Authorities are not reacting to public officials’ concealing of information in asset declarations
A recent article on our blog reviewed inaccuracies that we had discovered in the asset declarations of Georgian Parliament members. Specifically, we highlighted the cases where Parliament members had failed to indicate their connections with private companies in their asset declarations (despite the fact that the company registry data confirmed those connections). The article identified eight MPs, who had not provided company ownership information in the declarations. Although providing incorrect information in an asset declaration is punishable under Georgian law, no reaction has followed. If committed deliberately, this action is an offence under the Georgian Criminal Code and is punishable "by a fine or 100-200 hours of public work, as well as the suspension of the right to hold office for up to three years." Yet, there has been no reaction to the information that we published.
Inaccuracies in the asset declarations of public officials are nothing new. In a report published in December 2013, we also reviewed cases where officials did not report their links with private companies or continued to work in the private sector while holding public offices, which is a violation of Georgian law. Cases of this kind were recorded in the legislative and the executive branches, the local government, and the independent regulatory bodies.
Reports like these also appear in the media. For example, on 16 February, the Rustavi-2 TV channel aired a report on the omissions in the asset declaration of the Tbilisi City Council chairman. Specifically, the City Council chairman has not indicated in his asset declaration that his spouse is a co-owner the Anj-Metal company which continues to operate today and participates in public tenders. In August 2013, the Tsqaltubo Municipality signed a contract worth 2,161,000 lari with Anj-Metal. The company won a total of nine tenders in 2011-2013 with the total value of 3,155,878 lari.
Regrettably, these cases are the latest indication that both the previous and the current government have ignored the requirements of the law, resulting in a situation where Georgia’s anti-corruption legislation is not applied effectively in practice. It is worth noting that, according to the 2011 National Integrity System Assessment, major discrepancies between the law and the practice, resulting from the country’s lack of appropriate enforcement mechanisms, are among the most serious problems of the Georgia’s integrity system.
What Should Be Done
Identify the agencies responsible for monitoring the application of each anti-corruption provision
The anti-corruption provisions that Georgian public officials are expected to follow are established by a number of laws and by-laws. The most important of these is the Law on Conflict of Interest and Corruption in Public Service which establishes important rules for public officials. For examples, the law imposes restrictions on the involvement of public officials in business and requires them to publicly disclose information concerning their assets and commercial interests by filing asset declarations.
Georgian legislation assigns the responsibility for handling certain types of corruption to the law enforcement agencies. However, no law identifies the agencies responsible for monitoring the compliance of public officials with various anti-corruption provisions and taking appropriate action (where necessary). The Civil Service Bureau collects asset declarations and is authorized to impose fines on the public officials who fail to submit the declarations in a timely manner. But the bureau has no further powers. The law does not require the bureau to examine the accuracy of the information in the asset declarations and neither does it establish mechanisms for sanctioning other types of violations. Consequently, the practice of recent years shows, a number of public officials have been able to ignore the requirements of the law without any penalty.
Expand the Civil Service Bureau's powers
The Civil Service Bureau is presently one of the main agencies operating in this field. For this reason, one of the ways of addressing the problems described above would be to expand the bureau’s powers both in terms of monitoring and in terms of applying sanctions. However, this would require enhancing the bureau’s institutional capacity by providing it with additional funding and staff.
Train public officials and raise their awareness
It is important to improve the knowledge of anti-corruption laws and the corresponding obligations among public officials. For example, while collecting the information concerning the asset declarations, we learned that some MPs had failed to provide accurate data in their declarations because of a lack of attention or knowledge.
Create precedents of punishment
It is important for the state to react to the cases where officials are concealing information which the law requires them to provide in their asset declarations. Sanctioning the offenders will help prevent such actions in the future.
Establish additional monitoring mechanisms
Another possible solution is the establishment of an independent anti-corruption agency that would be responsible (among other things) for monitoring the application of anti-corruption laws in practice. The present Interagency Coordination Council for Combating Corruption lacks this function and is in need for reform.
The Georgian Parliament and government need to address this problem as soon as possible and create proper mechanisms for enforcement of the country’s anti-corruption regulations in practice.
The article was prepared with financial support from the EU