Two Motherlands of Grigol Katamadze

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Інтерв'ю з Гріголом Катамадзе

…It all began in distant 1979.

Then I did not know that after my joining the student cohort of Kiev State University named after Taras Shevchenko, I would fall in love with Ukraine forever, and I will stay in this holy land for decades. I became a student at KSU, Department of International Law and International Relations. Later, after graduation, I defended my thesis and received the title of Candidate of Juridical Sciences. Education, somehow, defined my professional focus. From engineer to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, from the Head of the Educational Office to the Deputy Minister of Defense of Georgia, ranks of Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador.

And now the President of Taxpayers Association of Ukraine …

Yes. The Head of the public organization. And a member of the Board of Bohdan Stupka’s Fund and the board of directors of Foreign Policy Association of Ukraine. I was pushed to the decision to become the Head of Taxpayers Association of Ukraine by my friends – former fellow students who have long been in Ukrainian politics, some of them in power.

Did the fact that Valentina Arbuzova – the mother of Serhiy Arbuzov – previously took care of the Association restrain you?

Of course, there were difficulties. There was a “slightly stained” reputation. But I am not used to ignore the past, praise or blame predecessors. It is because of this loyal position, feature of mine, if you want, I always managed to maintain friendly, companionable relations with many politicians and businessmen … Irrespective of whether they are in authority or in opposition. Taxpayers Association of Ukraine has more than 7,000 small entrepreneurs and large taxpayers, enterprises and banks. This is extensive network of regional organizations. And for me – great responsibility!

Is it not sad after a successful diplomatic career?

No. I am Georgian, but I have Ukrainian heart. When my native Georgia needed my strength and experience I was side by side with my homeland. When it was time to help Ukraine – my second homeland – I’m next to it. I love Ukraine very much and believe in Ukrainian people. Immediately after the events on the Maidan, after the annexation of the Crimea and the beginning of the war in Donbas we have not sunk into despair. On the contrary, we began to act, reviving our centers of civic organization in Luhansk region, held meetings and conferences. Tried hard to meet the demands of society. The changes, required by the country, appeared long ago and only lazy and blind did not realize this. Someone fundamentally opposed to upgrading the living standards of ordinary people, European integration of the community. These changes were painful for officials because everybody was “satisfied”.

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– By the way, the Taxpayers Association of Ukraine proposes to recognize the declared income of individuals as legal. Is it fair?

You know … Of course it is not fair. But “to pick up everything and distribute everything” probably is also not deliberate, not wise. Taxpayers Association of Ukraine proposes since 1st January 2018 to recognize declared income and property of an individual as being obtained without violation of the applicable law by voluntarily declaring them for 6 months from the date of entry into force of the new liberal Tax Code of Ukraine. Without a liberal approach to the declarants of large and extra-large fortune, movable and immovable property, collapse may occur. Hence, all our efforts and expectations of tax reform, de-shadowing of capital will have no sense. So did other countries. Therefore, we must make a choice: tax reform or chaos? In addition, you should immediately organize financial control in Ukraine. We must unite economic units of the Security Service, Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Tax Police Service into the Service of financial investigations, which must be focused on analytical work and investigations.

– It is difficult to understand this configuration. Is it not enough of already existing structures: National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, NAZK, CAP? ..

They all perform specific functions without overlapping. Service of financial investigations should focus only on the analysis and investigation.

– Fine. A bit of personal: how did your family accept the call of Ukraine regarding your candidacy as the Head of Taxpayers Association of Ukraine?

Frankly, we thought collectively, but it was me who took the decision. I have an international family. My son was born in Georgia, my daughter – in Ukraine. So interstate border does not exist for me. I am forever grateful to my wife for understanding and patience. For raising children and for putting the economic burden onto her woman’s shoulders, giving me the opportunity, as man, government official to implement my ambitious plans, to fulfill the potential in this life. All my achievements, titles, honors and awards I only owe to such a strong rearward.

– Returning to the problems of the Association … Which significant progress has been achieved during your leadership?

I will say this: Ukraine is not Georgia, either geographically or mentally. But the problems are the same. For example, the tax legislation of Georgia, after radical reforming, sacking a large number of officials, clerks, was very convenient, simple and transparent. Ambiguities and cracks were missing for corruption in the Tax Code. And the essence of legislative language has become clearer to every citizen, even uneducated. Instead, the Ukrainian legislation, especially the tax one is a dark forest and a trap for businesses, especially small and medium. All entrepreneurs complain about the imperfections and confusion, about the inter-line content of tax articles, about exsanguinating and not optimizing business activities and so on. What I can boast of now? Perhaps there are still too many unresolved issues, but there are positive developments too. Most importantly, we have been heard and listened by legislators. Committees of the Supreme Council and the Commission of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine began to examine the problems of the business environment carefully, considering the gaps and wishes. Because the current Tax Code should not contain different interpretations or blurred thoughts anymore. These are the rules and regulations, which should live and operate businesses. Not to hide, not to look for misleading, not to survive, but, following the rules, to work confidently and successfully, building economic muscles. In all developed countries a healthy business climate – is the key to prosperity and confidence in the next day. Only under these conditions any “virus” such as corruption, bureaucracy, lobbying will have no signs of illness or death relapse.

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– Interesting and accurate comparison. You reflect like a specialized diplomat, but with concern of an entrepreneur. Do you have your own business?

Yes. Although initially it was difficult to call it the business. My friends – businessmen and I registered a company in Georgia to provide corporate travel services and tourism. Once, this business was not known and had no development. So we undertook this … established contacts and began taking tourists to Georgia to get people acquainted with the culture, customs, cuisine …

Initially, these were small groups from ten to forty people. Later – more than a few hundred. There were vacations, business contacts, business lunches. There were also meetings at a high level, even with the President of Georgia. I would like to note that in addition to the business, we are pursuing the same goal – acquainting. In particular, this applies to Ukrainian corporate groups. We drove Ukrainian businessmen everywhere and showed the results of our reforms, made presentations, spoke and showed visually how the new institutions, houses of justice, service centers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Tax Service worked. We made parallels and analogies with possible reforms in Ukraine. Many of those who participated in our corporate trips, later became Ukrainian officials, associates-reformists, proponents of new thinking. In general, Ukraine – among other former Soviet and European countries – has the exclusive right to be successful, and Ukrainians to be wealthy and happy.

– Do you think so?

Of course. I am sure! Everything is just beginning for Ukraine. And everybody will feel the positive changes already in 2017 year. This is not prophecy. It is an objective reality.

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– What about the war?

Even the war cannot stop the wheel of history. Conversely, when a person is in a difficult situation, getting into a deadlock, they begin to think. When Russia began military invasion of my native Georgia, the nation consolidated. While some people defended the borders, others put reforms into practice, integrated into the European community.

– Mister Grigol Shalvovych, if we already touched this topic too, tell us, as a person with diplomatic experience, whether Ukraine goes the right way in the international negotiations?

I’m not used to assess my colleagues, but I will note that in addition to the Army constraining factor against aggressors, always, at all times the role of diplomacy was prominent. Modern Ukrainian diplomats – these are not only British people in tuxedos with purple butterflies. This dress code is rather a convention and tribute to tradition, respect for the rules of international etiquette. Diplomats in the country where there are armed hostilities – these are laborers. They have an extremely responsible mission. Remember the saying: “When the diplomats are talking–the guns are silent”.

– I remember. But I know another one – “When the guns are talking, the muses are silent.” Because behind each death – life, destiny, family, children…

Of course. War – is a tragedy. And no man can be spoken about indifferently. But those who are in the trenches have not chosen the time – the time chose them. Honor and glory to them! Respect and eternal memory! But I will add, stating categorically, – if not for pragmatic, verified politics of Ukrainian diplomacy – Ukraine could be a rogue country. But another country became the outcast with marginal face… and we know its name. Instead, in Ukraine there are reforms, visa-free issue comes to a logical conclusion, the international tranches are given, the investment climate is improving. Of course, it is not possible to bring order to multimillion country so quickly, to satisfy everybody and each person separately at the same time. Ukraine suffered centuries of injustice, invasions, destruction. But it as Phoenix revived, mounted to its feet and began a new rise to the sun. I believe in Ukraine; I believe in Georgia – my two indivisible motherlands.

– Are you a happy person?

– Probably (smiles – Ed.). A man is born free, and I’m happy to be free in my thinking and actions.

– Thank you for the interesting conversation.

– Same to you. It is not difficult for me to be honest and sincere