On March 22nd IDFI received a letter dated March 19th from the Chancellery of the Government of Georgia which contained a response to the recommendations of the civil society, which were sent to the Office of the Prime Minister from the CSOs on February 5th. Attached to the letter were the comments from those governmental institutions that are to be tasked with specific obligations in the frameworks of the Open Government Partnership action plan according to these recommendations.
Overall, nine public institutions sent their responses: the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Regional Development, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Culture, the Civil Service Bureau, the State Audit Office and the Competition and State Procurement Agency.
First of all it should be noted that all of the institutions expressed their readiness to cooperate with the civil society in the process of the implementation of the action plan, which will make public service more transparent and accountable and will give citizens an opportunity to become more engaged in governmental activities. At the same time, the institutions provided IDFI with detailed comments and suggestions regarding those recommendations that are already being implemented or are impossible to implement for different reasons. The problem that was particularly singled out in the comments was about the terms of implementation and the management of budget resources in this regard, as the projects described in the recommendations were not written down in the budgets of these institutions.
The Ministry of Education and Science was mentioned as an institution responsible for the implementation of the recommendation regarding the project of creating modern educational centers on the base of public libraries. From the response of the Ministry it becomes clear that the public libraries, except science libraries, do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry. At the same time, the Ministry expressed its wish that the recommendations specify exactly what kind of educational centers should be created and what projects are planned to be implemented on their base. The Ministry also mentioned that the implementation of these kinds of programs was not written down in the budget of the Ministry of Education and Science.
The Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection responded with a short letter, in which it expressed its agreement to the advisability of the recommendations and its readiness to participate in the process of their implementation. The Ministry was mentioned as an institution responsible for the implementation of the recommendation regarding the creation of modern educational centers equipped with new technologies based on older public libraries. Unfortunately, the letter does not make clear to what extent the Ministry can participate in the process and what exactly it can do in its frameworks.
The Ministry of Infrastructure and Regional Development also responded to the same recommendation and stated that this kind of project would be beneficial for the development of the regions, though the role of the Ministry in this case would be limited to providing local self-governing units with the recommendations, as the public libraries in the regions don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry. Besides this, the Ministry of Infrastructure was referred to as an institution responsible in the recommendation regarding increasing the engagement of the general public from the regions in governmental affairs through organizing training programs. Regarding this, the Ministry expressed its agreement about the implementation of the idea, though asked for a longer term for implementation that the one mentioned in the document, so that the trainings can be written into the 2014 budget of the Ministry.
Finally, the Ministry was tasked with the translation of the materials associated with the Open Government Partnership into the languages of the minorities with the purpose of increasing their engagement, preparing special informational-educational programs and transmitting them, and sending the report on the implementation of the action plan to the interested target groups, which would result in the public discussions of the report. The Ministry agreed with these recommendations, though noted that it would be best of the informational programs were prepared directly by the institution that would be tasked with overseeing the process of implementation of the OGP action plan.
The Ministry of Justice, the Analytical Department of which, as the secretariat of the interdepartmental Anti-Corruption Council currently oversees the implementation of the Open Government Partnership action plan and the events held within its frameworks, also responded to the recommendations of the civil society. The initial action plan was created in the conditions of close cooperation between the Ministry and the non-governmental organizations.
First of all, the Ministry responded to the first recommendation regarding the definition of the controlling body of the implementation of the action plan. The civil society expressed an opinion that the process should be overseen by the Office of the Prime Minister of Georgia. The commentary to the recommendations notes that the Ministry welcomes a greater engagement of the Prime Minister and the Government in the process of the implementation of the OGP action plan. However, the Ministry of Justice does not deem the decision to transfer the supervision to the Office of the Prime Minister and establishes several arguments as to why it should remain with the Anti-Corruption Council of the Analytical Department of the Ministry. First of all, the Ministry underlines the fact that the structure of the Council supports active collaboration, dialogue and easier coordination of implementation between the governmental institutions and NGOs. The Ministry noted that one of the main principles of the Partnership is high public engagement, which is again supported by the structure of the Council – members of the Council include representatives of governmental structures, NGOs and business. The third argument of the Ministry is that the there is a great degree of convergence between the objectives of the Open Government Partnership and the Anti-Corruption Council, and that is why it would be best if the Council oversaw the implementation of the initiative. According to the Ministry of Justice, the cornerstones of the Partnership are directed at the prevention of corruption: transparency of public finances and information and increasing the engagement of the citizens. Since the main activities of the Council are directed at preventing corruption, it will be appropriate if the work on these issues and coordination of the process remains within a single institutional framework.
The Ministry also noted that, before the Government makes a decision, consultations should be held with those institutions that were tasked with the implementation of the recommendations. However, it should be noted that IDFI already received the commentaries and suggestions of these institution. The letter also notes that the action plan for OGP and the anticorruption action plan are two separate documents. Finally, the Ministry expressed its wish that the recommendations should be discussed in details with their authors of the next session of the Anti-Corruption Council in the end of March 2013.
The civil society suggested in the recommendations that Georgia should join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). This initiative, according to the civil society, is an important international standard of transparency and accountability, and signing it would promote that standard of the financial transparency of the Government of Georgia.
According to the letter from the Ministry, the availability of information about gas transit is already guaranteed by the 3rd section of Article 27 of the “law about electrical energy and natural gas”. At the same time, the Ministry expressed its readiness to publish information about transit if this does not violate the terms and conditions of the signed agreement with private companies and the information does not contain a commercial secret. As for the public information in the Ministry, the letter clarifies that its availability is already guaranteed by the General Administrative Code of Georgia.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Ministry expressed its readiness to comply with the main purpose of these recommendations (transparency of public finances) in certain frameworks, it left the main question unanswered: should Georgia sign the EITI or not. That the Ministry is ready to publish public information on these issues is complimentary, but signing the initiative would be a clear signal that Georgia is actually dedicated to fulfilling its obligations in the frameworks of OGP.
The Ministry of Economy was mentioned as an institution responsible for the implementation of several recommendations, but, unlike other institutions, did not send a single letter. Instead, the Ministry sent IDFI the recommendations and the list of information to be published proactively, along with commentaries on specific terms and controversial issues, even in the cases when the concrete recommendation did not fall under the competence of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development. The commentaries discuss some suggestions for changes to be made in several terms of phrases that would make the recommendations and the list of information for proactive publishing more precise.
The Ministry also sent the 14th September 2010 decree of the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili “about the action plan for the implementation of the national anticorruption strategy” as an attachment. The decree contains a list of concrete events that should be organized by one or another governmental institution, with the purpose, indicators, terms and possible risks of each event written down.
The Competition and State Procurement Agency sent a very comprehensive response to the recommendations presented by the civil society. The Agency was mentioned as an institution responsible for the first part of section four of the recommendations regarding the improvement of the state procurements system. In response, the Agency sent detailed explanations, comments and ideas regarding the abovementioned recommendations.
First of all, the civil society expressed the idea that, for the purpose of greater openness of the electronic system of state procurements, the unregistered users should be allowed to access the procurement plans and reports of the procuring organizations. The Agency replied that this measure was implemented purely for safety reasons. The letter mentions that registering in the system is not a problem and takes a few minutes at most.
The Agency agreed with the second part of the recommendations, according to which the possibilities for state procurement in avoidance to the electronic system of state procurements should be as limited as possible. The third recommendation touches the subject of commercial and non-commercial legal entities founded by the administrative bodies and procurements made by them, namely requesting that these procurements happen in the part of the procurements that is done from the budgets of the local self-governing units and autonomous republics. The letter clarifies that the abovementioned topic is already regulated by the law of Georgia “about state procurements”.
As for the creation of detailed criteria (list) regarding simplified procurements, the Competition and State Procurements Agency explains that the abovementioned criteria are already specified in the #9 decree 7th April 2011 signed by the Chairman of the Agency, as well as the law of Georgia “about state procurements”. However, the Agency also noted that it is ready to discuss specific questions and suggestions regarding controversial issues and actively cooperate with the nongovernmental sector.
The fifth recommendation presented some suggestions regarding the tenders that are regulated by the 4th subsection of section of the 1st article of the law “about state procurements”. Specifically, according to the civil society, these tenders should be published on the website of the Agency as soon as they are announced. Regarding this topic the Agency talked about the 4th section of the law “about state procurements”. Also, the Agency mentioned that it is already working on technical changes in the system which will allow the tenders to be held in the electronic system of state procurements. It should be mentioned that the reply of the Agency in this case did not match the recommendation it was aimed at.
Finally, the Agency expressed its readiness to actively participate in the process of preparing a draft law for the necessary legislative changes or prepare the draft law itself.
The Civil Service Bureau also sent a detailed response to IDFI. The recommendations, in which the Bureau was mentioned as an institution responsible for implementation, were in the third section of the document, about the transparency of civil service.
First of all the civil society expressed the idea that the legislation protecting whistleblowers and the inner principles of administrative organs regarding this issue should be improved. The Civil Service Bureau explains that such a draft law has already been developed and agrees that the existing legislation is not enough for effective protection of whistleblowers, and that is why adopting a separate law will be appropriate. The draft law includes a number of changes and new norms. Namely, the protection of whistleblowers will be expanded to include the enterprises with a share of the Government that exceeds 50% and the employees of these enterprises; the procedures, terms, authorized officials and other associated issues; the Civil Service Bureau will become the institution that will receive and discuss the complaints; the Bureau will be responsible for developing guiding principles about the process of discussing the complaints and organizing relevant trainings. The letter also mentions that in the spring of 2012 a seminar was held about “strengthening the mechanisms of protection of whistleblowers and witnesses in cases of corruption”, based on which the draft law was refined.
The Bureau supported the recommendation regarding an increase in the list of those officials that are subject to filling out the property declarations and publishing them. According to the Bureau, this list was expanded with an additional 300 officials with the last legislative change and currently contains more than 2,800 officials, though the Bureau still thinks that is should be expanded further to prevent corruption. For this purpose, the Bureau already developed a draft law for the changes in the “law about the conflict of interests and corruption in civil service”, according to which the list will be expanded and along with other officials, will include the heads of limited companies and joint stock companies founded with the 100% share participation of the Government.
Finally, the civil society suggested creating a transparent audit system of the declarations. In response the Bureau explains that the electronic system of property declarations is transparent, though it lacks a mechanism for monitoring these declarations and mentions that creating such a mechanism is part of the anticorruption strategy of Georgia.
According to the Bureau, it conducted a study regarding the criteria and mechanisms of checking the declarations in different countries, which will in turn help Georgia in creating an effective syste,. The Bureau thinks that a draft law should be created for the changes and should be introduced to the Parliament of Georgia no later than 1st September 2013.
First of all, the State Audit Office of Georgia, as an active participant of the process of developing transparency and accountability in the sphere of public finances, expressed its readiness to cooperate with the civil society and use modern effective tools for increasing the awareness and engagement of the general public.
The Office noted that it welcomes the initiative of the civil society expressed in these recommendations, though it mentions that an adequate and concrete action plan is needed to achieve the goals outlined in the document. For this, it would be best if the role and obligations of the State Office Audit regarding the planning of the state budget and its transparency, as well as the engagement of the general public, were outlined in more detail.
The State Audit Office, along with the Ministry of Finance, was the institution responsible for implementing the second recommendation of section four of the document, which touched the abovementioned subjects. The letter notes that the obligations of the Office, as well as the Ministry of Finance, should be defined more closely. Specifically, the State Audit Office thinks that a third direction regarding publishing the results of the audit activities should be added to the recommendations. It should be noted that these reports should be published on the website of the Office, as requested by the legislation of Georgia, and not the website of the Ministry of Finance. That is exactly why it should be specified exactly what kind of communication mechanism was implies in the recommendations of the civil society.