The Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) will be headed by Vakhtang Abashidze for 3-year-term from May 19, 2014. He already served as the Head of the Commission - in 2000-2004. Abashidze is a journalist by profession. Since 2012 he has been the Chairman of Silknet JSC Bid Commission and the Operators Relations Department.
What are the future plans of the Commission's new Chairman, what changes are planned and what the gaps are, how he is going to eliminate them, how the factor that his brother Zurab Abashidze is the Georgian Prime Minister's Special Representative for Relations with Russia impacted Abashidze's appointment - Media.Ge talked with Vakhtang Abashidze about these issues.
Mr. Vakhtang, you already happened to be a member and chairman of the Georgian National Communications Commission in 2000 - 2004. Why did you decide to come back to this office?
The main motivation was the functions of the Commission, I am well aware of its goals and activities. The Commission was established in 2000. Its foundations, as organizational-structural as well as regulatory and legal framework were established then. Besides, after leaving the Commission I received serious experience in relations with international telecommunications unions and companies as well as private companies existing in Georgia. The accumulated experience, knowledge and current practice have dictated to me the step that I made.
The Parliament put your candidacy twice for voting. At first you failed only one vote to be appointed to this position, what really happened and why none of the candidates were present in the conference hall during voting?
There was a quantitative problem in terms of attendees in the conference hall for decision-making. Committee member’s election requires a high bar. I failed for one vote, which may be a bit bitter and not very pleasant, but the more important issues had been passed by the Parliament which but for the absence of a quorum, or for other reasons, happened to fail for the first time.
As for being in the conference hall, as the hearing has already been held and the issue was discussed during the session, there was not a great need for our presence, so it was not our choice, all three candidates left for Tbilisi.
Do you think that your appointment was influenced by the factor that your brother Zurab Abashidze is the Georgian Prime Minister's Special Representative for Relations with Russia?
Zurab Abashidze’s factor exists in my life for up to 54 years. I have never faced a hindrance because of this factor if I happen to, I will let you know immediately. Zurab Abashidze was a factor even when I was the chairman of the Commission for the first, and at the time also when I worked as a spokesperson of the President, and even when I was an active journalist. To be honest, today Zurab Abashidze does not seem to me to have a profound effect on national institutions, but I confirm that it is still a factor in my life.
You worked in the Silknet JSC the activities of which are the subject to regulation by the Commission. Do you still have any connection with this company?
I was the chairman of the bid committee and the head of Operators Relations Department. I am not a partner of Silknet JSC or a shareholder; correspondingly, I had no legal obstacles to participate in voting for membership of the Commission, nor have I now or had any before.
As you already mentioned before, you had been watching the activities of the Commission even before. What are the major flaws to correct what you saw during this time and what you want to correct today?
Much is said about it. After all, there are some considerations for companies working in the field, in the Parliamentary Investigative Commission's Report also, so I don’t want to repeat it and don’t want to be subjective. The most important thing is that from the standpoint of technical, technological development, or any other aspect of the telecommunications market, Georgia’s telecommunications market lags behind other countries in the region, while many years ago, like 6-7 years ago, the growth level of the market was not only ahead of other countries in the region, but it was also - one of successful countries’ of Eastern Europe. I think that it is a very serious problem and it must be addressed very quickly. Introduction and development of new technologies is an integral part of the country's economic policy.
How do you see the role of the Commission in solution of these problems?
Some changes should be made as quickly as possible to the legislation, which will allow us to quickly resolve the possibility of introducing new technologies for the companies.
If to go back the problems of the Commission, the complaints from the public have always existed and the investigating committee conclusion also says that the Commission members were not independent and that the regulatory authority has always been politically influenced. What is the situation today in this regard, can you say that the Commission is free of such influences today?
The point probably is not a political impact, since the state policy defines the countries directions and the Commission also runs this policy.
If you mean the impact of private politicians, and political forces - it is - one of the main problems that must be stopped. The independence of the Commission is supported by the legislative base, it is financially independent, not tied to the state budget, accordingly to the government as well, or any other structure, the Commission member is not a person designated by the Commission, the member is elected by the Parliament after being nominated by the President and approved by the Prime Minister. The Commission therefore has the full ability to be independent in its judgments. Prevention of such influence is its function and responsibility.
If you get well aware of it, the avoidance of a political impact can absolutely be a real thing. If people don’t realize it, and their beliefs don’t conform to these principles, the exclusion of an influence is perhaps, impossible.
In this regard, what is the situation in the Commission? It has been more than a month that you are a member of the Commission.
A very good indicator of a political influence existence or absence can be the decisions, which will be taken by the Commission or any member – as to how much correctly, objectively reasonable and matching with the interests of the telecommunications market and the overall country will the decisions be that will be taken.
When you were elected the chairman in your first comment you stated that you begin the structural reorganization. What kind of reorganization do you plan, what should be changed?
The reorganization will not only refer to the structure, but the whole work of the Commission and the telecommunications sector.
The telecommunications sector is unified, which means that here on a global level work the harmonized successful international systems, models, formulas. It is very difficult to invent a bike in this area, moreover in Georgia. We don’t intend to. In compliance with the development level we shall select the successful model of the structure.
Do you think that the current structure is not compatible with the structures existing in European countries?
Commission as a whole may be used functionally, but as noted above the structure needs to be improved. For example, we have to think over whether the post regulations service should there be. Due to the current discussions and a draft regulation the post regulating service may be added to the Commission features. We also have to decide the issue of the necessity of strengthening the technical direction, including standards and certification issues and etc.
Are the personnel changes also planned? In 2013 -2014, the Commission has received 30 new employees, is one more staff increase or decrease still expected?
After the formation of the structure the regulations will have to be changed as well. We will decide which way to go. Stuff reduction is possible, though the emergence of new departments or agencies is possible also, were the number of employees required will be determined. New staff recruitment must be done only through competition, as defined in the legislation. As to when the changes will be implemented, we are unable to tell you a specific time frame; we have started to work on it.
In connection with the Internet the Investigation Commission recommends to the National Communications to regulate this market effectively. The discussion was on the internet quality as to how well do the terms of the agreement concluded with the customer comply with the reality. What is happening in this regard, and what plans do you have?
For the quality research, as far as I know, the international company was invited that has failed to meet the set requirements. Therefore, in the near future we will decide whom to invite. There are two sides, one - the definition of quality of the Internet, its speed, and the second – the relationship between companies and consumers which needs to be settled, which means that the two tasks need to be solved - the legal and qualitative. The selected company will help us to solve the first part.
Do you believe that there are problems are in both parts?
There are problems perhaps in the contractual relationships between customers and companies. As to how agreed and understood it is by both sides of the contractual conditions, it needs to be defined. Second, regarding my experience, I cannot say that the quality of the Internet in Georgia is lower than say Italy.
It is clear that in those countries where optical networks almost fully cover the country area, the average internet quality will be much better than in Georgia. The start point in this case is also the promotion of the development of the Internet by using the modern technologies in the country, only in this way we can achieve quality improvements and just in such case those wishes will be fulfilled which we have.