Independence of the institutions fighting corruption is one of the most important standards that ensures effective fight against corruption, accountability, high degree of transparency and, therefore, high level of public trust.
As known, Georgia has achieved meaningful progress in fighting petty corruption, however, high-level corruption still remains a problem. The lack of investigation of the alleged high-level corruption cases indicates that it is necessary to reform the system because it cannot effectively respond to cases of high-level corruption. This poses questions in the society and negatively affects the trust towards public institutions. Furthermore, non-investigation of alleged high-level corruption cases harms the country’s democratic development. Despite this, in Georgia there does not exist an Independent Anti-corruption Agency that would be equipped with high degree of independence, relevant authority and public trust to investigate high-profile corruption cases and answer all of the lingering questions. It is important that in 2019-2020 Georgia was mentioned in the rankings of several international organizations and all of them indicate that corruption situation in the country is worsening with high-level corruption being mentioned as one of the causes.
In order to overcome mentioned challenges, it is crucial that Georgia adheres to the recommendations of international anti-corruption institutions. In this regard, it is especially important to use the platforms of international initiatives, where Georgia, in addition to sharing the experience, may undertake commitments to make changes in specific areas.
The most relevant international platform for implementing the above-mentioned changes and reforms is the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Within this platform, state institutions cooperate with the civil society organizations and agree with them on the commitments to be implemented. The OGP aims to increase the involvement of civil society in important reforms; introduce innovations and technologies; increase access to information; strengthen transparency and accountability of state agencies.
The anti-corruption commitments of the Member States of OGP can be divided into several groups:
– Ensuring transparency of beneficial owners;
– Protecting openness in the public procurement sector;
– Carrying out the activities of political parties in accordance with the standards of ethics and integrity.
At the same time, OGP member states are taking various measures to reduce conflicts of interest in public service, eliminate corruption and establish ethical rules of conduct. In particular, the 2012 OGP Action Plan for Montenegro envisages the establishment of a Council of Ethics as an independent body to implement the Code of Ethics within civil service. The council will consist of representatives of public sector and trade unions. The Council will ensure the introduction of a code of ethics in the public sector as well as awareness-raising on ethical norms and will strengthen internal control mechanisms to detect corruption and conflicts of interest in the tax and customs administrations.
Serbia’s 2014-2015 Action Plan envisages increasing the rights and detailing responsibilities of the existing anti-corruption agency to better deal with conflicts of interest cases and control property and income of high-ranking officials.
It should be noted that independent anticorruption agencies are mostly typical of Eastern Europe and EaP countries, where corruption is a significant challenge to democratic institutions and socio-economic development. In Ukraine, for example, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) has been set up supervised by the board composed of civil society representatives. At the same time, the Action Plan of the OGP Ukraine for 2018-2020 envisages the creation of a register of beneficiary owners for the transparency of beneficial property. While corruption in Ukraine remains a challenge to this day, the actions taken by the state are aimed at eliminating problems and improving the situation in the public and private sectors. Although the creation of independent anticorruption agencies are more common in post-socialist countries, institutional arrangement of the fight against corruption are also found in Western Europe. In this regard, the example of the United Kingdom is also noteworthy, where an anti-corruption service has been established within the Cabinet of Ministers and where the involvement of civil society contributes to the independence of the service.
Open Government Georgia’s 2018-2019 Action Plan envisaged strengthening of the existing anti-corruption institutions, however, experts and civil society organizations recognize the need for more complex measures, including the establishment of an independent anti-corruption institution. Studies carried out by the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) indicate the need to establish such an independent institute in Georgia. At the same time, IDFI, Transparency International Georgia (TI – Georgia), and other civil society organizations are constantly calling on the Georgian authorities to establish an independent anticorruption agency to effectively fight corruption. This was also a joint recommendation of Open Government Georgia’s Forum member civil society organizations for the two OGP action plans. Finally, civil society representatives with the initiative from Transparency International Georgia (TI – Georgia) drafted an Anti-Corruption Law. Recently, a group of independent members of parliament of Georgia initiated the mentioned draft law considering significant anti-corruption reform by establishing independent anti-corruption agency.
At the same time, as international experience proves, strong anticorruption mechanisms are characterized by independence, well-defined rights and responsibilities, and the exercise of control over the conflicts of interest of high-ranking officials. Accordingly, the development of such an anti-corruption mechanism depends on the cooperation of civil society and state institutions, the active involvement of civil society and the introduction of international standards that will promote the independence and effective functioning of the anti-corruption service.