TBILISI, DFWatch – As Georgia is heading for potentially the first real competitive election, confusion arose Friday over different versions of the same law.
A think tank says the government significantly changed a draft law which was sent to the Council of Europe (CoE) for advice.
The Georgian Development Research Institute, which was founded in November 2011, says that the CoE’s advisory body called the Venice Commission saw another version of the draft law on political associations of citizens than the one the government made available to parliament. The one that was finally passed in December violates the country’s constitution and other parts of its legislation.
The think tank says it will contact the Venice Commission about the issue.
In December the law about political associations of citizens was changed so that rules that previsously only applied to party financing now applies also to organizations, private companies and even individuals which have an aim of impacting the political process.
Analysts say that with the new law, if a person does a party a favor or expresses sympathy for a politician, all the restrictions about party financing will apply to him as a person.
The restrictions are numerous. A hypothetically person who helps out a political party won’t be allowed to do entrepreneurial activity, won’t have the right to receive presents or money, and this includes his family members, and won’t have the opportunity to receive money from legal persons, which means organizations or private companies. He will be allowed to receive gifts from individuals, but not more than 60 000 lari, which is about 35 000 US dollars. On top of all this, all his financial activities are subject to monitoring by the Chamber of Control.
Analysts and non-governmental organizations categorically oppose these changes, because according to the constitution, the Chamber of Control can only check the organizations that are publicly financed and doesn’t have the right to impose sanctions. But under the new law, the CoC is entitled to monitor organizations that are not publicly funded, and impose sanctions, including sequestration. Only the courts and the revenue service had this authority before, but only in certain cases.
The main problem, according to the think tank, is that the law violates the constitution and ‘the Venice Commission’s conclusion was used for this, which in fact was prepared on the basis of a different bill and then another one was adopted,’ Levan Izoria, lawyer and the co-author of the report says.
He says the changes made to the law about political associations of citizens have nothing in common with the recommendations which the Council of Europe, including the Venice Commission, suggested to Georgia and ‘a malicious interpretation of their opinions is taking place.’
On January 26 at a press conference held in Strasbourg, Tomas Markert, the head of the Venice Commission, responding to questions from journalists, said that ‘the Venice Commission hadn’t seen the latest draft of the changes. We reviewed he bill in December and expressed our opinions regarding this bill. But later the same draft was voted over, and completely different changes were made to it and there are a number of additional restrictions in the new law.’
The draft of the changes to the law was sent to the Venice Commission in November of 2011. But the draft was significantly changed after the commission was finished with its review.
During the parliamentary review, the concept of ‘connected person’ appeared, and restrictions for parties were made to apply to private companies, organizations and individuals connected with political parties. There were also introduced restrictions regarding party financing after the Venice Commission looked at it.
The parliamentary majority does not want to comment Markert’s statement. Pavle Kublashvili, head of the Judiciary Issues Committee stated that he hadn’t heard Markert’s statement so he cannot comment it.
But non-governmental groups are commenting and consider the law as it was passed a violation of not only Georgian standards, but international ones.
Levan Izoria states that the changes made to the law violates the Georgian constitution and internationally recognized fundamental principles, like democracy, legal security and basic human rights.
According to the think tank’s assessment, the law that was passed by parliament violates constitutional norms, which foresees guarantees of non-interference into the private life of a person, the right to individual development, right to free enterprise and confidentiality of information connected with the finances of a person.
“The legislator wants to establish total control and the fear of punishment together with the political persons to the non-governmental sector, mass-media, enterprise subjects and especially physical persons, which may possibly be something else than a party but can have some relations with political subjects and political processes,’ Izoria says.
Dieter Umbach, professor at Potsdam University, says that the goal of making party financing transparent should be welcomed, however ‘how can the law directly enforce anti-constitutional regulations?’ he asks on a talks show dedicated to this issue on Kavkazia TV.
The professor thinks it is an ‘undiplomatic and unnatural event’ that a non-Georgian citizen cannot get involved in the political process.
“Freedom of speech and opinion is not only a fundamental Georgian right, not only a German fundamental right, but it is a fundamental universal human right, so refusing it is anti-constitutional,” Dieter Umbach says.