A 3-month vacation: when the chair of the broadcasting regulator does not show up to work
Irakli Chikovani, the chairman of Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC), which oversees and regulates the telecommunication and broadcasting sectors, has not been in office since November 6 2012. Chikovani is reportedly on a three-month vacation and is expected back in the office only on February 15.
Chikovani is one of the highest paid officials in the country, with a monthly remuneration of GEL 18,000 per month – in addition he had an income of GEL 1,413,922 from private sector activities in 2011 – and earns significantly more than the President or members of the government.
Chikovani’s absence seems to affect the GNCC’s ability to act and make policy decisions, as the regulator is currently involved several policy processes, most importantly preparations and discussions on the switchover of digital terrestrial television.
The Law on Broadcasting provides commissioners of the GNCC with a high level of immunity and independence in order to protect them from outside political pressure. For instance commissioners can only be arrested if Parliament consents – or if a commissioner is detained in flagrante delicto – while committing a crime. Even in case of such an arrest, Parliament has to be immediately informed which has to approve the arrest.
The President can only dismiss a commissioner if a guilty verdict against that person comes into force that involves a jail sentence, or if a commissioner is declared to be insane, dies or resigns him/herself.
Candidates for the GNCC’s commission, which consists of five members, are shortlisted by the President, nominated by Parliament with a simply majority, and then appointed by the President for a 6-year term. The President then appoints one of the commissioners to be chairperson.
A third of the listed Members of Parliament can initiate the procedure to dismiss a commissioner if he/she faces a conflict of interest or if he/she fails to fulfil his or her duties for two consecutive months without reasonable excuse.
If MPs initiate the dismissal of a commissioner, they need to formulate concrete charges and provide documentation to prove their allegations. After the opening of the procedure, the majority of listed Parliamentarians needs to put the issue on the Parliament’s agenda within 30 days, and then has another 30 days to vote on dismissing the commissioner, for which a three-fifths majority of listed members is necessary. There are currently 147 listed members of the Parliament (three of the 150 elected MPs joined the government and have not been replaced yet). To approve the dismissal of a commissioner, the Parliament would thus need 83 votes.
If Parliament fails to get the necessary majority in time, the dismissal procedure is closed and cannot be reopened on the same accusations at a later point. A commissioner can appeal his dismissal in court. The President can only decree the dismissal of a commissioner after the Parliament’s approval and after a final court ruling on a possible appeal by the commissioner.
Chikovani, a former director and shareholder of the largest private TV station, Rustavi 2, was appointed chairman of the GNCC in 2009 and has been a controversial figure.
Even though the commission has professional and highly qualified staff, and in the past year has made efforts to become more open and transparent in its interactions with stakeholders, Transparency International Georgia and other organizations have highlighted Chikovani’s perceived conflict of interest arising from his private-sector activities. A secretly recorded conversation between Irakli Chikovani and a representative of the cable and internet service provider Caucasus Online, aired by Maestro TV in November, fueled discussions about a perceived selective application of regulation by the commission.
A close business partner of Chikovani is Giorgi Gegeshidze, a shareholder and former director of Rustavi 2, the country’s largest private broadcaster. Together with Gegeshidze, Chikovani also co-owns Magi Style Media, an advertising agency that, among other services, offers outdoor advertising, broadcast design and the production of TV ads. Their jointly owned construction company Magi Style was involved in the construction of the new Parliament building in Kutaisi, a project that ended up being costing almost twice as much as originally projected.
We recommend the Parliament to follow the developments in the GNCC and to establish whether the chair of the Commission know whether intends to continue working in his current position, and what the reasons for his long absence are.
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