On October 2020, IDFI held an international high-level online conference on good governance, entitled Political Integrity and Elections: Challenges and Innovative Solutions. The Forum was organized in cooperation with the Open Government Partnership (OGP), with the support of the global philanthropic organization, Luminate. It was the second series of Good Governance Forums (GG Forum) held annually in Georgia since 2019 and gathered international experts, representatives of governments, civil society, the private sector and international community to advance the good governance reform agenda by raising awareness, exchanging best practices and fostering debate.
The 2020 GG Forum aimed to explore innovative mechanisms and the most cost-effective approaches to ensuring political integrity, especially at a time of upcoming Georgia’s parliamentary elections planned in October, 2020 in Georgia. The conference intended to do this by engaging local and international experts and stakeholders around several key related issues: electoral legislation and practice, political donations and political party financing, use of administrative resources during the election campaign, lobbyism and international transparency standards.
The Forum gathered experts and representatives of international and civil society organizations from different countries with best practices of developing integrity mechanisms as well as journalists and activists with the aim to exchange regional and international practices of ensuring political integrity. Such information and experience exchange was expected to lay the foundation for future ambitious advocacy efforts in the region and beyond.
The representatives of prominent international organizations working on these topics as well as public institutions of different countries delivered speeches during the conference, including Transparency International, International IDEA, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), European Parliament, High Authority for Transparency in Public Life (HATVP)of France, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Open Government Partnership (OGP), State Audit Office of Georgia, Transparency International – Georgia (TI-G), Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), etc.
The conference was opened and moderated by Mr. Giorgi Kldiashvili, the Executive Director of IDFI. Event participants were also welcomed by Ms. Olena Boytsun, Investment Director, Central and Eastern Europe at Luminate.
“Despite Georgia's significant progress in eliminating petty corruption and introducing political party funding transparency standards over the past years, including successful OGP commitments, incidents of misuse of administrative resources, use of social and financial initiatives to attract votes, problems related to effectiveness of campaign finance framework were identified among other shortcomings of the latest presidential election campaign. Georgia’s case is not unique across the globe, suggesting that there is a real need to figure out efficient and innovative mechanisms that have the potential for ensuring electoral integrity.” – mentioned Giorgi in his opening remarks.
The first panel about Political Party Funding and Political Donations: Legislation and Practice, was moderated by Ms. Laura Thornton – Director for Global Programme, International IDEA. The panelists included:
- Ms. Ekaterine Ghazadze - Deputy Auditor General, State Audit Office of Georgia
- Mr. Yukihiko Hamada - Senior Programme Officer, Political Participation and Representation, International IDEA
- Ms. Mariam Maisuradze - Anti-Corruption Direction Head, Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)
- Mr. Levan Natroshvili – Program Manager, Transparency International Georgia (TI-G)
- Dr. Magnus Ohman - Director, Regional Europe Office and Senior Political Finance Adviser, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)
During the panel, speakers overviewedmain challenges in political funding and donations, which appeared mostly to be political will but not regulations. In terms of political finance transparency, panelists discussed new changes in Georgian law and highlighted some best practices from other countries. As some of the main solutions suggested, panelists stressed the importance of multiparty democracy - to deter the ruling party from having access to all the administrative resources and benefits they can give for getting donations.
With regards to enforcing regulations, panelists suggested to have an independent oversight body - anti-corruption agency that will have an investigative power, which the State Audit Office of Georgia does not possess at this stage.
The panel discussion also touched upon new challenges coming from social media advertisements during election / political campaigns. As the topic is a novelty globally, panelists argued that there is a lack of best practices in this regard, but some of the important suggestions were voiced: to have some legal regulations on limits for spending in online campaigns, as well as clear definitions and guidelines.
Finally, it was also indicated that multi-stakeholder cooperation between the state, private sector and independent regulatory bodies can be helpful in ensuring transparency in political funding.
The second panel concerned Lobbyism: International Transparency Standards and Current Trends. It was moderated by Ms. Helen Turek, Regional Lead, Europe, Open Government Partnership (OGP). The panelists were as follows:
- Mr. Raj Chari - Professor, Trinity College Dublin
- Mr. Daniel Freund - Member of the European Parliament, European Parliament
- Ms. Marie Lintzer - Head of International Partnerships, High Authority for Transparency in Public Life (HATVP)
- Mr. Vitor Teixeira - Advocacy Officer EU Integrity, Transparency International EU
- Mr. Julio Bacio Terracino - Acting Head of Division, Public Sector Integrity, Directorate for Public Governance, OECD
The panel gave the online audience broad understanding on current standards and problems of lobbyism. All panelists highlighted that transparency in lobbying is of high importance, especially in ensuring legitimacy in policy making, avoiding corruption risks and undue influences. Therefore, it needs to be regulated. The panelists also mentioned the positive impact on the society, as transparency in obbying plays a crucial role in rebuilding public trust in their governments and encourages them to be more engaged in policy making, including voting.
Moreover, one of the panelists shared some lessons learned with the audience: first of all, voluntary registers of lobbyists does not work accurately, following with the need to have strong monitoring and sanctioning measures, and to have covered all the bodies that could be engaged in the lobbying.
The case of Ireland was voiced, as an example how the act regulating lobbying was actively triggered by economic crises and it became a tool to decrease corruption. Interestingly, this commitment was included in the country’s OGP National Action Plan.
The final panel on the Use of Administrative Resources and Pre-election Amendments to the State Budget, was moderatedby Mr. Joseph Foti - Chief Research Officer, Open Government Partnership (OGP). The panel speakers included:
- Ms. Katherine Ellena - Senior Global Legal Advisor, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)
- Ms. Joy Langston - Professor, Political Science, Professor of Political Science, Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, CIDE, Mexico City
- Mr. Vakhushti Menabde - Democratic Institutions Support Program Director, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA)
- Ms. Nino Rizhamadze - Lawyer, International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED)
The mentioned panel was especially relevant for Georgia’s existing political discourse, as it united two ongoing problems - use of administrative resources and COVID-19-related public spending.
As panelists from Georgian non-government organizations mentioned, the Georgia's governments have quite long experience in abusing administrative resources before elections and the audience had the opportunity to get details about some famous cases.
International experts of the panel overviewed major features of state capture and shared international experience in investigating various problems relevant to such cases.
All the panelists brought up how the global pandemic encouraged governments to use social assistance programs for electoral purposes. Main problems identified by the panelists were the facts that ruling parties mostly have total immunity and power to use the budget and compromise both private sector and employees of public institutions.
From the list of remedies to such circumstances, the panelists named increased oversight opportunities and power of the civil society and journalists, as well as an independent body controlling misuse of administrative resources and better regulations with specific definitions in laws.
Please find the full recordings of the panels:
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