheck: When talking about successful reforms that helped eliminate corruption in Georgia, the patrol police reform often comes up. What did you do within the framework of this reform and what results did you see?

Mikheil Saakashvili: “Our police (Georgian – ed.), where we replaced everyone, this police became the best in Europe, along with the Finnish police.” 06/03/2020 (35:01-35:12)

VoxCheck: You are right about the extensive personnel changes in the police. For instance, during the police reform in Georgia, 16,000 traffic police officers were dismissed overnight and 2,300 new patrol officers were hired over the next few months. The total number of law enforcement officers was reduced from 63,000 in 2003 to 27,000 in 2011. The 10,000 old police staff remaining in the service were no longer on patrol, but they could train newcomers.

Mikheil Saakashvili: “… and Georgia became the safest country in Europe”

VoxCheck: And that is an overstatement. In terms of crime rates, Georgia is now ranking first in Europe, but in 2013, it was third. However, in terms of overall security in the country, Georgia is now fifth in the world, although it was seventh in 2013.

VoxCheck: Ukraine is now actively implementing the reform to the secondary level of the health system. What was done in Georgia during medical reform?

Mikheil Saakashvili: “Under my presidency (in Georgia – ed.), 150 new hospitals were built, the like of which are not found in Ukraine, unfortunately, 150 new hospitals and universal health insurance.” 06/03/2020 (30:52-31:01)

VoxCheck: Yes, it is true, 150 hospitals were built in Georgia by the end of 2013. Of course, we do not conduct comparison checks on Ukrainian and Georgian hospitals, that is your personal opinion.

Mikheil Saakashvili: Thank you. 

VoxCheck: You are also right about the population’s insurance coverage. National health insurance in Georgia is based on the principle where “money follows the patient” that Ukraine is now implementing at all levels of health care. Social Services Agency pays for the treatment of patients insured in the Georgian state system. The patient chooses which hospital to go to, to receive the necessary medical services. Social Services Agency then reimburses the hospital for the services provided.

But it is not that simple. Insurance medicine is not a panacea, because no state will have sufficient funds to pay for the treatment of the entire population. This is one of the reasons why in Ukraine “free medicine” has always been only on paper.

Vulnerable social groups do indeed receive nearly full coverage for medical services. But in addition to this, Georgia has a system of paying “out of pocket”. In other words, you either pay extra for your insurance or pay part of the cost for certain services. In 2006, the share of such out-of-pocket expenses reached 78.7%, gradually decreasing. For example, it was 61.2% in 2016.

Mikheil Saakashvili: I like to tell the truth. 

VoxCheck: How did customs reform in Georgia go?

Mikheil Saakashvili: “We reduced the number of customs officers in Georgia and eliminated customs tariffs, but in Georgia, it took 5 minutes for each cargo, each container to pass through customs.”. 06/03/2020 (29:54-30:12)

VoxCheck: We, as you may have noticed, are fact checking everything you say….

Mikheil Saakashvili: Are you saying I lied here?

VoxCheck: No! It is true. Customs reform in Georgia abolished import duties for 86% of goods, leaving the rates of 5 and 12% for other goods, and a fixed fee for a certain amount of imported goods. Also about 80% of customs officials were dismissed. These are good results!

VoxCheck: Successful reforms are the key to economic growth, replenishing the budget and enhancing the population’s welfare. How did Georgia’s economy grow during your presidency?

Mikheil Saakashvili: “In Georgia, under my presidency, Georgian economy grew fourfold. Poverty was reduced 2.5 times.” 24/01/20 (01:28:09-01:28:21)

VoxCheck: You wrongly calculate the economic growth. Nominal GDP in US dollars did indeed grow from 4 billion in 2003 to 16 billion in 2013. But in order to estimate the growth of the economy over time, real GDP growth of 76% should be used. This is a very significant result indeed! But why manipulate indicators?

VoxCheck: How did Georgia’s budget grow at the time?

Mikheil Saakashvili: “How about the budget growing 12-fold?” 06/03/2020 (30:13-30:15)

VoxCheck: It seems to us that you are manipulating again by using nominal indicators without taking into account changes in prices. It would be correct to consider not budgetary change in dollars, but the real growth in the state budget’s revenue, taking into account the inflation. In 2003-2013, it was 83.23%, so in real terms, the budget grew 4.7-fold, not 12-fold.

Mikheil Saakashvili: Well okay… 

For reference, from 2003 to 2013, Georgia’s budget revenue in dollar terms increased 11-fold, from $ 470 million to $ 5.1 billion. In the national currency, Georgia’s state budget increased 8.58-fold: from GEL 1 billion in 2003 to GEL 8.58 billion in 2013.

VoxCheck: And what about social benefits, how did they change?

Mikheil Saakashvili: “We had a $ 4 pension that people did not receive. But I made the minimum pension exceeding $ 100, for one, from $ 4, and in a very poor country.” 24/01/20 (01:33:00-01:33:15)

VoxCheck: There you go again! These are not real numbers! You are manipulating. According to statistics, from 2004 to 2013, pensions in dollar terms increased from $ 8.5 (GEL 18) to $ 90 (GEL 150)…

Mikheil Saakashvili: Well…

VoxCheck: …but you know that you cannot make such comparisons. Then, there is inflation. In reality, people did not receive such an increase in pensions: in 2004-2013, the inflation was 74.86%, and therefore, the minimum pension increased 4.76-fold. You really are manipulating.

Mikheil Saakashvili: ……

VoxCheck: And finally. What problems do you see in the Ukrainian economy at the moment hindering its growth?

Mikheil Saakashvili: “Over the past 5 years, at least 5 million Ukrainians have migrated for work to Poland.” <…> “Slovakia assembles 900 thousand cars. Ukraine assembles only 900 cars a year.”  6/12/2019 (02:03:40-02:03:44) <…> 24/01/20 (28:08-28:12)

VoxCheck: But again, this is not true. According to Poland’s National Bank, Poland has had 1-2 million migrants from Ukraine since 2014. And as for the car production, 1.08 million cars were produced in 2018 in Slovakia, and 6,623 in Ukraine, not 900.

Mikheil Saakashvili: Goodbye! 

In lieu of a conclusion 

If it were a real interview, it would apparently be pretty tough. Out of the ten answers, we would have to correct the speaker with regard to six, especially on economic matters.



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