TBILISI, DFWatch – The government in Georgia has given itself the right to edit the wording of laws after they are passed in order to avoid misunderstandings.
Recently a new law brought democracy groups to the streets to protest, but afterwards lawmakers claimed that the contentious part of the law was based on misinterpretation.
The law seemed to involve so-called retroactive powers, which is banned by international conventions and means to punish someone for actions which were legal at the time. Many thought that the law was changed after pressure from the US embassy.
Now Georgia’s special website for legislative information — Matsne — has been entitled to make what’s called “editorial amendments” to laws that have already been passed.
The justice minister Zura Adeishvili has issued a special decree which changes the procedure for how laws are adopted, recorded, systematized and published.
The website Matsne now has the right to do editorial corrections of errors, as long as it doesn’t change the content of the law. It’s about correction of spelling and punctuation.
Legal expert Vakhtang Khmaladze claims that this decree of the Minister in its content contradicts the constitution and the law.
He says that the adoption process of laws is defined by the constitution, which says that a law is adopted by parliament. The law about regulation of normative acts and parliament defines the procedure for how to adopt a new law, and it clearly says that when adopting a law, editorial changes may be made at the third hearing.
No changes to content may be made at the third hearing. Afterwards, if there are to be made any more changes to the law, it will have to go “back to start” so speak and follow through all the steps of the procedure for how a law is adopted, even if lawmakers just want to make minuscule editorial modifications.
On this background Khmaladze says that granting editorial rights to Matsne means that ‘it is entitled to intrude on the competence of parliament, the president and ministers, which contradicts the constitution, because these rights are defined by the constitution’.
In addition, he says that the Justice Minister’s decision is not only a law violation, but it’s also very dangerous, because a “technician” may do things by accident – maybe he doesn’t t understand the content of the law and may change the law by changing the punctuation and bring about a totally different content from what the legislator intended.
Khmaladze thinks this decision should be appealed to the courts.
“To say more – at first glance there is not a visible violation of the constitution, but in fact such a norm violates the constitution, because the constitution defines the parliament’s right to adopt and change the law; it also defines the right of the president to issue decrees, rights of ministers, resolutions and other normative decrees, which means that no-one else has this right. So in my opinion, this should be appealed to the constitutional court, and this way such a violation of rights should be prevented,” Khmaladze says.
The changes were enforced on December 29. Before that, it was necessary with an agreement in parliament to make changes to normative acts.
Quite recently, parliament adopted changes to the law about the political associations of citizens. The changes were repeatedly criticized by NGOs and politicians, and after their adoption were followed by a heated debate, during which rights groups argued that it’s a violation of the constitution.
The text of the new law indicated that it may have retroactive powers and could apply to acts committed before its adoption, which is against the constitution.
The US embassy issued a short statement criticizing the retroactive powers, and soon afterwards, the government issued a statement saying that the law didn’t have any retroactive powers, but that certain groups had created such an impression by misinterpreting it. This explanation was not enough to stem criticism, however, because the text of the law, as published on the website Matsne, seemed to have been changed, with a significant word missing, thereby changing its meaning.
The new law, which DFWatch has reported on a number of times, deals with stricter rules on campaign finance, and particularly banning private companies from funding political parties.
Such a ban affects directly the ambitions of a Georgian billionaire, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is trying to enter politics. After his citizenship was revoked, he could no longer legally establish his own party or fund other parties directly, but he could still fund other parties indirectly through his many businesses. During November-December, before the new campaign finance law was adopted, he transferred 1.1 million lari to four parties he has partnered up with: the Republican Party, the Free Democrats, the People’s Party and the Conservative Party.
The first version of the law, which president Mikheil Saakashvili signed, said that such funding, which was totally legal at the time, but violated the new rules, would have to be returned or else would be state property. In the new, edited, version of the law, only money received in violation of laws at the time of transfer would have to be returned.
The government explained that if parties received money in a legal way, they will not have to return the money.
Today a memorandum was also signed between the Georgian Chamber of Control and the National Bank, which establishes a system for information sharing so the Chamber of Control will get notice about financial transactions made by political parties, politically active persons and organizations.