The Anti-Corruption Agency of the MIA does not respond effectively to alleged violations in asset declarations of public officials
On May 5, Transparency International Georgia released a blog post entitled Georgia’s governors: biographies and assets in which it was noted that two current governors had filled out their asset declarations incompletely, while one of them was also unlawfully involved in entrepreneurial activity. The blog post dealt with the governors of Kvemo Kartli and Imereti, one of whom failed to indicate his business stake in his declaration and another omitted stake of his family members, which, in our assessment, constitutes a violation of the Law on Public Service. Additionally, the Governor of Imereti still retains the director’s position in an enterprise in which he owns stake, which, we believe, is a violation of the Law on Conflict of Interest and Corruption in Public Service.
As was the case in the past, no investigative agency responded to our blog post. For this reason, we decided to approach the Anti-Corruption Agency of the Ministry of Internal Affairs whose Regulations (Paragraphs (a) and (b), Article 3) indicate that the Agency’s objectives include:
“Combating white-collar, corruption-related crime and investigating criminal cases within its competence; taking measures to prevent, disclose, and eliminate conflict of interest and corruption.”
In order to determine whether the competence of the Agency included response to this and similar instances and what measures were to be taken in such a case, Transparency International Georgia sent an information request to the Anti-Corruption Agency of the MIA on May 7, 2015. In this letter, we also asked the MIA to provide statistics of response to similar cases in the past years.
Despite the fact that our study and the letter to the MIA dealt with the Laws on Public Service and on Conflict of Interest and Corruption in Public Service, the letter we received from the Agency only talks about an act envisaged by Article 355 of the Criminal Code of Georgia – intentional failure to provide information. As the Anti-Corruption Agency explains, in the cases we had referred to, instances of incomplete or incorrect entry of data in an asset declaration were not confirmed. As for the statistics, according to the MIA, the Anti-Corruption Agency has not launched an investigation under Article 355 of the Criminal Code.
We believe that the present case reveals several important problems with the system of asset declarations in Georgia.
1. There is no organisation responsible for enforcement of the laws
As the MIA explains, they approached the Civil Service Bureau in connection with the facts indicated in our study and, accordingly, in our letter, and they concluded that there had been no violation of Article 355 of the Criminal Code on the basis of information provided by this agency. However, the study by Transparency International Georgia refers to violations of the requirements of the Laws on Civil Service and on Conflict of Interest and Corruption in Civil Service. From the MIA’s reply, we have concluded that the Anti-Corruption Agency of the MIA does not consider itself obliged to respond to such violations. Accordingly, it is unknown which organisation is obliged to ensure the enforcement of the aforementioned laws and to respond appropriately to their violation in this case.
2. It is necessary to pay more attention to alleged violations in asset declarations
Against the background where there were grounds for launching an investigation at least on the basis of the facts indicated in our various studies (see Akhmeta deputy governor’s wife illegally registered land; Undeclared property of MPs representing Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Municipalities; Non-declared property of local self-government officials; Undisclosed business activities of members of Georgian Parliament; etc.), the MIA’s reply which says that no investigation has been launched under Article 355 indicates the necessity of a monitoring system of asset declarations and of mechanisms for responding to revealed violations.
3. It is necessary to create a system of verification of asset declarations in a timely manner
The information that was indicated incompletely in the governors’ asset declarations has not been corrected. As the Civil Service Bureau explained to Transparency International Georgia a few months ago in connection with a similar case, the law does not oblige the Bureau to do so, and, accordingly, making changes to asset declarations is also technically impossible. The aforementioned deficiency also confirms the necessity to improve the system of asset declarations and to create a mechanism for its monitoring in a timely manner. Creating a system of verification of asset declarations is an obligation that Georgia has taken in several formats (the Association Agenda, the Action Plan of Open Government Partnership (OGP)), and the present case points to the importance of its timely and effective fulfillment.
Transparency International Georgia regards creating an independent anti-corruption body (which would also perform the function of verification of asset declarations, have the authority to impose sanctions on public officials, etc.) as the best way to eliminate the aforementioned deficiencies. Creating such a body is envisaged in the package of legislative changes that we submitted to the Parliament, but the legislative body has not yet discussed it. We express hope that the deficiencies in the existing system of declarations will convince the legislators into the necessity of supporting our proposal.