Citizens to be able to electronically submit bills and petitions to Parliament
On 5 January, Members of Parliament registered at the Bureau a bill which makes amendments to the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament, which is based on the obligations under the Open Parliament 2017 Action Plan. The obligations entail strengthening civil involvement in the legislative process.
According to the initiated bill:
Any citizen will be able to electronically submit and support a petition or a bill on the website of the Georgian Parliament;
A system will be placed on the website of the Georgian Parliament which will allow citizens to express their opinion on a bill or its specific sections.
Significance of the Bill
The Georgian Parliament is the main legislature of the country and it should always strive to utilize interactive and electronic technologies allowing citizens to contribute to law-making and other legislative activities. Additionally, it will support citizens’ relations with Members and staff of the Parliament.
Recently, civil involvement has been strengthening in the activities of the Georgian Parliament. However, challenges have remained in electronic communication methods at the Parliament with regard to civil interaction and involvement in the legislative process.
Improvement of access to electronic information at the Georgian Parliament and strengthening civil involvement in the legislative process represent an obligation under the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness to which Georgia acceded in 2015.
Electronic System of Petitions
In accordance with Article 203 of the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament, citizens may submit a written petition to the Chair of the Georgian Parliament which concerns a state or general problem. The petition is then sent for examination and deliberation to a competent committee or a temporary commission. The committee or the commission makes a decision and notifies the author of the petition within 1 week.
Notably, citizens are not active in using the written petitions’ mechanism. From 20 December 2012 to 12 July 2016, only 19 petitions have been submitted to the Chair of the Parliament. This is partly due to the fact that the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament does not allow submitting simplified electronic petitions.
Graph 1: Petitions submitted to the Chair of the Parliament (broken down in years)
According to the bill, a special section will be created on the website of the Parliament where citizens will be able to fill out an electronic petition form and send it to the Parliament. The bill also notes that, 3 months after publishing a petition on the website of the Parliament, the author of the petition will have to present signatures of at least 300 people either electronically or in writing.
3 business days after submitting the signatures, the petition is then sent for examination and deliberation to a competent committee or a temporary commission. The committee or the commission makes one of the following decisions:
It finds that the petition should be examined and deliberated by a committee/commission itself or a plenary session of the Parliament;
It finds that the petition is to be sent to a competent Ministry or other agency;
It finds that the petition should not be examined and deliberated.
An above decision is communicated to the author of the petition within 2 weeks and is published on the website of the Parliament.
Electronic System of Submitting Bills
In accordance with the Georgian Constitution and the Rules of Procedure of the Georgian Parliament, citizens may submit a bill for which at least 30 000 signatures of Georgian citizens need to be presented. However, the current legislation does not provide for a possibility to present the signatures electronically. An implementation of the electronic mechanism and simplification of the procedures will support an active use of the legislative right by citizens.
Graph 2: Bills submitted with 30 000 signatures (broken down in years)
Graph 3: Bills submitted with 30 000 signatures (broken down in topics)
According to the bill, the initiating group, 45 days after receiving a registration certificate, applies to the Bureau of the Parliament and presents one of the following:
Signature sheets by at least 30 000 voters
Information about collection of electronic signatures of at least 30 000 voters
Enclosed signature sheets and information about collection of electronic signatures, which in total contain signatures of at least 30 000 voters
The website of the Parliament collects signatures in an electronic form, which is approved under an Order of the Chair of the Parliament, and in accordance to the Georgian legislation.
Feedback mechanism for the comments on bills
Commenting on bills is already possible on the website of the Parliament. However, there are no mechanisms implemented for a feedback. Therefore, citizens’ comments are not sent to Members of the Parliament and there is no legislative mechanism for the comments to be examined and assessed within the legislative process.
According to this bill, after the Bureau of the Parliament launches deliberations on a bill, it must be published on the website of the Parliament for public consultation. Also, the Leading Committee will examine and assess the comments received by the public consultation and, if necessary, will reflect them in the Committee report.
Transparency International Georgia believes that this bill is a step forward in implementing a high standard for civil involvement in the legislative process. However, we also believe that the Georgian Parliament should also take into account the following recommendations:
As the principles of electronic democracy is introduced to Georgia only now and the number of users is low, it is important that the Parliament of Georgia ensures raising awareness among citizens;
A legislative initiative or a petition, which is incompletely filled out, or is offensive or indecent, should not be registered. However, the website of the Parliament should publish statistics on all submitted bills indicating the name of the bill, the author’s name and the basis for refusal;
The persons signing a legislative initiative or a petition should be able to receive updates to their emails or as text messages;
For making the electronic platform of petitions and legislative initiative more popular, a system for making comments should be implemented which would allow citizens to engage in discussions.
* This blog was prepared with the financial support of the USAID Good Governance Initiative in Georgia (GGI), under the project “Enhancing Transparency and Accountability of the Parliament”. TI Georgia is responsible for the content of the blog. The views expressed in the blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) or the Government of the United States.