Parliament Member Arveladze's initiative contradicts the goals of the Georgian anti-corruption policy and the country's international obligations
Parliament Member Revaz Arveladze proposed to Parliament two packages of draft amendments to the Law on Conflict of Interest and Corruption in Public Institutions (see Draft 1 and Draft 2) which envisage several significant changes concerning the submitting, disclosing and monitoring of public officials' asset declarations. Specifically:
- The GEL 1,000 fine will no longer be imposed by the Civil Service Bureau in the event of discovering a violation in a public official's asset declaration;
- The GEL 1,000 fine for late submission of an asset declaration will be reduced to GEL 100;
- The information about family members in a public official's asset declaration will become secret (except for his or her spouse and underage children or stepchildren).
The proposed draft amendments significantly weaken the current standard of prevention and imposing sanctions, increase the chances of the conflict of interest and diminish the possibility of exercising public control over public officials. Especially worrisome is the initiative envisaging the abolition of a fine in the event of discovering a violation in a public official's asset declaration by the Civil Service Bureau as this amendment essentially renders meaningless the system of asset declaration monitoring which was launched last year and which was the most important anti-corruption reform in recent years. It is noteworthy that ensuring efficient functioning of the monitoring system is the Georgian Government's obligation within the framework of the 2017-2010 Georgia-EU Association Agenda.
It is important to note that the system of submitting and monitoring asset declarations that is currently in operation in Georgia is recognized as international good practice and is one of the especially significant obligations among the National Action Plans of Open Government Partnership (OGP).
All of this is particularly important considering the fact that, according to statistics, some public officials are not very scrupulous about declaring their assets and income. According to the Civil Service Bureau's 2017 report, only 20 percent of the submitted declarations were properly filled out. In 2017, the total of 287 public officials' asset declarations were checked, in 224 cases (78 percent) the conclusion was negative and public officials were fined, while the assessment of the violations of seven public officials was passed on to the Prosecutor's Office.
The report of the fourth round of monitoring of Georgia by the Anti-Corruption Network of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development contains recommendations which are chiefly aimed at increasing the scope of the law and strengthening the declaration submission and monitoring system. Unfortunately, instead of the strengthening the asset declaration system, increasing the scope of declarants and toughening the sanctions by Parliament, the proposed legislative amendments considerably worsen the current standard of monitoring public officials' assets, the transparency of the system and the degree of public officials' accountability.
We believe that in the conditions when high-level corruption remains a problem in Georgian reality, it is unacceptable to relax anti-corruption legislation for public officials. In order to effectively prevent corruption risks, certain categories of information not only about public officials but also about all relevant persons linked to them must be publicly available. Reducing the scope of such persons in the law will diminish the transparency of public officials' assets and economic interests and increase the risks of unlawful enrichment and the conflict of interest.
The proposed legislative amendments will have a particularly adverse effect on Georgia's reputation as the country chairing OGP. One of the main directions of Open Government Partnership is precisely combatting corruption which will constitute a significant part of the summit planned to be held in Tbilisi in July 2018.
It is also noteworthy that, currently, the Civil Service Bureau, based on a substantiated written statement, is investigating the asset declaration of the Parliament member who proposed the legislative amendments. This circumstance makes the spirit of the proposed amendments to the Law of Georgia on the Conflict of Interest and Corruption even more obscure, especially given the fact that the explanatory notes attached to the draft laws do not contain a clear explanation of the goals of the amendments.
We call on Parliament to refrain from supporting the amendments on restricting public access to information and reducing fines for failure to submit declarations, as this initiative is a certain setback in combatting corruption which weakens the existing standard of transparency and accountability in this area. Also, the relaxation of the requirements concerning asset and economic interest declaration directly contradicts the obligations undertaken by Georgia within the framework of various international anti-corruption agreements and mechanisms and will definitely be reflected in the assessment of Georgia's anti-corruption policy made by the corresponding international organizations.
Transparency International Georgia
Institute for Development of Freedom of Information
Georgian Young Lawyers' Association