Holding a degree in political science, Mr. McGoldrick spent the last 10-15 years working on emergencies and disasters across the world in Pakistan, Lebanon, South East Asia after the Tsunami, and on the Bam Earthquake in Iran. Then he moved to development and has worked with international organizations in many other places in Africa and Asia.
Since January this year he has been in Georgia. Georgia Today interviewed Mr. McGoldrick as part of UN day on October 24 to ask about UN-Georgia relations and his impressions of developments in the country.
Q: There are a large number of United Nations agencies working in Georgia. Can you give us a broad overview of your key projects? Have the organization’s expenditures been equal to its achievements?
A: The UN has been working in Georgia from the early 1990s; Twelve UN agencies are now working here and all are here doing their part according to their mandate. I think it is clear that the UN has been very supportive of the government of Georgia which has undertaken economic reform and democratic reform [in close cooperation with our agencies]. We all see progress… different degrees of progress. We have made a big investment and that investment has started to bear fruits.
If you look at the economic development of the country, I think the international community including UNDP (United Nations Development Program) has been very supportive in this area. We can all look at the general quality of the legislation [which takes into account] the nine development goals which work to address problematic systemic issues, bring more people out of poverty and develop institutions capable of sustainable development. So we are quite happy.
Now the UN family is waiting for a five-year program which starts from January next year, it is a new assistance framework in conjunction with the government – it envisions collaboration with the various line Ministries and with the Prime Minister’s office, on environment, energy and poverty reduction issues, as well as on democratic reforms. These are priority areas and the UN will work with different parts of the government to achieve results there. It is a 180 million dollar program and more money will come on special projects as well.
I think the cooperation we already have with the Government of Georgia has been very fruitful in terms of gender issues, healthcare reform, education reform, reform in the judicial system, reform in other government structures, in the penitentiary system, and in terms of vocational education. We have done much to develop micro credit – giving people a chance to be able to sustain themselves. We’ve been able to do much in rural areas for regional development in order to develop communities on a local scale. Look at job creation, look at environmental issues, be it IDPs, vulnerable or minority groups, or people in some remote areas, I think development has not reached out there and we are very much keen to ensure we get there. I think the results speak for themselves. As for what remains to be done, I think that’s why we are here to assist the Government of Georgia.
Q: Despite much efforts having been spent on the creation of democratic and transparent governance, the UN E-Government Survey 2010 puts Georgia in a remote 100th place. How do you feel about this?
A: I think there is recognition that progress has been made and there are some areas where more progress is needed, we can collaborate on this to improve [Georgia’s] position. This is a very young government. It has very young individuals. Some of whom do not have lots of experience, but what they have got is energy and impatience for change and here we can work together very closely. We can bring information, we can bring expertise. What is most important is to keep the reforms going and maintain the progress [that has been made].
Q: International and local watchdog organizations point to media freedom as a cause of concern. For instance, according to a recent survey by Reporters Without Borders, Georgia is ranked 99th in the world in terms of press freedom, down from 81st place from last year. Where do you get your information about the country whilst you’re here and how do you think this situation can be improved?
A: As I do not read and understand Georgian I do not watch TV and read [Georgian language] newspapers. But there are English newspapers and English versions of various magazines. As I monitor the media environment and have conversations with media people – editors and other people involved in the media, I can say that like other things this is a young and maturing media [environment] you have here. Some Georgian media is polarized and the objectivity issue has to be addressed. People are aware of this and people want to change this.
We have to work with editors, we have to work with journalists and people who own newspapers, and with the government as well to make sure that we all understand this is what we all are aiming towards. Media is a measure of progress towards democratic development and everybody understands that. In any countries, be it the UK or others, there are good journalists and bad journalists, ones who take sides and ones that do not. In many areas I think we see progress – maybe not as quickly as we would like to see, but anyway it happens. For example, during the May [local government] elections, there was a media monitoring project, while we monitored, we all could observe various TV companies election coverage. It showed that things can improve - changes took place and corrections took place during that period. But of course, we want to see long-term progress with media culture being more modern, much more dynamic, and people really benefiting from reading a newspaper, watching TV, listening to radio and so on.
Q: Territorial integrity and the return of internally displaced persons is Georgia’s number one domestic challenge. The UN has passed a resolution on the return of IDPs from Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What is the importance of this document and what do you feel can be achieved here?
A: I think documents and words are not as important as actions. Documents are indication that a concern exists and an action has to take place to address that concern. One of the reasons why the UN, international NGOs, and the Red Cross are here is to help people who require assistance. IDPs who fled their homes and other vulnerable groups need immediate humanitarian assistance. So my point of view is - having a document or a resolution is just a legitimization of that, but it does not necessarily help the individuals. IDPs do not necessarily feel better because there is a Security Council Resolution for them. We, together with the government of Georgia, try to make sure that people who require assistance receive assistance.
Q: A number of international surveys and polls have recognized Georgia’s achievements in pushing though economic reform, including a successful fight against corruption. Are you also optimistic?
A: Those who have been here for many years say things have improved dramatically. There are much more opportunities, life in Tbilisi is much more vibrant, much more predictable. At the same time we may also recognize that the market does not always take care of everything. The market is a very strong driver for progress but some people who have limited access to markets do not necessarily feel the benefits. Poverty reduction is required. So we should work closely with the government to ensure that people who do not have sufficient social safety nets are getting assistance – the vulnerable population, minority groups, and the elderly, all whom need extra support.
Q: Georgia aspires to become part of the European Union while at the same time the Georgian government looks at Asian countries like Singapore, for instance, for inspiration. There is much debate over where Georgia really wants to go. Do you think things will become complicated in the long term as a result of such a policy?
A: I think this country has real aspirations, and any country has to have a vision of where it wants to be in five years, ten years. Georgia as a new democratic country is in its embryonic stages, and we can sense real energy here. There is impatience in the government who want to achieve progress on different levels and I think this has to be commended. The President and members of the government have strongly [expressed their wish] to be like Singapore, be part of EU, part of NATO. These are things that we should admire in any country - I mean not standing and waiting for something to happen but driving themselves. That’s where the international community is quite pleased, helping the country to realize its aspirations.
Q: What is your viewpoint on Georgia’s performance on the foreign policy front?
A: Thanks to Georgia’s aspiration to be part of Europe, part of NATO, to have economic development and prosperity like Singapore or Dubai, or to have economic progress in certain areas such as in the region of Adjara, all these are part of an ambition. I think on the foreign policy front it is the same. This government is very energetic, placing itself as a credible partner for gas transit and energy transit in the region. It is developing policies with its neighbors that are aimed at longer term development – some of the Black Sea initiatives and other economic initiatives are linked with the foreign policy agenda.
Q: Do you live here with your family? How would you describe your stay in Georgia?
A: This is my first time in Georgia and I really enjoy my time here – I enjoy my work, the places I have visited and the people I have met. Everybody I interact with is likeminded, they all want progress, and they all want more development. I have a wife Claudia, and two children here – Maura and Ciara, 10 and 7 respectively. My daughters have classes in Georgian and when we go out they help me to buy things in shops, which is great. We traveled to Kobuleti and Batumi, to Kakheti and to various places and they are really nice. We really enjoyed those places and we have a great time in Tbilisi. I enjoy sports a lot - football, rugby, I’ve watched Georgians playing football a number of times. So I am very comfortable here. It has been good for the last ten months, I have no complaints at all.