The list of public officials filing asset declarations needs to expand
The Georgian Ministry of Justice and the Civil Service Bureau have submitted draft amendments to the Law on Conflict of Interest and Corruption Service to Parliament. This law establishes, among other things, the list of public officials who are required to file annual asset declarations.
Georgia presently has a sound and transparent system of asset disclosure where the Civil Service Bureau collects asset declarations of public officials and posts them to a dedicated website for public scrutiny. The Civil Service Bureau deserves praise for its efforts to improve the system in recent years.
The proposed amendments expand the list of public officials to whom the law will apply and who will therefore be required to file annual asset declarations. These include heads and deputy heads of directorates, structural sub-units of government ministries, and sub-agencies, as well as heads of legal entities of public law (except for religious, cultural, educational and academic ones), non-commercial entities established by the state and enterprises owned entirely by the state or local government bodies. These are all welcome additions and will take Georgia one step closer to ensuring transparency of public administration. However, we believe that a number of further changes need to be made in the law in order to fully address the existing corruption risks.
Who is required to disclose assets?
Even if the proposed amendments are approved by Parliament, the legal requirement of asset disclosure will still not extend to a number of important decision makers, particularly those in the local government. For example, the large majority of Tbilisi City Council members are presently not required to file asset declarations. The city council members make decisions concerning the spending of public funds from the city’s sizeable budget and are, at the same time, free to engage in private business. The lack of transparency regarding their private commercial interests creates serious risks of conflict of interest and abuse of power. The heads of the city’s municipal services (which spend large amounts of public money) are also exempt from the asset disclosure requirements. The situation is similar in all cities and municipalities throughout Georgia, resulting in serious gaps in the country’s anti-corruption safeguards.
Content of asset declarations
The asset declarations of Georgian public officials currently contain different types of important information regarding their income, interests, and wealth. Yet, a number of additions would render the system even more effective, while also making work easier for the governmental and nongovernmental entities conducting monitoring. For example, public officials could be asked to provide ID numbers of their companies and cadastral numbers of the property that they declare. They could also be required to provide their ID numbers and those of their family members (this would make it much easier to check the content of asset declarations against data from the official company registry, although concerns have been voiced that such a provision would encroach upon the privacy of the individuals involved). The asset declarations could also indicate the exact position of a public official (instead of simply indicating the agency where he or she is employed), as well as the exact date when the person in question assumed office.
In the long run, Georgia needs to introduce an effective system for the verification of the information that public officials provide in their declarations. This is particularly important since civil society organizations involved in monitoring have detected multiple inaccuracies and omissions in these declarations in recent years. The government has recently acknowledged the need for such a system, although the work to put it in place is still at a very early stage.
Transparency International Georgia welcomes the proposed amendments to the Law of Conflict of Interest and Corruption. At the same time, we urge the members of Parliament to take this opportunity to consider further expansion of the list of individuals who are required to file asset declarations. Unlike some rather complex changes (such as the introduction of the content verification system) that will take some time to develop, this is a rather simple addition to the law which could be implemented in the short run and would significantly reduce corruption risks in public administration.
The article was prepared with financial support from the EU