Property in Mestia, selective recognition of traditional property
As of today, the registration of land plots in Mestia presents a considerable challenge. Land plots have in fact never been legally registered in the high mountainous regions of Georgia, such as Svaneti. Traditionally, the local population has owned and transferred property based on rules of inheritance and disposed land plots as distributed (or re-distributed) based on agreements between ancestors. The grounds for legalization of ownership rights prescribed under Georgian legislation do not conform to the ownership form found in Mestia. Because of this, the registration of land ownership there is practically paralyzed. Ownership over real estate can be claimed only after registration in the public registry. Officially unregistered land is regarded as state property and can be lawfully seized from the traditional owners. Due to the proclamation of Mestia as a resort zone and interests of the investors in real estate, the Svaneti population is hurrying to register their land plots and property. They know that sooner or later their unregistered land plots may be seized. Their concerns are not groundless: approximately 150 locals were denied registration of their land due to proximity to the construction sites of two massive infrastructural projects, the Mestia airport and Hatsvali skiing complex. Some of them truly didn't have the necessary documentation to register land plots, however registration requests were also turned down for locals who had all the necessary papers. A lot of the aforementioned territory already constitutes state property. After the tourism development related construction started, several traditional owners (including those who did not have ownership papers) had their land plots registered under the (orally agreed upon) condition that they would transfer ownership to the government for a specific fee (3 GEL per square meter). However, interviewing a number of landowners in Mestia, this compensation has not yet been paid to anyone. The selection criteria for the reimbursements are unclear, so is the reason for non-applicability on all other locals. Unfortunately, in many cases, outside corporations and individuals have an easier time securing the rights to land in Mestia than local residents. The Hatsvali hotel located near the Hatsvali skiing complex is a good example. Prior to its construction, the land on which the hotel was to be built was in the lawful possession of three local residents. Although they all had their documents in order, the public registry still rejected the registration of their titles, and their land ended up in the hands the Hotel Hatsvali’s owner. According to the entrepreneurial registry database available on the Public Registry's web site, Akaki Kvitsiani is registered as the sole shareholder of Hotel Hatsvali. He is the son of Kandid (Kakha) Kvitsiani, the majoritarian member of the Georgian Parliament from Mestia. Kandid Kvitsiani, it turns out, owns 50% of ''Enguri 2006'' LLC which, pursuant to the order of the Government of Georgia, carried out the construction of the Mestia airport through negotiations with one entity. As with the Hotel Hatsvali, claims to land plots within the airport's territory have been selectively satisfied. Specifically, out of 35 registration requests, the Public Registry of Mestia approved the requests of only two people: the wife of the deputy head of the Public Registry, and of a close relative of hers. Selectively registering lands and ignoring traditional ownership intensifies the local population's feelings of injustice and further alienates the regions from the center. To fix these issues, the land registration procedures in mountainous regions should be simplified, and the local population must be given opportunities to maximally participate in decision-making on development projects, especially at the initial phase – when making a choice is still possible. Transparency International Georgia, along with three other non-governmental organizations, is part of the Coalition for Property Rights Protection, funded by Open Society Georgia Foundation. The coalition published a report on July 12, 2011, which provides detailed insight into the protection of property rights in Mestia.
*This study blog post is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Open Society Georgia Foundation(OSGF). The contents are solely the responsibility of Transparency International - Georgia and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government or OSGF.