Over the last few months, Georgia has seen a resurgence of information about possible cases of high level corruption involving current and former public officials. This is a continuation of a long-standing trend in the country, whereby media and non-governmental organizations identify possible corruption cases and either no investigation is conducted or the public is left in the dark about the results, leading to a decrease in public trust towards law enforcement and investigative authorities. Prominent cases of alleged corruption, abuse of power and other official misconduct include:
- Misappropriation of GEL 3 million from the United Water Supply Company by high-ranking officials, with links to close relatives of the former Prime Minister.
- Accumulation of a large amount of property by family members and close relatives of the First Deputy Head of the State Security Service Ioseb Gogashvili.
- Involvement of the former Chief Prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze in suspicious transactions related to Tbilisi City Hall, and the attack by him on the former Auditor General in retaliation for looking into the case.
- Alleged violations involving Ministers related to suspicious projects and procurements in the Ministries of Economy and Infrastructure.
- A suspicious procurement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs involving the Deputy Minister and a company owned by his brother.
- Secret recordings related to the high-profile Omega Group case pointing to official misconduct involving the former Minister of Sport and the former Chief Prosecutor.
- An alleged corruption case involving Lasha Gogia, in which a businessman accuses Lasha the former Mayor of Zugdidi in bribery.
Anti-corruption investigations that have been successfully completed almost exclusively involve low-ranking public servants and officials. According to the 2017 report of the State Security Service, investigation was launched on 62 cases during the year, of which 41 criminal cases were closed with 61 persons being convicted. Most of the persons charged served in local government bodies and did not hold high positions. According to the report, no investigation was conducted involving any high ranking official of the central government. The Georgian public also has no information about the response of the Prosecutor’s Office to specific cases of misconduct identified by the State Audit Office.
Apart from specific cases of alleged corruption, reports and indexes prepared by various international organizations also offer insights into the challenges of the Georgian anti-corruption policy.
In October 2018, the World Bank published its World Governance Indicators report, which looks at the progress made by 200 countries (including Georgia) in 2017. According to the report, which IDFI has written about previously, Georgia showed improvement in effective governance and corruption control, but decline in freedom of expression and accountability, political stability and absence of violence/terrorism, and the rule of law.
However, despite the general importance of this index, it does not reflect the situation in terms of high-level corruption, since its main focus is on petty bribery and petty corruption in the field of public service delivery. The existence of the so-called ‘elite corruption’ as a major challenge for Georgia is recognized by important international organizations, such as the European Parliament and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) .
More specifically, a recent press release about the resolution of the European Parliament on Georgia highlights the country’s challenges in terms of high-level corruption and points to the necessity to establish an anti-corruption service as an independent body.
In response to recommendations issued by international organizations and corruption-related challenges faced by Georgia, IDFI prepared a policy paper in 2017, substantiating the necessity for creating an Independent Anti-Corruption Agency in Georgia.
Corruption prevention and combating functions are divided among various institutions in Georgia, without a clear separation between their powers and spheres of operation. Fight against corruption is not the major function of any one institution. The functions of prevention, detection and investigation of corruption crimes are divided among the following institutions:
- Anti-Corruption Agency of the State Security Service;
- Investigative Unit of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office (the Division of Criminal Prosecution of Corruption Crimes);
- Investigation Service of the Ministry of Finance.
The Prosecutor’s Office has the authority to investigate all corruption crimes, unless committed by the Ministry of Justice officials or detected by the State Security Service or the Ministry of Finance. The State Audit Office is another institution with an important anti-corruption function; it monitors budgetary funds as well as political parties and election campaigns.
Independence of state agencies tasked with combating corruption is one of the most important standards set by international treaties, conventions, guidelines and recommendations. Independence of these agencies can ensure the effectiveness of combating corruption, accountability, high degree of transparency and, therefore, high public trust.
Georgian experience demonstrates that insufficient independence is the biggest challenge faced by various anti-corruption institutions. For example, the existence of an Anti-Corruption Agency under the State Security Service is incompatible with the secret nature of the latter’s activities and creates risks of political influence.
According to the model proposed by IDFI, the functions of Independent Anti-Corruption Agency should include:
- Prevention of corruption;
- Combating corruption;
- Elaboration of an anticorruption policy;
- Monitoring of asset declarations;
- Whistleblower protection;
- Monitoring of political party financing;
- Planning of awareness raising and educational policy on anticorruption issues.
IDFI has a long history of pointing to deficiencies of the Georgian anti-corruption system. For the latest Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plan (2018-2020) IDFI, Transparency International Georgia and other NGOs part of the Open Government Georgia Forum proposed setting up an Independent Anti-Corruption Agency; however, the Government of Georgia refused to acknowledge the flaws of the existing system and turned down this recommendation.
It was especially important for the Government of Georgia to accept the above recommendation during the year of Georgia's OGP chairmanship, when it was expected for the country to announce ambitious and transformative commitments that would display Georgia's aspiration to be a regional leader in terms of anti-corruption reform.
The fact that neither the previous nor the current government were able to investigate cases of ‘elite corruption’ emphasizes the dire need to reform the existing system, which has given rise to doubts and questions in the Georgian public and reduced its trust towards public institutions. Moreover, lack of investigation creates a feeling of impunity, which encourages further misconduct.
IDFI believes that it is necessary to create an Independent Anti-Corruption Agency that will have public trust, high degree of independence and relevant qualification to investigate high level corruption cases and provide answers to the legitimate questions posed by the Georgian public.
We call on the Parliament of Georgia to start working on the creation of an Independent Anti-Corruption Agency and re-examine the relevant draft law initiated by Transparency International Georgia back in 2014.
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