Transparency International Georgia presents its final report on misuse of administrative resources during 2013 Presidential elections
18 December 2013 – The Parliamentary Elections in 2012 resulted in the first transfer of power through elections in Georgia. This marked significant progress in the development of the country. The 2013 Presidential elections was another test for Georgian democracy. One of main problems during the 2012 Parliamentary elections was the use of administrative resources for electoral purposes. As a rule, administrative resources have been used to benefit the ruling party. This has been seriously damaging to the electoral environment. In addition, the oppression of dissenting individuals by the state through various means has significantly violated human rights.
For this reason, the use of administrative resources for electoral purposes merits great attention. Transparency International Georgia has been studying this issue for years. On 24 October 2013 we presented an interim monitoring report on misuse of administrative resources. Now we present the final report covering the period from 1 July to 12 November 2013. The date of the Presidential elections (27 October) was officially announced on 1 July, launching the pre-election period and the final results of the elections were announced on 12 November.
The monitoring of the period from 1 July to 12 November 2013 revealed that, compared with the Parliamentary Elections in 2012, there was a considerably lower number of instances of the use of administrative resources for electoral purposes during this period. This made the pre-election period seem more calm and competitive.
1. Coercive Resources
First of all, there were no reported cases of the widespread use of coercive resources for electoral purposes during the reporting period. Undoubtedly, important progress has been made since the elections of the previous year. The coercive use of administrative resources is defined as the illegal use of state powers against political opponents, their supporters and voters, including the politically motivated detention of individuals, or the use of threats, intimidation, assault, discharge or other forms of coercion.
In this regard, a notable event took place in Kharagauli at 6.00 AM on 20 October. Davit Kapanadze, head of Regional Police Division of Kharagauli, together with ten policemen, entered the house of Nino Pkhaladze. Pkhaladze is a member of the Kharagauli election office of the United National Movement’s candidate – Davit Bakradze, the head of the UNM’s election office in the village of Partskhnali in the Kharagauli region and a member of local council of Kharagauli representing the UNM. According to reports, the police had been informed that there were weapons and explosives in the house of Nino Pkhaladze. However, the police could not find them upon further inspection of the premises.
In the reporting period, several facts of possible duress were reported which might not be directly related to the Presidential elections, but their prevention is important for holding fair and free elections. High-ranking officials from several local councils and municipalities have reported force used against them. Here, we mainly refer to the incidents that occurred in the Bolnisi and Akhmeta local councils that eventually resulted in the discharge of their chairmen.
2. Legal Resources
During the 2013 Presidential elections, several possible incidents of the use of state resources were also reported. Specifically, these included the groundless refusal by the CEC to register Salome Zourabichvili as a presidential candidate, and the decision made by Georgia’s President to pardon many individuals who were incarcerated. The Ministry of Education’s decision in September to allow secondary admissions to the universities can also be considered the possible use of such resources.
3. Institutional Resources
During the Presidential elections, state institutional resources have been used for electoral purposes more often than other resources. Particularly, this included several cases of civil servants illegally participating in campaigning. Such incidents have been reported in Zugdidi, Poti and Chokhatauri.
Compared to last year’s parliamentary elections, fewer incidents occurred that involved the forced mobilization of staff from state-sponsored agencies and their forced participation in campaigning. We observed that when such incidents did occur in several of the municipalities, these activities were more voluntary than forced.
Due to the fact that we believe the Election Code was violated, we appealed several times to the CEC, providing evidence of incidents of the use of institutional resources for electoral purposes. However, the CEC denied most of our appeals, in our opinion, for groundless reasons.
The Election Code of Georgia does not allow civil servants to campaign in the pre-election period during work hours or while performing their professional duties. However, a civil servant may be involved in the election campaign during his/her vacation time.
Despite this, the fact remained problematic in previous years. For example, during the period preceding the 2010 local elections, in many local public agencies a large number of employees had taken vacations simultaneously. In some public institutions, more than 50 per cent of all employees took vacations during the same days. This raised serious doubts about whether many public employees, upon or against their wishes, were actively involved in the pre-election campaign. This, of course, also puts the effectiveness of these public agencies under question.
We tried to study this issue during the 2013 presidential elections as well; we requested information regarding vacation periods of the employees during September and October from all city/town councils – sakrebulos and municipal government administrations – gamgeobas.
We were unable to obtain information from some institutions, especially worth noting are the local self-government bodies of Tbilisi. In the capital, only the Tbilisi Sakrebulo (Assembly) and Saburtalo district gamgeoba provided full response to the request, while Tbilisi City Hall and gamgeobas of nine other districts submitted incomplete data. This created an impression that these agencies were acting in a coordinated manner and had received instructions, not to provide us with complete information. Because of this shortcoming organs of the local self government of Tbilisi could not be included in our analysis.
Based on the information received from the other agencies, following tendencies have been noticed:
In most regions of the county, it was clear, that civil servants of local self-governments were more actively taking vacations in October than in September, that is, with the coming of the elections more employees wished to take leaves simultaneously. If this event is not primarily connected with the elections, it is hard to logically explain why more people took vacations in October than, for example, in September. This trend of vacations was more evident in the self-government bodies of Racha-Lechkhumi, Shida Kartli, Imereti, Mtskheta-Mtianeti and Kakheti.
As a rule, more employees (in percents) of sakrebulo personnel were on vacation at the same time. For example, 50% of Senaki Sakrebulo employees were on vacation during entire period of October. In the same month, on average 35% of Tsageri Sakrebulo employees were on vacation simultaneously; in Gurjaani Sakrebulo – more than 33%; in Lentekhi Sakrebulo – more than 28%; in Tsalka Sakrebulo – 25%; in Khoni and Rustavi sakrebulos - 24%; in Zugdidi Sakrebulo – 23%.
In regards with gamgeobas, Gori Gamgeoba deserves special mention, where 223 people are employed, from which during the entire period of October 23% were on vacation. Besides, we were able to find that seven members of the administration were members of precinct election commissions (PECs) of Gori district for the Presidential elections and this was the reason why they took long vacations. The orders regarding granting the vacation confirm this trend, which allow these individuals vacations until the day of final act regarding the election results is issued. It must be noted that this does not constitute a violation of the law, because the election code permits civil servants to act so. What is more interesting here is, how can being of more than 50 employees out of 223 of the Gori Gamgeoba on vacation simultaneously not harm the performance of the Gamgeoba.
One more detail, that further strengthens our doubt that employees of self-government took vacation in September and especially in October because of elections, is the average length of the vacation periods. The vacation periods of the public employees in September-October, studied by us, mostly exceeded 12 working days, that is, more than half of the paid vacation days as defined by the law. It is strange that one would use more than half of his/her vacation time in October, rather than for example in July or August.
As has been mentioned above, civil servants have right to be involved in pre-election campaign during non-working hours or during the vacation period, therefore, we do not suggest that the law has been violated. We believe that because of the involvement of civil servants in the election campaign process, proper functioning of the public institutions should not be undermined. This is possible, when for a long period of time many employees of the administration are simultaneously absent from the public institution. It seems that, where this happens, either the head of the agency is not performing his/her managerial functions properly, or the number of employees is artificially increased and, in fact, there is no need for such number of employees.
4. Financial Resources
During the pre-election period, no incident of the use of this type of administrative resource was noted. One case was reported in Ajara when the funding of certain programs funded by the local budget was increased after 1 July. This was a violation of the law because increasing funds for any budgetary program is forbidden during the pre-election period. Later, an amendment was made to the law so that the increase of funding for budgetary programs was restricted only during the 2-month period prior to the elections, instead of the whole pre-election period. Consequently, the court did not find the mentioned incidents to be violations of the law, because said budgetary changes were made more than two months prior to the elections.
Questions emerged regarding increase of pension in September and financing of a small group of individuals’ education from the reserve fund of the President. These actions can be taken as electorally motivated expenditures.
5. Central Election Commission
The Central Election Commission (CEC) played an important role in formation of 2013 election environment: decision taken on 16 October, according to which amendments were made to procedures of video and photo taking on the election day, must be positively assessed.
The role of the CEC during the review of the complaints regarding possible violations of election code is of most importance. In this case, not only the concrete decisions are worthy of noting, but also, how the CEC interprets various norms. It must be noted, that compared to the parliamentary elections, number of our complaints has significantly decreased. The CEC has reacted to these complains mostly in an adequate way. However it must be noted that, regarding definition of participation of civil servants in pre-election campaign, the CEC interprets “campaigning” and “participation in a campaign” as identical acts, which, in our opinion, does not correspond with the aims of the law and therefore public employees who are illegally engaged in a campaign remain unpunished.
6. State Audit Office
Party financing was one of the most problematic issues during the 2012 elections. The State Audit Office often without appropriate basis applied various sanctions and limitations mostly to opposition parties and their followers.
In 2013, there have been no complaints in regards with this agency because of a very simple reason, during this period the parties have been fined only couple times and with very small sums of money. This “passive” character of the State Audit Office raised questions whether refusing extra activity meant that this agency was trying to improve its bad reputation that it has acquired during the previous year.
7. Parliamentary Inter-Faction Group
In March 2013 the Inter-Faction Group was created in the Parliament, main aim of which was to reform the election legislation. One representative of each qualified election subject, with a consultative voting power, could have participated in the group’s work. Observation missions were also actively involved in the group’s work.
According to the plan, opinions must have been agreed on 6 topics until May 31, 2013 and they should have been initiated in the Parliament, however the working process has lagged so much, the group processed only 2-3 issue and initiated them in the Parliament, this must be assessed as a serious shortcoming.
Despite the fact, that the inter-faction group was planning on adopting many of our and other NGO opinions, in the end it declined to adopt some important amendments. In the end only the issue of party finances has been adequately reformed. Some amendments have be adopted regarding the limitation of use of administrative resources for election purposes, however these amendments were cosmetic and the issue has not been substantially reformed.
8. Interagency Task Force
The Interagency Task Force that was transferred to the Ministry of Justice in August 2013, has adopted some very important recommendations in the pre-election period. Especially worth noting is work of the Task Force in regards with making clear details of the rules of involvement of civil servants in the pre-election campaign and defining individual rules, which shall be positively assessed, however in cases of issues raised by the “United National Movement”, instead of conducting constructive talks, the sessions of the Task Force turned into a political debate.
Despite the fact that the report of the Task Force issued on 30th of September, 2013 included some of the recommendations of the observation missions, negatively must be assessed the fact that the task force has not reacted to several important instances of voter bribery, misuse of administrative resources, pressure and threat instances.
The problematic areas analyzed in this report have demonstrated the need for taking the following recommendations into consideration:
- It is important that the eligibility requirements for the presidency are specified more clearly and the issue is regulated in a way that leaves no room for unclarity about who can register and who cannot.
- The state bodies should refrain from introducing large-scale amnesty and pardon initiatives in the pre-election period.
- Requirements for primary and secondary admissions to universities should be defined priorly and the public should be informed about those so that the applicants have appropriate expectations. Otherwise, the unexpected decisions made in the pre-election period may be perceived as misuse of administrative resources for election purposes.
- The law enforcement agencies need to immediately react on all reported cases of possible intimidation and inform the wider public about the developments of the case in a timely manner. Merely the recommendations of the IATF are not sufficient in discharging the tensions in the pre-election period.
- The Election Code needs to more clearly define what campaigning entails, as well as participation in a campaign. Attending the campaign meeting should also be considered as participation in a campaign;
- The list of officials allowed to campaign at any time should not include political officials who are not elected, such as deputy ministers, governors and gamgebelis.
- Supervisors of state bodies should more responsibly handle the issue of granting vacation time to their employees. The work of the public body cannot be paralyzed due to the fact of many employees being on a vacation;
- Municipality sakrebulos should better supervise the work of the apparatus of sakrebulos and gamgeobas;
- As part of the self-governance system reform, the rules for drawing up personnel lists employed at the local self-government bodies should be addressed, in order to optimize personnel.
- The government should refrain from increasing funding for pensions, social aid and programs with similar effect in the pre-election period. It would be advisable to make improvements to the law regulating this issue.
- The resources available by the president’s or the government’s reserve funds, as well as the municipality budgets, should be used to achieve the goals of the wider public and it is unacceptable to allocate these funds to sponsor activists and supporters of one or another political party. The goals and purposes of transactions that are provided as financial aid to a specific, small group of individuals should be especially well documented and grounded.
- For the future, it is important that the work of the Parliamentary Inter-Faction Group is better organized and results-oriented. The recommendations of the stakeholders involved should be taken into consideration and better incorporated in the outputs of the Group.
- Even though the Georgian law does not forbid the ministers and their deputies to campaign in the pre-election period, it was preferred that the Task Force had limited participation of its members in election campaign, in order to achieve more trust and objectivity. If this commission will still be operating during next elections, we hope that it takes this recommendation into consideration.
This report is made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of Transparency International Georgia and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, USAID or the United States Government.