The decree of the Prime Minister of Georgia dated January 23rd, 2020 approved the new Rules of Operation of the Interagency Council (the Council) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Georgia. The decree introduces a number of new regulations linked with the operation and the composition of the Council and reflects some of the recommendations that have been regularly highlighted by the Institute for Development Freedom of Information (IDFI) before. However, challenges still remain in such directions as working group composition procedures, transparency of the Council and working groups’ activities, the participation of the private/business sector in the process of SDGs nationalization and awareness raising on SDGs.
It is also problematic, that as of to-date the decree of the Prime Minister of Georgia on approving the new Rules of Operation of the SDGs Interagency Council is not published on the website of the Government Administration under the section of the Prime Minister decrees adopted in 2020. The document is only accessible through an internal webpage of sdg.gov.ge. Taking into consideration, that at the given stage the website is still being improved (relevant information is being uploaded/added to the website), public awareness on the platform is low. In the future, under the conditions of relevant utilization, the website can serve as an important instrument for ensuring transparency and accountability in the process of SDGs' nationalization. However to-date, when the wider society is not informed about the existence of the website, publishing the new Rules of Operation on an internal page of the website cannot be considered as a sufficient mean for ensuring broad access to the document.
- The Title and the Mandate of the Council
Based on the Decree of the Prime Minister dated January 23rd, the SDGs Council was separated from the Public Administration Reform Council and was established as a stand-alone body. In the past, the Public Administration Reform Council was given the mandate to support the process of SDGs implementation in Georgia. In this regard, IDFI was stressing that uniting the two topics under a single council was unreasonable since the public administration reform was linked to a single SDG only. Moreover, in practice, the meetings on Public Administration Reform Council and the SDGS Council were held independently from each other. Thus, separating the two Councils and establishing a stand-alone SDGs Council should definitely be seen as a positive development.
Regrdless of the above-mentioned the word “interagency” included in the title of the Council is a reason of concern. This implies that the primary purpose of the Council is ensuring better coordination of the SDGs nationalization process among the state institutions. However, according to the Decree, one of the mandates of the Council is to ensure that relevant stakeholders are informed and involved in the process of SDGs implementation. In addition co-chairs of working groups from civil society are the voting members of the Council. This approach needs to be reflected in the title of the Council as well and it should avoid implying the narrow interagency character of the body.
- The Council Composition
For years IDFI has been stressing the need of involving representatives of legislative and local self-government in the process of SDGs implementation. In this regards the new Rules of Operation introduce positive changes. Namely, according to the decree, mayors and deputy mayors are the voting members of the Council. Representatives of the Ombudsman Office were also added to the Council composition. On the negative side, there are no representatives of the central or local legislative branch among the Council voting members. According to the Rules of Operation chairpersons of the Parliamentary committees are entitled to attend the Council meetings, however, they have no voting rights.
- Process of Composition
In regards to the composition of the Council working groups IDFI has been highlighting that the lack of clear criteria and procedures describing the process of working group composition with CSOs, private sector and other relevant stakeholders was problematic. The effort of the new Rules of Operation to develop relevant criteria entitling interested parties to participate in the working group meetings should be assessed positively, however, the wording of the selection criteria is problematic. According to the rules, a prospective working group member must have at least 5 years of experience working in a relevant area and necessary resources ensuring his/her regular participation in the working group meetings. The wording of the text gives a wide scope of interpretation and causes risks of taking subjective decisions on the topic of the working group membership.
- Transparency and Accountability of the Council Activities
Important novelties were added to the Rules of Operation regarding the transparency of the Council activities, stating that the working group compositions should be published on the website - sdg.gov.ge. However, the decree does not include any provisions on publishing meeting agendas and minutes. IDFI finds that publishing this information is crucial for ensuring that the wider public is proactively informed about the activities of the Council and its working groups.
- Voluntary National Review (VNR) Report
According to the Rules of Operation, one of the mandates of the Council is preparing, reviewing and submitting VNR Reports to the Government of Georgia for approval. The Decree includes no provisions on the means and procedure of shadow reporting, e.g. sending the report to relevant stakeholders for comments, the process of reviewing the comments, existence of a separate column in a relevant document for the comments of CSOs etc.
VNR Reports constitute a vital source of information on the progress achieved by national governments in regard to SDGs implementation. It is highly important that clear procedures enabling relevant stakeholders (among them non-members of the working groups) to conduct shadow reporting of VNR are included in the Rules of Operation.
- Awareness-Rising Campaigns
The Rules of Operation do not indicate awareness rising on SGDs among the mandates of the SDGs Council. Instead, the rules of the working groups indicate that their members can conduct activities with the aim of awareness raising. Taking into consideration the low level of public awareness on SDGs in Georgia, it is crucial that the mentioned constitutes one of the main mandates of the Council and it is clearly reflected in the Rules of Operation of the SDGs Council.
- Private Sector/Business
The Decree of the Prime Minister on the Rules of Operation of the SDGs Council does not include any implications regarding the involvement of the private/business sector in the process of SDGs implementation. The Decree only refers to the possibility of inviting representatives of NGOs, non-commercial legal entities, experts and international organizations to the Council meetings. The same is true in case of the regulations on working group compositions. In practice, representatives of the private/business sector, as well as non-commercial legal entities, participate in the working group meetings. It is important for the existing practice to be reflected in the Rules of Operation of the SDGs Council. The said is particularly important, taking into consideration that implementation of those SDGs united under the social-economic cluster would be impossible without the contribution of the business sector.
The establishment of a stand-alone SDGs’ Council and its separation from the Public Administration Reform Council is undaoubtadly a positive development. The need for the change was evident based on the existing practice when the meetings of the SDGs Council and the Public Administration Reform Council were held separately. IDFI also welcomes the novelty of including the representatives of local authorities and Ombudsman in the composition of the SDGs Council. However, the new Rules of Operation raise a number of concerns regarding the transparency and accountability of the Council activities. In addition, it is highly important that the rules reflect the priority of close cooperation with the private sector in the process of SDGs nationalization and strengthens the commitments in the direction of awareness raising on SDGs.
This material has been financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. Responsibility for the content rests entirely with the creator. Sida does not necessarily share the expressed views and interpretations.
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