Steps Towards Democratic Governance: Improvement of Political System Requires Immediate Reforms
The events of the past several months have clearly demonstrated the systemic problems of governance in Georgia which the civil society organizations had been constantly writing and speaking about. The fact that the government has been ignoring these problems for years has created a situation which threatens the rule of law and the operation of the key institutions in accordance with the Constitution and in the interest of the public. After the first round of the presidential election, the government's representatives have indirectly acknowledged the existence of these problems, stating that they are prepared to take effective steps to regain public trust.
We believe that, in order to overcome the current crisis, the government must, without delay, launch reforms with the aim of transforming the key state institutions in accordance with the fundamental principles of democratic governance – transparency, accountability and integrity.
Below are the recommendations of Transparency International Georgia with regard to the steps that need to be taken in areas which, for years, have been the subject of research and observations conducted by our organization. While it is difficult to swiftly implement all of these reforms and to achieve corresponding results, there are issues where it is possible to take effective and significant steps in the nearest future. Noteworthy in this respect are the investigation of some of the high-profile cases (in which unlawful actions have allegedly been committed by high-ranking officials), which would indicate that the political will to truly rectify the situation is in place.
1. Establish a group for the planning and coordination of reforms under the Prime Minister of Georgia
It is important to establish, under the Prime Minister of Georgia, a group for the planning and coordination of reforms of the Georgian system of governance, with the main goal of using the existing expertise with regard to reforms in Georgia, analysing the situation that has taken shape, defining priorities for reforms, planning and coordinating the implementation of reforms. The group should be composed of the representatives of the executive and legislative branches, political parties and civil society, as well as experts.
2. Create a balanced system of democratic governance
The extreme concentration of power in the hands of one political party, as well as an attempted state capture by informal groups, undermine the separation of powers and proper functioning of checks and balances between different branches of government.
It is important to create a balanced system of governance, strengthen Parliament’s role and its oversight function and to ensure effective control over the executive branch in practice. It is important to ensure the involvement of the opposition and groups expressing critical views in this process and to create corresponding legislative guarantees (for example, ceding some of the parliamentary committee chair positions to the opposition, increasing the opposition’s role in exercising parliamentary oversight, involving civil society in the decision-making process).
It is necessary to facilitate efficient and unbiased operation of independent institutions (the State Audit Office, the Competition Agency, the State Procurement Agency, the National Bank), full implementation of their functions and to strengthen parliamentary oversight over the fulfilment of their recommendations.
3. Change the electoral system and legislation
A comprehensive reform of the electoral system in the nearest future is crucial. Specifically, the mixed system must be replaced by a fully proportional system by the 2020 parliamentary elections.
Also, the system of financing political parties must be changed: on the one hand, it should strengthen the parties that enjoy real public support and, on the other hand, allow new parties to function.
The rules concerning the composition of the electoral administration need to change: in the short run, six electoral entities which had the best results in the proportional elections should have the right to appoint party representatives as commission members, each of them appointing only one member to the commission. In the long run, this rule must be fundamentally reviewed, and the key political parties and other interested groups must be actively involved in this process. Another necessary precondition for holding fair elections is a fundamental reform the Electoral Code so that it can meet contemporary challenges.
4. Implement genuine reform of the judicial system
The judicial system must undergo a real and comprehensive reform. The legislation regulating the judicial system must be refined in order to ensure independence of individual judges and create a balanced system of governance in the judiciary.
The government must study the problem of clan rule within the system and take effective steps to eradicate the unhealthy influence of the dominant group of judges. On the one hand, specific legislative amendments (legal regulation of the High Council of Justice, improving the rule of appointing the judges, allowing judges to elect court chairpersons themselves and other) must be implemented and, on the other hand, the government needs to express political will to stop supporting this influential groups of judges (Chinchaladze, Murusidze, Pkhakadze, Kapanadze and others) and to cease using them to promote its own interests.
The government needs to begin investigating all alleged crimes related to the judicial system and to complete the ongoing investigation in a timely manner, including a timely and efficient investigation of all possible cases of corruption in the judicial system.
5. Reform and de-politicize law enforcement and security institutions
The law enforcement bodies must be effectively reformed as rapidly as possible, with the main goal of strengthening their institutional autonomy and their protection from undue political influence, thus facilitating practical implementation of the rule-of-law principle and effective investigation of all possible crimes (including the alleged crimes with possible participation of high-ranking officials or influential politicians).
The State Security Service must be reformed. The investigative powers and, especially the authority to investigate corruption-related crimes, must be separated from the Service’s functions. The Security Service must be subject to comprehensive oversight, and Parliament of Georgia needs to play a decisive role in this regard. It is important to reform the system of covert wiretapping and create a truly independent agency to technically carry out covert surveillance and wiretapping.
The Prosecutor’s Office must undergo a real reform, the rule of appointing the Chief Prosecutor must be changed and the Prosecutor’s Office must be de-politicized. In addition, it is important to begin the reform of the system of investigation.
It is important to ensure that the employees of the law enforcement institutions are accountable which, along with other measures, implies effective investigation of alleged violations committed by them. An independent investigative mechanism needs to be created, effectively separates from the Prosecutor’s Office and able to efficiently investigate crimes committed by the representatives of law enforcement bodies.
6. Investigate high-profile cases in a timely and efficient manner
The processes that have accompanied the investigation of several high-profile cases have been indicative of the clear flaws existing in the law enforcement system. Noteworthy among them are the Khorava Street incident, assault on General Auditor Lasha Tordia, alleged corruption-related crime in the so-called Omega case, collection and dissemination of personal recordings and other cases. It is important to conduct a comprehensive investigation of all these incidents.
It is important to take into consideration the main recommendations made by Parliament’s Temporary Investigative Commission regarding the Case of Khorava Street, especially the ones concerning the responsibility of public officials from the law enforcement agencies.
A comprehensive investigation of the assault on former Georgian General Auditor Lasha Tordia and the indictment of the perpetrator would prove that the investigative bodies do not shy away from holding influential persons responsible.
7. Carry out effective anti-corruption policy and reform
In order to ensure unbiased investigation of alleged cases of corruption (especially, high-level corruption), efficient enforcement of anti-corruption legislation and successful implementation of anti-corruption policy, the government must consider the possibility of creating an independent anti-corruption agency, taking into account the challenges Georgia is facing today and successful international practice.
In order to minimize corruption risks, the public procurement legislation needs to be improved. Significant corruption risks arise from the contracting of companies which are linked to politicians and the persons that have made donations to the ruling party; the lack of transparency in the use of sub-contractors in tenders; the awarding of contracts to the companies owned by persons who were convicted for corruption-related crimes; a large share of non-competitive contracting in public procurement.
8. Plan and carry out effective reform of civil service and local government
The steps necessary to implement in practice the main goals of the civil service legislation and reform – the establishment of an independent (de-politicized) and professional civil service – must be taken.
The unlawful interference by the ruling party into the work of the civil service and the use of civil servants to achieve the ruling party’s electoral goals must stop. The instances of nepotism and favouritism in the process of hiring to the civil service must be eradicated, the meritocratic nature of the process must be ensured. The current practice of hiring by municipal N(N)LPs (Non-Commercial (Non-Entrepreneurial) Legal Entities) which, unlike the rule of appointing civil servants, does not envisage the announcement of competition, must change. The labour rights of civil servants must be firmly guaranteed. The real process of decentralization, including the fiscal one, of the local government must begin in order to provide [local authorities with] sufficient financial resources and property locally in order to exercise their powers.
It is important to strengthen the local councils’ oversight function over executive bodies and entities established by the municipalities.
The degree of transparency and accountabilities of municipalities and availability of public information must also be increased.
9. The government must facilitate the development of free media environment
The government must stop its attempts to obstruct and interfere in the work of independent TV channels as well as the unethical criticism and attacks against opposition TV channels and journalists. All unlawful actions against the Rustavi 2 TV Company, aimed at interfering with the editorial policy of the TV company and changing its ownership, must also stop.
The problems prevailing in the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) must be comprehensively studied, including with regard to the management of the budget and nepotism. The GPB general director, who is affiliated with the government, must resign, and a new head must be selected through a transparent and open process. In addition, the GPB must be freed from the government’s pressure. The State Audit Office must implement an unscheduled audit of the GPB to detect possible violations and flawed practices within the TV station.
10. Increase effectiveness of education policy
In order to improve the quality of the critically low-level school education, such improvement must be the goal of the education policy. The government needs to elaborate budget programmes that have a time frame and are focused on the resolution of problems.
11. Create a favourable economic environment and an effective social security system
The government must elaborate a social policy which would facilitate the development of a stable system of social protection instead of being limited to the increase of the amount of social benefits in the run up to elections.
The legislation regulating the economic environment must be amended by means of an inclusive process. Any significant changes must be accompanied by the preliminary research concerning regulatory impact assessment, prepared by independent persons; prior to making a final decision, discussions with participation of interested parties must be held. It is important to ensure the stability and predictability of the business-related legislation, which would facilitate long-term economic development. The government should refrain from populist legislative initiatives which not only hamper the work of the operating businesses but might create obstacles to the inflow of investments in the future.
Effective and impartial operation of the Competition Agency must be ensured in order to prevent the government from unlawfully favouring individual companies and harming their competitors.
A commercial disputes chamber within the judiciary branch must become operational as soon as possible with the goal of restoring investors’ trust in Georgia’s judicial system.