TBILISI, DFWatch – When the government recently killed financier Bidzina Ivanishvili’s plan B for entering politics, it claimed only to be acting on the advice of the Council of Europe. Now it turns mum on exactly where and when the CoE has made such a recommendation.
After his citizenship was taken from him, the only way Mr Ivanishvili could legally continue his campaign to take power away from president Mikheil Saakashvili was by supporting existing political parties by way of one of the companies he owns. Last Sunday the government briefed a group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on a new set of changes which will prevent any private companies or organizations from donating money to political parties.
The government claims that it is only following through on recommendations from European Council organs, but according to the three NGOs which are part of this process, the new element about keeping legal entities out of politics was not part of recommendations from abroad.
When politicians Wednesday pressed the government on the issue, they refused to specify in what way, where and when, an international advisory body has recommended this particular change in the rules, thereby going mute on the subject.
Moreover, the government’s position changed over the course of just a few hours, and it later claimed that the recommendations had not meant what they was earlier said to mean.
The news about the move broke on October 22, after the Ministry of Justice briefed representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) about the idea to prohibit legal entities from financing political parties.
Three NGOs, Transparency International Georgia, Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association (GYLA) and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) released a statements after the briefing.
According to them, the government wants to adopt new regulations which contradicts recommendations of international NGOs; but the government reviews them exactly within the framework of these recommendations.
The proposals consist of several elements: First, one considers the prohibition of legal entities to finance political parties. According to today’s legislation, both individuals and legal entities have the right to donate money to political parties.
Secondly, the government is planning to create an upper limit for how much funds a party may harvest for an election campaign and the parties won’t be allowed to spend more than that amount on their campaign.
The government also plans to set a maximum limit for membership fee. Today no such limit exists and a party member can pay as much as he or she wants.
Further, the proposal says that the accounts and incomes of organizations like NGOs will be considered as equivalent to those of political parties if their activities are to the benefit of political parties.
According to the NGO representatives present at the October 22 briefing, the government presented these new rules as merely an implementation of recommendations from the Council of Europe. But the NGOs claim that no such thing was mentioned in the recommendations and that the fact that they were suddenly introduced is connected with the ‘Ivanishvili factor’.
In their response, representatives of the government said that the ideas had no connection with Ivanishvili and that they are the European Council’s recommendation, which were expressed back in summer.
But when politicians asked the government to specify exactly where in the Council of Europe’s recommendations the parts were written that related to these new elements, the government refrained from comment.
Pavle Kublashvili, chairman of Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee and Akaki Minashvili, chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee stated on Wednesday noon that in their first statements they had not meant these issues and they had just discussed the recommendations in general. The first statements were made in the early hours of the same day, Wednesday.
Kublashvili adds that it is unclear for him, how it is possible to discuss specific issues without seeing it within the context of the entire bill.