The Georgian National Integrity System is characterised by the dominance of the executive branch and the relative weakness of other key institutions.
Note: The final scores presented in the graph reflect the overall performance of the institutions and are based on average scores for three dimensions: capacity (resources, independence), governance (transparency, accountability, integrity) and role (pillar-specific).
The executive branch and the law enforcement agencies are particularly strong compared with others, especially in terms of their capacity and their role in fighting corruption. They rank in the middle of the pack on the internal governance indicators (transparency, accountability and integrity). While strength in any area is a positive sign, the comparative weakness of other pillars warrants particular attention. Shortcomings in the legislature’s and the judiciary’s independence and ability to oversee the executive suggest critical deficiencies in the system of checks and balances. This is particularly worrying since the non-state pillars that are supposed to serve as watchdogs – the media, political parties and civil society – are among the weakest institutions in the integrity system. As a result, the potential for abuse of entrusted power remains a concern.
Country and Corruption Background
The government that came to power in Georgia after the 2003 Rose Revolution implemented a number of reforms that successfully tackled the widespread corruption of the time. A combination of law-enforcement measures, increases in funding of many public agencies, and reduction of bureaucratic red tape led to a virtual eradication of corruption at the lower levels of public administration. At the same time, the concentration of power at the top tier of the executive branch and the weak system of checks and balances creates possibilities for abuse and raises concerns about the commitment to the rule of law.
Since these early changes, the government’s anti-corruption efforts have been characterized by a continuous process of reform of the legal framework. A number of anti-corruption laws have been adopted and/or amended since 2004, including regulations on conflict of interest and disclosure of assets. New laws on public procurement, the supreme audit institution and internal audit units were introduced in 2005-2010. At the same time, the implementation of these newer legal amendments is not complete. This is either due to a lack of political will or a lack of robust implementation mechanisms.
The early anti-corruption efforts were implemented without a single policy framework or a dedicated anti-corruption body. The first anti-corruption strategy was developed in 2005-2006. In late 2009, the president established the Interagency Coordinating Council for Combating Corruption and tasked it to produce a new anti-corruption strategy and action plan (both documents were adopted in 2010).
The executive branch and the law enforcement agencies are the strongest institutions of the Georgian National Integrity System. These bodies are well-resourced and generally fulfill their respective roles with the NIS (including public sector management, anti-corruption reform and corruption prosecution) properly. At the same time, the accountability of these institutions is not achieved in practice due to the relative shortcomings of other institutions.
The weaknesses of legislature and the judiciary are particularly notable vis-a-vis the executive branch. Like the majority of Georgia’s government agencies, parliament and the judiciary receive sufficient funding from the budget and have implemented a number of positive changes both in terms of law and practice. However, they still lack independence and are incapable of effectively fulfilling their important role of executive branch oversight. This undermines the entire setup of checks and balances in the country’s governance system.
Public administration has undergone radical reform since 2004, resulting in notable improvements in many public services and virtual elimination of bribery. At the same time, the government has failed to develop an overall strategy of public administration reform, which has lead to an uneven application of many legal provisions across the sector. While some agencies have implemented impressive measures in the fields of transparency and accountability, others are yet to do so. The government’s approach prioritizes flexibility in human resources management over the independence of civil servants. As a result, changes in the political leadership of government agencies often lead to major overhaul of staff, thereby abetting an institutional culture that rewards loyalty rather than professionalism.
The Chamber of Control (the supreme audit institution) has seen considerable improvements since 2008, both in terms of legal framework and practice. However, questions remain as to whether the chamber already has sufficient capacity to conduct all types of audits effectively.
The Public Defender (ombudsman) is a strong and independent institution that has been largely successful in detecting violations of human rights. At the same time, the Public Defender faces some problems in terms of resources and other government bodies do not always assist its inquiries or act upon its recommendations.
Georgia does not have a functioning multi-party system. The ruling United National Movement won an overwhelming majority in the last two parliamentary elections and presently controls around 80 percent of seats in the legislature, while also dominating all other government bodies both centrally and locally. Other political parties play no meaningful role in decision-making at any level. Given the lack of democratic decision-making in Georgian parties, including the ruling party, this means that almost entire political power is concentrated in the hands of the president and several key members of his team. The weakness of political parties is the result of both their internal flaws (such as their inability to build a broad support base or to aggregate social interests), as well as the lack of a level playing field, especially with regard to financing and media access. Since there is no clear separation between the ruling party and the public administration in practice, the former essentially enjoys unhindered access to administrative resources during elections.
The electoral management body has improved its work in recent years but has still failed to handle some aspects of the electoral process properly. These include vote count and tabulation, as well as the processing of election-related complaints and appeals. It also lacks adequate legal powers to monitor and regulate campaign finance.
The external watchdogs – the media and the civil society – are also underperforming at present. A lack of resources and the absence of a pluralistic governance system in Georgia have reduced civil society’s ability to hold the government accountable and to contribute to policy formulation through advocacy. The civil society’s legitimacy is also undermined by its lack of a broad social base (itself the result of the post-soviet experience and low levels of civic engagement more generally). Most of the mainstream media, meanwhile, suffers from a lack of editorial independence and is thus incapable of informing the public on policy issues in an unbiased manner.
Business and civil society rarely collaborate to tackle issues of mutual interest (including corruption). Georgia’s business entities benefit from a very favourable legal framework but do not enjoy sufficient protection in practice because of the lack of an independent judiciary and heavy-handedness tax authorities. Nor have they implemented any notable integrity-related measures.
Overall, considerable gaps between law and practice are an evident feature of the Georgian NIS. All pillars scored higher in law than in practice and the difference was very substantial in the majority of pillars. This kind of discrepancy is particularly notable in terms of the independence of public institutions. The majority of governmental pillars received a high score for this indicator in law but almost all of them scored 50 or lower for independence in practice. The analysis also showed that, while Georgia has very progressive legislation in the fields of political parties, media and business, these are not always implemented effectively.
Only the executive branch and the law enforcement agencies currently perform their role within the National Integrity System adequately. All other government institutions scored 50 or lower for role, while all non-governmental pillars received a low score of 25 for this dimension. The role dimension is particularly important because it shows how individual institutions are performing their specific tasks within the National Integrity System. The fact that only two of Georgia’s 12 NIS pillars scored higher than 50 in role is a sign of serious weaknesses in the system.
Some of the pillars’ weaknesses are linked to the socio-political and socio-economic foundations of the Georgian National Integrity System.
For example, the political system is exclusive and driven by elites. The weak link between the political class and society at large undermines the strength of political parties and contributes to a general lack of pluralism in governance structures. The low level of citizen activism and participation also weakens political parties, while simultaneously hampering the development of a strong and effective civil society that is able to hold the government accountable.
The Georgian economy remains weak despite high growth in 2004-2007. Poverty and unemployment figures remain high. The weak economy has implications for a number of NIS pillars. For example, it means that there is a small advertising market for the media. As a result, the largest media entities (TV stations with a nationwide audience) have to rely on politically-motivated financial injections to stay afloat, with obvious implications for their independence. The weak economy also limits fundraising opportunities for civil society and political parties.
While the reform of the executive branch and the law enforcement agencies has helped reduce or even eliminate certain types of corruption since 2004, strengthening of other institutions – most importantly the legislature and the judiciary – is necessary in order to ensure integrity throughout the governance system. The weaknesses of non-governmental pillars must also be overcome in order to attain this goal.
The lack of a functioning multi-party system is a major flaw of the Georgian NIS. It reduces the independence of parliament and thus undermines any system of checks and balances. Changes that would ensure better representation of diverse political and societal interests in various governance institutions are required. Addressing the imbalances of the electoral system and ensuring a level playing field in elections would be good initial steps in this direction.
It is also extremely important to ensure that the existing anti-corruption laws (including the legal provisions on conflict of interest, asset disclosure, etc.) are applied thoroughly and consistently in practice and cover all important public agencies and officials. The internal audit units that were established in public agencies under a 2010 law have the legal responsibility to enforce some anti-corruption provisions, but it is not clear whether they currently have the capacity or authority to do so. The government must work to enhance both the resources and the independence of these institutions.