Tracking top-level ministry officials’ income and bonuses

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Caitlin Ryan and Rusudan Khotivari

How much do senior public officials make in Georgia? It’s a simple question with a complicated answer. The income of high ranking public officials is technically open information, but the data is not straightforward and some agencies are unnecessarily opaque.In early 2010, we sent five different Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the Ministries of Justice, Finance, Defense, Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor’s Office inquiring about the size of the bonuses received by top-level officials in each agency. No one gave us a full answer. Some agencies cited privacy protection laws, others referred us to a 2005 Presidential Order (it defines salaries, but it does not answer the question about bonuses), and other ministries simply didn’t respond at all to our request. But some Ministries are more open. For example, our colleagues from IDFI recently published a list of the 2009 salaries and bonuses of all staff in the Ministry of Environment. The Ministry openly provided that information in response to IDFI’s request.We find the reluctance of some agencies to apply a simple transparency measure confusing for several reasons. First of all, because it is unevenly applied by different institutions, as demonstrated by the Ministry of Environment’s comparative openness. And second, because asset declarations for all public officials have been accessible at www.declaration.ge for several years now. (Even before that site was available, it was not hard to get asset declarations by FOI request.) But the data has never been systematically published, analyzed or verified. We think the public has a right to know about the income, including bonuses, of all senior officials. And we think this information should be easy to get.The salaries (not to be confused with income, which includes both base salary and other sources) of most public officials are defined in the various bylaws of each institution. For example, the monthly (pre-tax) salaries of all ministers, first deputy ministers and deputy ministers are defined by a 2005 Presidential Order as GEL 3,540, GEL 2,950 and GEL 2,720, respectively. But salaries make up only a portion of the income of most high level officials.We did a bit of grunt work to collect the data from www.declaration.ge and did a few simple calculations to estimate the non-salary portion of income for all 57 ministers, first deputy ministers and deputy ministers in Georgia who filed asset declarations for 2009. We think that this is a pretty close estimate of bonus size. To calculate the bonus, we simply subtracted the salary that is defined by the law from the total declared income.We hope you will download the informationand look through the data for yourself. Let us know what you find! Here are a few of the interesting things we discovered:

  • Two-thirds of top level ministry officials we researched received more than half of their declared income as a bonus
  • Twelve out of 14 ministers earned a bonus in 2009 that made up 40 percent or more of their total income.
  • Of the two ministers remaining from the 14, Minister of Justice Zurab Adeishvili reported a income equivalent to his salary as defined by law, implying that he did not earn a bonus; and Minister of Internal Affairs Ivane Merabishvili reported a bonus of only GEL 4,228.
  • The largest total income was reported by Minister of Finance Kakha Baindurashvili, who declared GEL 106,102 in total income for 2009. Only one other public official reported income of more than 100,000 -- Ekaterina Zghuladze, First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, reported that she earned GEL 100,853. The next highest paid officials, according to the declaration data, are Nikoloz Rurua, Minister of Culture and Monument Protection (GEL 98,910), Koba Subeliani, Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Refugees and Accommodation (GEL 98,040) and the First Deputy Ministers of Finance and Justice, Papuna Petriashvili (GEL 95,775) and Tina Burjaliani (95,550). (This calculation does not include officials who held multiple public positions in 2009.)
  • One official declared income that is less than the salary he should have received according to the law. Deputy Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Giorgi Karbelashvili reported income in 2009 of GEL 25,100, but he should have received GEL 32,640 by law. One possible explanation is that Karbelashvili did not report his bonus (and with the bonus, his total income would likely match or exceed the salary stipulated by law). In fact, many other high level officials probably receive a “salary” that is less than the legal requirement, but which is supplemented by a significant bonus.

The simple truth is that the asset declarations do not provide enough clarity to fully understand public officials’ income or to compare it across positions and agencies. A set of Frequently Asked Questions on the Civil Service Bureau’s website clarifies many of these issues and, when public officials fill in the online form, there are help buttons next to each question with further explanations. Still, we found that most high-level public officials do not follow all the guidelines provided. For example, some did not declare income from different positions on separate lines, even though many switched agencies or were promoted during the year. No one reporting income from multiple positions indicated the dates that they held each position. This is probably a shortcoming of the declaration form. There are likely mistakes in the bonus calculations we made, but they are based on the available data. No agency is responsible for verifying the asset declarations. One fairly easy way to increase compliance and the reliability of the data would be to audit a small, randomized sample of the declarations each year and publish the names of officials who filled them out incorrectly. (We don’t recommend verifying all asset declarations, as that would be time consuming and resource intensive). The Chamber of Control or the internal audit units of each ministry would be the natural bodies to take on this kind of responsibility.