Realities and challenges of anti-corruption policy in Georgia

Lasha Tughushi, “Liberal Academy Tbilisi” Foundation (Tbilisi, Georgia)

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Today Georgia is a leader in fighting corruption in the region, and this is confirmed by the international researches. For example, according to the World Justice Project (WJP) 2016  Rule of Law index, Georgia ranks first in the absence of corruption in the countries of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia. According to the Global Corruption Barometer , Georgia takes the fourth place following Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland, with only twelve percent of its population considering corruption one of the most serious problems. The World Bank Doing Business 2017  placed Georgia sixteenth amongst 198 countries in the overall rating, ranking it third in dealing with construction permits. As for the Index of Economic Freedom, annually published by the Heritage Foundation research institution, Georgia takes the thirteenth place in economic freedom.

However, along with the positive signs, according to research conducted by Transparency International , there are obvious challenges as well. For example, in 2013 only 13% of the respondents believed that public servants used public offices for their private gain, while in 2015 this number reached 15% level, and in 2016 went up to 40%. Needless to say, this category of researches reflects the attitude to elite corruption only and probably does correlates to reality in full, but nevertheless, it proves the acuteness of the issue. As for the petty corruption, its index went below 1% in 2016 whereas in 2013 it was 3% .

Anti-corruption strategy and action plan

Georgia had its first anti-corruption policy adopted in 2010. A similar document was also adopted five years later, in 2015. The second edition, unlike the first one, was created in active participation of the public sector representatives. The strategy and the action plan are principally oriented at tackling the anti-corruption policy issues. The action plan is also accompanied with a monitoring and evaluation methodology. The reports on the action plan implementation are regularly published.

The liberalisation of visa regime with EU and anti-corruption

European integration turned out to be an important process for fighting corruption in Georgia. To liberalise the visa regime, Georgia had to do some “homework” in improving the anti-corruption legislation. In 2015 Law of Georgia “On conflict of interests and corruption in public service” was widened with some new amendments, in particular:

  1. starting from January 1, 2017, a monitoring system of the government officials asset declarations came into force;
  2. government officials are obliged to complete and submit their asset declaration within a year after their dismissal.

Despite some concerns about this system efficiency, its implementation is a real step forward for Georgia. Such a mechanism allows preventing the so-called “corruption merry-go-round” when government officials fill their pockets in public service and then leave unpunished to a private sector.

It is still difficult to forecast what the monitoring system of asset declarations will be like

There are still some gaps in legislation. The functioning mechanisms of the Whistleblower Protection Institute, which allows every citizen to submit information on violations and corruption without fear of being persecuted, were improved. However, the situation is still problematic. For instance, the law does not apply to law enforcement agencies, and there are no regulations to arrange the process inside the system. Similar problems exist in the independent regulating bodies.

It is still difficult to forecast what the monitoring system of asset declarations will be like since the previous experience was far from being positive. Having specialized in this sphere for years, NGOs and mass media repeatedly published information regarding incorrect asset declarations by the government officials. Unfortunately, it gave no results.

Open Government

Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure actual governments’ commitments to promote open governance and transparency, empower citizens’ activity, combat corruption, implement innovations and new technologies. The initiative also implies harnessing new technologies to make government more open, efficient, and accountable, that will result in more effective public resources management and multilateral development. This initiative was started by eight founding governments, including those of the USA and Great Britain.

In 2017 Georgia was elected a co-chair of the initiative, that is both a great honor and a huge responsibility. It is crucial for the Georgian government to involve new countries into the Partnership. Special attention should be paid to the Post-Soviet countries, and, especially, Central Asia.

Georgia reached a lot in the legislative openness issue. Since February, 2016 it has an acting Permanent Parliamentary Council on Open and Transparent Governance. The council developed an action plan for the open parliament with a wide range of responsibilities on elaborating of an electronic mechanism for citizens participating in creating the new Code of Ethics, which is mandatory for the Members of Parliament. A similar approach was adopted for the other branches of power, with a special focus on the Executive.

National anti-corruption eystem in Georgia

According to Transparency International research , a positive dynamic of the anti-corruption system reforms is obvious, yet, some positions are disturbing. A comparative analysis of the situation since 2011 to 2015 shows some progress in 8 sectors: civil society, mass media, business, auditing services, ombudsmen, election administration, legislative bodies and judicial power. When it comes to executive power and law enforcement agencies, some regress is obvious too.

However, despite the regress, the situation with the executive power and the law enforcement agencies is much better than with the judicial and legislative powers. The problems lie in the horizontal reporting, mutual control and balance system, they are mostly of a constitutional nature and suggest a balanced political system.

One of the tasks of the acting Constitutional Commission is to create an effective control system. First and foremost it must increase a role of the Parliament as a finance controlling body of the executive power. According to the acting Constitution, the Parliament is weak, since the constitutional amendments of 2010 replaced a super-strong President with a super-strong Prime Minister.

The average theory of  anti-corruption law score is higher than the average law in practice score

De facto the Parliament serves as a notary. This can be changed by implementing of a balanced model of votum of trust or mistrust to the government, as well as by providing the Parliament an opportunity to be more active in the budgeting process, that also requires some constitutional changes. It is also essential to develop a judicial reform to prevent political corruption in the court. Furthermore, the government service also needs further reforms.

Differences in theory of law and practice

One of the attributes of a country’s development is the quality of the current laws execution. The Transparency International 7 research compares the average legislation indicators in theory and practice. A considerable difference between the real situation and the legislative frames of the National Anti-Corruption System is evident. The analysis of twelve institutions showed that in each case the average theory of law score is higher than the average law in practice score.

The average score indicator of both the legislative frame and its implementation, that is law in practice, grew, in other words improved, since 2011 to 2015. In both cases the indicator grew approximately by 5%.

Anti-Corruption Index in the defense

Taking into consideration the occupation of a part of Georgia’s territory, reforming of the country’s armed forces is an important task. And a special focus is on the anti-corruption defense policy. According to 2013 data, Georgia was placed in D category, meaning there was a high risk of the defense corruption. By 2015 the country moved to C category, a zone of a moderate risk. Procurement still remains a high risks zone and a kind of a minefield for the armed forces.

Conclusion and recommendations

The analysis shows a long way ahead of Georgia before reaching a consistent systematic reform. This can be seen from a noticeable discrepancy between the theory of law and practice.

The main driving force of the country is a political will. Probably the most frequently asked question on how Georgia managed to reach progress in certain directions has an answer precisely in its political will.

The first strong impulses appeared in 2003 when the new government took office after the Rose Revolution. The next government did not change the policy and general provisions.

The main driving force of the country is a political will

Possible optimism in the countries of the Eastern Partnership can be related only to the factor of the political will. Systematic reforms, including anti-corruption ones, can turn into quasi, if there is no real political will coming both from the authorities and the citizens.

At the same time it is necessary to hold political reforms.

First, it is essential to single out:

  • strengthening of the finance monitoring function of the Parliament;
  • providing more budget powers to the Parliament in the budgeting process;
  • implementing the Open Government program continuously, aiming to provide more openness to all branches of power, including the Executive, as well as empowering citizens with possibilities of more active participation in the process;
  • extending the public service reform;
  • mobilizing of the larger volumes of funds for the courts;
  • providing more transparency during case allocation for the anti-corruption goals, implementing of the electronic system of case allocation among judges;
  • strengthening of the political parties by implementing a fairer system of financing, that will strengthen capacities of the opposing parties;
  • securing the alternate sources of the public organizations funding, and freedom when placing advertising in the mass media.