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On 10 September 2014, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, visited Okatse Canyon located in the village of Gordi in the Municipality of Khoni where he attended the opening of the Visitor Centre.

“This project was announced before, but after our government assumed office, we renewed it and began the construction work. This canyon is absolutely unique and we should be proud of that. This is a very important tourist attraction for the development of this municipality. It will create additional jobs and up to 80 people will be directly or indirectly employed after developing this canyon and finishing the construction of the Centre,” said Mr Gharibashvili. The Parliamentary Minority MP, Goga Khachidze, commented on the Prime Minister’s statement on his Facebook page stating that the idea of the Okatse Canyon project belonged to the United National Movement; they held the tender and finished 50% of the construction work during their time in office.

FactCheck took interest in these facts and verified their accuracy.

Okatse Canyon is a cascade of three-step waterfalls falling from the eastern cliff of the Askhi limestone massif, located in the valley of the River Satsiskvilo. The height of the first waterfall is 25 meters whilst the height of the second one is 70 meters. After the stream joins the River Satsiskvilo, it creates a third, 35 meter-high step of the cascade. Okatse Canyon includes a path hanging on a cliff, a footpath, an orangery by an Italian designer and the Dadiani swimming place.

We found information about the Okatse Canyon Tourist Infrastructure Construction Project on the official website of the Agency of Protected Areas. The 2013 Report of the Agency says that the Okatse Canyon Tourist Infrastructure Construction Project was included in the 2012 annual budget. The amount of money allocated for this project was equal to GEL 4 million. The report also says that the Okatse Canyon Tourist Infrastructure Construction Project work was being conducted throughout 2013 which, due to several reasons, could not be finished on time. The issue was discussed by the Government Commission on the Problems Connected with the Implementation of Infrastructural Projects which recommended prolonging the construction period to 1 June 2014. According to the Report, the project plan includes the construction of a visitor centre, hanging paths, footpaths, checkpoints and public toilets.

On 10 July 2013 a meeting about the Okatse Canyon Tourist Infrastructure Construction Project was held at the Agency of Protected Areas where the effectiveness of the construction work was discussed. There were opposing opinions about the hanging platform and it was decided to make a small amendment to the project.

FactCheck also tried to find out when the tender for the Okatse Canyon project was announced. In order to do this, we looked into the tenders announced by the Agency of Protected Areas on the State Procurement Agency website and found that the Agency announced the tender (SPA 120015612) on the Okatse Canyon Tourist Infrastructure Construction Project on 5 June 2012. The estimated cost of the purchase was GEL 4,850,000. Zimo Ltd won the tender and a contract was signed on 12 July 2012 with 19 June 2013 determined to be the finishing date of the construction.

In order to find additional information about Okatse Canyon, FactCheck contacted the then Head of the Agency of Protected Areas, Giorgi Shonvadze. According to Mr Shonvadze, the idea of the Okatse Canyon project originated at the Agency in 2011, followed by the active work of specialists and the creation of the actual project with the necessary amount of money having already been allocated for the project in the annual budget in 2012. The tender was announced on 5 June 2012 and the winning company was determined. Zimo Ltd was to have finished the construction work by 19 June 2013; however, due to several reasons, the work could not be finished on time. Giorgi Shonvadze resigned in May 2013 and, according to him, part of the work had been finished by that time.

FactCheck requested information about the Okatse Canyon project from the Agency of Protected Areas as well. Their response letter also confirms that the construction work began in 2012. According to the contract, the construction work was to have been finished by 19 June 2013; however, this period was prolonged to 1 June 2014 at the recommendation of the Government Commission. In total, GEL 4 million was allocated for the implementation of this project, followed by an additional GEL 1 million in 2014. Of the total amount, GEL 4.85 million was assigned for the construction work whilst GEL 150,000 was aimed for the supervision of the work. The construction work on the Okatse Canyon project was finished in July 2014. It will employ a total of 13 people.

Conclusion

According to the information obtained by FactCheck and the official letter from the Agency of Protected Areas, GEL 4 million for the development of the Okatse Canyon Tourist Infrastructure Construction Project was allocated in the Agency of Protected Areas 2012 Annual Budget. An additional amount of GEL 1 million was allocated in 2014. The tender was announced on 5 June 2012. According to the contract with Zimo Ltd, the construction work was to have been finished by 19 June 2013; however, it was finished in July 2014.

In his statement the Prime Minister says that the previous government only announced the project. We found that the funding for the project was already allocated in the 2012 budget, the tender was announced on 5 June of the same year and the construction work was started before the Georgian Dream coalition assumed office. This work, however, was not able to be finished on time. The project was subject to minor corrections and the work finished in 2014. Hence, Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement: “This project was announced before, but after our government assumed office, we renewed it and began the construction work,” is MOSTLY FALSE.

FactCheck also verified the accuracy of Goga Khachidze’s statement. We found that the idea for the Okatse Canyon project originated at the Agency of Protected Areas in 2011, the funding was allocated in 2012, the tender was held on 5 June 2012 and the construction work began in July of the same year. However, it should be pointed out that 50% of the work was not finished during the office of the United National Movement. Hence, we conclude that Goga Khachidze’s statement: “The idea for the project was ours; we created the actual plan, held a tender, found the money for the implementation of the project, started the construction work and 50% of this work was finished during our office,” is MOSTLY TRUE.