“Georgia is number one country fighting corruption”- we frequently hear this message from Georgian Government. Government representatives talk about the achievements in fighting corruption but their opponents underline number of failures in this regards. There are also talks about elite corruption as well and some people think such kind of corruption exists in the upper bureaucracy in Georgia.
By defining corruption we should remember that this is not purely bribery but also the abuse of public power, office, or resources by elected government officials for personal gain. Taking into consideration this definition can we really say that the whole anti corruption system of the country is in perfect condition? Can we really be sure that there is no opportunity for abuse of power in the country with weak parliament, judiciary, media and civil society, the institutions which primary mission is to oversee the executive branch? I think in these circumstances we can say that in spite of some achievements the anti-corruption system of Georgia has rooms for improvement. This was proved by the National Integrity System (NIS) assessment, which was conducted by TI Georgia just recently. I would like to summarize here the NIS findings, which brought me to the conclusions above.
After the 2003 Rose Revolution Georgian Government implemented a number of reforms that successfully tackled the widespread corruption of the time. A combination of law-enforcement measures increases in funding of many public agencies, and reduction of bureaucratic red tape led to a virtual eradication of corruption at the lower levels of public administration. However at the same time government did not assure the existence of effective system of checks and balances in the country. This brought the concentration of power at the top tier of the executive branch, which became the grounds for abuse and raises concerns about the commitment to the rule of law by Governmental agencies especially law enforcement bodies.
Today we all see that the executive branch and especially the law enforcement agencies are particularly strong compared with others, especially In terms of their capacity and their role in fighting corruption. There is nothing wrong with this, however, shortcomings in the legislature’s and the judiciary’s independence and ability to oversee the executive suggest critical deficiencies in the system of checks and balances. This is particularly worrying since the non-state actors that are supposed to serve as watchdogs – the media, political parties and civil society – are among the weakest institutions. In other world we can say that there is no effective mechanism to oversee the executive branch in Georgia, which results the low accountability of those institutions in practice and creates the huge potential for abuse of entrusted power.
What should be done to improve the overall system. first of all to strengthen Parliament and Judiciary. Make those institutions more independent and effective. In regards of Parliament, it is presently incapable of effectively using the oversight powers set out in the law, mainly because of its current composition, with few opposition party representatives and the parliamentary majority’s close ties with the executive branch. The recent activities in regards of improvement of election environment in the country should greatly contribute to this process. Today Georgia does not have a functioning multi-party system. The ruling United National Movement won an overwhelming majority in the last two parliamentary elections and presently controls around 80 percent of seats in the legislature, while also dominating all other government bodies both centrally and locally. Other political parties play no meaningful role in decision-making at any level. Given the lack of democratic decision-making in ruling party as in all Georgian parties, this means that almost entire political power is concentrated in the hands of the president and several key members of his team. Since there is no clear separation between the ruling party and the public administration in practice, the former essentially enjoys unhindered access to administrative resources during elections.
That is why the creation of fair election environment should be assured and became number one priority for the ruling elite. The government should create the relevant and fair conditions to develop and strengthen of capacity of political parties,, which at this moment is not impressive due to both their internal flaws (such as their inability to build a broad support base or to aggregate social interests), as well as the lack of a level playing field, especially with regard to financing and media access.
The judiciary’s inadequate level of independence has also undermined its ability to exercise oversight vis-a-vis the executive branch. In spite of the fact that Georgia has a number of legal provisions designed to ensure the judiciary’s independence and bribery in courts has been eradicated, still in practice the judiciary suffers from undue influence exerted by the Prosecutor’s Office and the executive authority during the adjudication of criminal cases, as well as the cases where the political leadership’s interests are at stake. Because all these, the independence of Georgian judiciary has been repeatedly called into question in recent years by both the public and international organizations in their reports.
Another very important actors are the external watchdogs such as the media and the civil society. There are 10 000 CSOs registered in Georgia. The existing legal framework does not put up any hurdles for the registration and operation of CSOs. In practice, however, Georgian Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) rely almost entirely on foreign donors, lacking financial support from the government, local businesses or a membership base. The mechanisms for ensuring accountability of CSOs and their transparent operation are weak, and integrity mechanisms (such as a sector-wide code of conduct) are virtually nonexistent. A lack of resources and the absence of a pluralistic governance system in Georgia have reduced civil society’s ability to hold the government accountable and to contribute to policy formulation through advocacy. The civil society’s legitimacy is also undermined by its lack of a broad social base (itself the result of the post-soviet experience and low levels of civic engagement more generally).
As for media the situation here is complicated as well. In practice the media remains less transparent, accountable and independent. The degree of independence varies across different types of media, as well as between those based in the capital and those in the regions. Print media, radio and online outlets generally operate freely in Georgia. The government has not resorted to censorship but is generally understood to have established control over the country’s most influential TV stations through their acquisition by government-friendly businessmen, forcing journalists employed by these stations to practice self-censorship. Transparency of television ownership remains a major area of concern, while the lack of effective self-regulatory mechanisms has produced problems in terms of accountability and integrity of the media. Georgian media have not been particularly successful in exposing cases of corruption as very few mainstream outlets have engaged in investigative journalism. Those that do are only able to reach small audiences. The media, as a whole, provides the public with a variety of views but its ability to provide unbiased coverage of political developments is undermined by the deep polarisation of the political and therefore media landscape.
Taking into consideration the above mentioned arguments from TI Georgia’s NIS study, I think Georgia’s ruling elite should think more about the systematic fight against corruption. It is not enough to eradicate petty corruption in the country. There should be governance system, which minimize the corruption risks especially in the upper bureaucracy and will not create favorable conditions for abuse of the power. The system with strong executive branch especially law enforcement agencies and weak parliament, judiciary, media and civil society will logically increase the cases of elite corruption and selective application of justice as well as less accountability and transparency. This will also create additional obstacles to the democratic development of the country.
Eka Gigauri is executive director of Transparency International Georgia. She holds a Master’s degree in international law from VU University Amsterdam (2010) and has been deputy head of Georgia’s border police (2005-2008).