The Rules of Procedure Legitimize the Deterioration of Parliamentary Control and Openness
The Parliament is considering the initiative submitted by MPs of the parliamentary majority on amendments to the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure. The outcome of these amendments will not contribute to improving the efficiency of the Parliament but will instead focus on providing greater comfort for the MPs.
With the legislative amendments, parliamentary openness is deteriorating in every aspect. The elimination of secret voting is the only positive change.
The presented initiative also worsens parliamentary control and simplifies legislative procedures.
The provision in the bill, granting the chairperson of a committee the authority to decide the duration of speeches of participants at the sitting, poses a risk for the opposition. Its selective application could significantly restrict the proper expression of critical opinions. The proposed amendments represent a notable deterioration of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure adopted in 2019, which were positively regarded at the time.
1. Deterioration of Parliamentary Control and Accountability
To effectively inform citizens about the use of parliamentary control and supervision mechanisms, it is crucial that the consideration of legislative reports does not have a pro forma character. In 2019, the new Rules of Procedure of the Parliament defined the concept of bodies accountable to the Parliament and the procedure for reviewing their reports. This process was positively evaluated by international and local non-governmental organizations.
With the proposed amendments, the obligation to discuss important reports at the plenary sitting is revoked (e.g. reports of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Special Investigation Service, Personal Data Protection Service and Public Information). The reports will only be considered during the plenary sittings if specifically requested by the leading committee, faction, or bureau. The consideration of the annual reports of the committees at the plenary sitting is also abolished.
The proposed amendments notably undermine parliamentary control and openness. The purpose of considering reports during the plenary sitting was not to cater to the interests of the MPs but rather to inform the public about the activities of crucial agencies for the country and the exercise of parliamentary supervision over them. Even if the leading committee or faction is not interested in hearing the reports, citizens still have the right to receive information of public interest
2. Decline of Parliamentary Openness
According to the amendments, reporting from committee sittings is prohibited, marking a regression in parliamentary openness. If the sitting is not closed, the media should have the right to report and provide the public with information about political and legislative events.
3. Limiting the Rights of Opposition MPs
It is inappropriate to regulate the order of speakers and the duration of their speeches during a committee sitting by the initiative of the committee chairperson and the majority of those present. Considering that the chairpersons of all parliamentary committees are members of the majority, this amendment will hinder the full participation of opposition MPs in committee sitting and is likely to restrict their rights to express their positions/ask questions. This restriction will also create an obstacle to the expression of opinion of the persons attending committee sitting. This restriction will also impede other persons present at the committee sitting from freely expressing their opinions.
4. Simplification of Legislative Procedures
The amendments fail to address the crucial challenges currently facing the Parliament of Georgia today and are generally aimed at simplifying procedural issues for the parliamentary majority. A good example is the new rule for voting on the legislative package and the amendment in the rule for the expedited review of a bill.
As per the proposed new rule, the chairperson of the plenary sitting has the authority to halt the discussion of the current issue to conduct the voting procedure.
The current parliamentary practice shows that the number of MPs during the discussion of issues in the plenary hall is notably low and they are mobilized only for voting. The new rule will further enhance the convenience for MPs, providing them with the option to attend a sitting at a predetermined time solely for voting. Considering the best international practices, it is preferable to promote debates and thorough consideration of issues within the legislative body, rather than simplifying procedures solely for the convenience of MPs.
Further simplifying the expedited adoption of laws raises concerns. In parliamentary activities, the expedited consideration of bills has already been a challenge, and with this amendment, the procedure of adopting a law with two readings in one day will become possible without the approval of the Bureau.
5. Increase in Parliament’s Expenditures
The increase of number of deputy chairpersons of the Parliament lacks justification. There needs to be more comprehensive reasoning provided for the increase in administrative resources and associated costs.
Contrary to improvement, the Parliament is diminishing the oversight mechanisms over accountable bodies and deteriorating openness and transparency. These amendments will be a continuation of the policy that the Parliament has been pursuing for the last few years, leading to its transformation into a more closed institution.
Effective control mechanisms are essential in a parliamentary republic. The deterioration of parliamentary control and openness aimed at achieving procedural simplicity negatively impacts the democratic development of the country.
We call on the Parliament of Georgia not to endorse the proposed bill.