Overview of Georgia’s 2024-2025 OGP Action Plan and Its Adoption Process

News | Open Government | Analysis 18 January 2024

Decree №555 of the Georgian government approved Georgia’s fifth Open Government Partnership Action Plan on December 29, 2023. It should be noted that prior to preparing the plan, the country was subject to a review by the Criteria and Standards (C&S) sub-committee, as it had violated the principles envisioned in the Open Government Declaration through continued inaction by skipping two cycles of OGP action plan development, not having presented an action plan in 2021 and 2022. Had it missed another cycle, the country was at risk of receiving the inactive status.  

 

The last, 2018-2019 action plan of Open Government Georgia expired in December 2019, and for four years the country did not implement any reforms in this context. The member civil society organizations of the forum submitted a package of commitments for the new action plan in accordance with the February 2020 request of the Administration of the Government. They submitted an updated package in July 2021. Nevertheless, no significant steps to develop the action plan were taken afterwards. Among these, no Council meetings were held where discussions of reform-oriented commitments could take place between the civil sector and government representatives. The Administration of the Government of Georgia, which has been the coordinating body of the process since 2019, cited the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 local self-government elections, and the EU membership application process as the main factors hindering the development of the plan in a letter sent to the OGP Steering Committee.

 

Facing a situation where the country was at risk of receiving the "inactive" status, the process of developing the plan was resumed in 2023, but a number of gross violations of the values and principles of open governance by the Georgian government brought the process to a dead end. The government was not willing to include ambitious commitments focused on fundamental changes. The crisis was especially aggravated after the "People's Power" movement, which was part of the government majority, initiated the so-called bill "On Registration of Foreign Agents" and "On Transparency of Foreign Influence" in the parliament. Support for these bills by the governing team was an open and obvious move to discredit civil society, which grossly violated the values defined by the Open Governance Partnership Declaration. The aim of the draft law analogous to a law in Russia was to force civil society organizations to register in the "registry of agents of foreign influence", which would lead to their stigmatization, control, and ultimately the restriction and cancellation of their activities. In this difficult situation for the country, while Georgia was attempting to receive the EU candidate status and it was important to strictly fulfill the 12 recommendations of the European Commission, the draft law was withdrawn as a result of continuous protests of the Georgian people, who are striving relentlessly for the European Union. However, this did not mean the end of attempts to discredit critical media outlets and civil society organizations. In parallel to these events, the Administration of the Government of Georgia reached out to member organizations regarding a meeting of the Council, which was devoid of meaning due to then-ongoing processes, and the organizations did not agree to the meeting. The government was trying to openly discredit non-governmental organizations. Against this background it was impossible to establish effective cooperation, and the Council meeting would have been a mere formality. In order to get out of the crisis, the non-governmental organizations that are members of the Council addressed the OGP Steering Committee with a letter and requested the implementation of the "Response Policy". The letter discussed in detail the instances of violation of OGP values by the government, including support for the so-called Law “On Foreign Agents”, restrictions on the activities of the media, civil activists, and non-governmental organizations, and a targeted discreditation campaign. It also emphasized that the government violated the real co-creation process) and did not take into account the fundamental (so-called star) commitments when developing the action plan.   

 

The recommendations offered by the organizations to the government included 6 star commitments: 

 

1. Establishment of an independent anti-corruption agency (and granting it investigative authority); 

2. Adopting the standards of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI); 

3. Increasing the transparency of the state grant funding system; 

4. Ensuring transparency and public participation in the process of managing natural resources;

5. Adoption of the Law of Georgia “On Freedom of Information”; 

6. Creation of a beneficial owners registry. 

 

At the initial stage, the government did not consider any of these commitments in the Open Government Action Plan. It should be noted, however, that two had to be considered due to the 12 Recommendations of the European Commission: prior to the approval of the OGP Action Plan, an independent Anti-Corruption Bureau was established, and the creation of a beneficial owners registry became part of the Ordinance  adopted in November 2023 “On the Approval of the Action Plan to Avoid Excessive Influence of Interests in Economic, Political, and Public Life in Georgia”. As for the remaining transformational commitments proposed by the civil sector, two of them were considered in a formal, partial capacity (Adopting EITI standards and ensuring transparency and public participation in the process of managing natural resources), while two were disregarded in their entirety. 

 

Despite multiple violations of OGP principles and values by the government and the circumstances that arose around the so-called Foreign Agents Law, the civil society organizations agreed to participate in Council activities and to approve even an unambitious action plan in order for Georgia to retain its status as an OGP member state. A meeting of the Inter-Agency Coordination Council was held on December 20, 2023. It should be noted that the secretariat did not share the final version of the action plan prior to the meeting, and the member organizations did not have information on which commitments were covered, resulting in an action plan that contains 10 commitments and only partially takes into account recommendations from civil society organizations.

 

Overview of the New Action Plan

 

The Open Government Georgia 2024-2025 Action Plan aims to “improve the quality of accessibility and transparency of information, strengthen government accountability mechanisms to the public, and increase opportunities for participation”. To achieve these goals, the Georgian government is adopting 10 commitments:

 

  1. Improving the existing standards for electronic requests for and proactive disclosure of public information (second wave of reforms)

Within the scope of the commitment, amendments are planned to be made to Resolution №219 of August 26, 2013, of the Government of Georgian “On Electronic Requests and Proactive Disclosure of Public Information”, and the following will be added to the list of information subject to proactive disclosure:

 

- On cultural and creative activities funded within the framework of the programs of the Ministry of Culture and Sport; 

 

- On audits of the Department of Environmental Supervision; 

 

- On the inspections carried out by LEPL Labour Inspection Service; 

 

- On court decisions; 

 

- On decisions made within the scope of government sessions; 

 

- On decisions of the commission within the scope of the State Referral Service Program; 

 

- On procurements within the framework of state funding from the State Reserve Funds of Georgia; 

 

- On the list of databases registered in the unified state registry; 

 

- On the issuing of construction permits for objects of special importance and state supervision over existing construction permits;

 

- On energy projects; 

 

- On mineral extraction.

 

  1. Adoption of the “Open Data Act” - As described in the action plan, with the adoption of said Act, public agencies will be obligated to publish open data in their possession on the portal data.gov.ge. 

 

  1. Improving the transparency of the system of funding through state grants - The commitment entails concluding consultations on the amendments to be introduced to the Law of Georgia “On Grants”, preparing the final version of the project, and presenting it to the Parliament of Georgia for approval. 

 

  1. Ensuring transparency and participation in the extractive industries sector - The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development takes on the commitment to carry out a study of institutional and legislative readiness and to develop an action plan for the purpose of implementing EITI standards in Georgia, as well as to discuss the Mining Code with stakeholders.

 

  1. Ensuring the participation of persons with disabilities in public life - According to the action plan, the commitment consists of only two stages: developing community services throughout the country and conducting information campaigns to raise public awareness. 

 

  1. Improving statistical methodology and publishing data on eviction cases - A LEPL under the Ministry of Justice, National Bureau of Enforcement, will develop a methodology based on international standards before the end of 2024, according to which statistics on eviction cases will be produced and published.

 

  1. Determining the main issues of housing policy in the legislative framework of social protection reform - The obligation provides for the preparation of the legislative framework in the direction of housing within the framework of the social protection reform and the collection and processing of data in the areas of homelessness and housing policy.

 

  1. Accessibility of websites and mobile applications - The Administration of the Government of Georgia, in partnership with the Digital Governance Commission, undertakes the commitment to prepare a study of best practices in the direction of uniform accessibility of websites and to amend the legislation on the accessibility of websites and mobile applications in accordance with the European Directive (EU) 2016/2012.

 

  1. Strengthening inclusive approaches in regions with dense populations of ethnic minorities - The commitment envisions translating the main legislative acts and making them available to ethnic minorities. It also entails information campaigns about existing state services and strengthening the consultation mechanism created in relation to issues pertaining ethnic minorities, meaning that the number of meetings within the framework of the thematic working group under the Council will be increased.

 

  1. Strengthening transparency and accountable governance in municipalities - The commitment includes the development of a strategy, action plan, and monitoring framework for increasing transparency and integrity by the municipalities of Zestafoni, Samtredia, Mtskheta, Vani and Baghdadi. 

 

Overview of the Commitments Proposed by IDFI and Indicators of their Consideration

 

In accordance with the request from the Administration of the Government of Georgia, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) presented 8 recommendations during the development process of the new Action Plan. Only a small part was considered in the final draft. The government was forced to consider one commitment, which it had refused to implement for one reason or another for years, within the framework of the 12 Recommendations from the European Commission. As a result, the creation of a registry of beneficial owners of companies registered abroad is included in the action plan “On the Approval of the Action Plan to Avoid Excessive Influence of Interests in Economic, Political, and Public Life in Georgia”. The fact that the government was forced to address an issue that had been neglected for years as a prerequisite for receiving the candidate status within the framework of recommendations from the European Commission clearly demonstrated the importance of the issues advocated by civil society representatives for the country. Out of the 8 recommendations presented by IDFI, 3 were not considered, including one star commitment. 1 was implemented prior to the approval of the action plan by LEPL Civil Service Bureau, 1 was included in the Public Administration Reform 2023-2026 Strategy, and 1 was considered in the new Law “On Public Procurement”, which will enter into force in 2025. In practice, only 1 recommendation was considered for the new action plan, consisting of 6 points, only 4 of which were considered fully. 

 

 

Detailed description of submitted initiatives: 

 

1: The goal of the recommendation was to further refine the legislative base for freedom of information; finding legislative ways to resolve problems existing in practice and consolidating the normative base regarding freedom of information. It should be noted that the 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 Open Government Actions Plans included the development of a law on freedom of information by the government, but the initiative was never implemented and was not included in the newest, 2024-2025 Action Plan. The topic is especially important against the background of access to public information worsening every year. According to the annual study by IDFI, in 2022 the rate of fulfillment of access to public information in public institutions was 58%, much lower than the result for the previous year (82%) and the lowest since 2010. 

 

2: Georgia's accession to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) global standard and introduction/implementation of these standards - The goal of the proposes commitment was to have Georgia join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which would lead to improved and more transparent practice of extractive licensing and accounting of transactions and make the country even more attractive for investments in this area. The new action plan did not take into consideration the proposed initiative. In particular, the government did not undertake the obligation to join the EITI, and during the plan implementation period, only a study on institutional and legal readiness and an action plan for joining the EITI will be prepared for the purpose of introducing the EITI standard in Georgia.

 

3: Creating a registry of beneficial owners of companies registered abroad - The goal of the initiative was to create a register of beneficial (final) owners of companies registered abroad, which would be an important step forward in the fight against corruption. In many cases, foreign-registered companies in Georgia own significant assets and participate in state procurement, and the public and public institutions do not have information about who is really behind such companies, which increases risks related to organized crime, corruption, money laundering, and conflicts of interest. It should be noted that Georgia undertook the obligation to create a registry of beneficial owners at the London Anti-Corruption Summit in 2016, although the initiative has not yet been implemented. IDFI has been advocating for the creation of the registry for years, but the government has shied away from undertaking the commitment, citing a variety of reasons. In compliance with the 12 recommendations issued by the European Commission, the Georgian government finally took into account the mentioned recommendation and committed to creating a registry of beneficial owners in the action plan “On the Approval of the Action Plan to Avoid Excessive Influence of Interests in Economic, Political, and Public Life in Georgia”. 

 

4: Citizen participation in the process of public policy development - This initiative is related to the successful implementation of Decree #629 of the Government of Georgia “On the Rule for Developing, Monitoring, and Evaluating Policy Documents” and ensuring citizen engagement in the policy-planning process. The resolution envisages the obligation to hold public consultations. Additionally, a corresponding annex to the policy planning, monitoring, and evaluation handbook has been developed, although the methodological issues included there are not mandatory and are not taken into account in practice. In this area, the quality assurance instrument   for evaluating the quality of policy documents also needs improvement. It is important for the QA instrument  to evaluate the process of public consultation itself and not only the public consultation report attached to the policy document. This obligation was only partially taken into account in the 2023-2026 Public Administration Reform Strategy.

 

5: Increasing the transparency of the public procurement system - The initiative entailed the development of a bill by the Georgian government and LEPL Procurement Agency that would include stipulations on subcontractors. Lack of transparency regarding subcontractor companies raises risks of corruption and unlawful dealings. The notion was taken into consideration in the Law of Georgia “On Public Procurement”, which will enter into force on January 1, 2025. 

 

6: Improving the quality of transparency, accountability, and openness of information - The proposes commitment included 6 points, a large part of which were considered in the action plan:

 

6.1: Improving the standard and practice of proactive disclosure of public information - which meant expanding the list of data subject to mandatory publication in the resolution of August 26, 2013 of the Government of Georgia, as well as the obligation to publish the data listed for agencies on the open data portal data.gov.ge. Both initiatives were taken into consideration in the 2024-2025 action plan.

 

6.2 Improving the state funding transparency of sports federations - Entailing the introduction of a unified standard of transparency in sports federations in accordance with international standards - considered partially, as the commitment to publish information on sports activities was included, but not the introduction of a unified standard of transparency in federations. 

 

6.3 Improving the accessibility of information regarding databases in public institutions  - Taken into consideration.

 

6.4 Proactive disclosure of registered applications (excluding personal data) and the amount of funds issued within the framework of referral and other healthcare programs (for which the decision on the amount of funding is made by a specially created commission) - Taken into consideration.

 

6.5 Increasing the accessibility of information on planned and implemented cultural activities - The main goal of the initiative was the creation of a registry of tender events, as it is important to determine the list of cultural activities at the beginning of each year, so that it is not necessary to conduct emergency procurement for the organization of these activities. The initiative also envisaged proactive disclosure of information related to the name, funding recipient, funding amount, and form of funding received of activities related to cultural events. The new action plan partially took into consideration the mentioned initiative, although there is no commitment regarding the creation of the registry. At the same time, the list of information subject to proactive disclosure does not include funding amounts and the form in which the funds are provided. It is also noteworthy that the reconstruction of the website of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, which has been ongoing since 2021, will need to be finished in time to proactively publish information based on the undertaken commitment.

 

6.6 Proactive disclosure of information regarding procurement conducted within the framework of funding issues from reserve funds - Taken into consideration.

 

7: Publication of the declarations of public officials in the open format - The initiative entailed the publication of data from www.declaration.gov.ge in the open data format, to make it even easier for stakeholders to search for, process, and analyze desired information on public officials. The initiative was taken into consideration prior to the adoption of the action plan by LEPL Public Service Bureau, when the declarations became available in open formats in addition to PDF.  

 

8: State archives openness reform  (II wave) - The goal of the initiative was to increase the availability of documents from the State Archival Fund, so that the public, and especially those interested in relevant issues, do not face any obstacles in accessing archival materials, and that the history of the past, especially the Soviet period, is correctly understood. It should be noted that Georgia has one of the most restrictive regulations regarding access to archival documents among Eastern European countries. Despite the importance of the issue, it was not included in the new action plan.



Summary

 

In summary, it can be said that by approving the Open Government Action Plan for 2024-2025, Georgia has avoided the risk of being assigned the “inactive” status. However, both the process of development of the plan and subsequent events in the country have shown that the values and principles of the Open Government Declaration have been violated to a significant degree. This led to a letter from civil society to the Steering Committee of the Open Government Partnership requesting the implementation of its "Response Policy". Although the government took into account a small part of the star commitments proposed by civil society within the framework of the implementation of the 12 recommendations of the European Commission prior to the adoption of the OGP Action Plan, none of the remaining star commitments in the action plan itself. It is important to note that in the process of developing the plan, the government did not include any of the star commitments proposed by the member organizations of the Forum, these commitments being focused on the implementation of fundamental transformations within the framework of the reform.

 

IDFI will observe the process of implementation of the commitments by public institutions going forward.

 

 

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