Civil Service Bureau’s Statement Raises Questions Regarding Effectiveness of Asset Declarations Monitoring System and Bureau’s Political Neutrality
We would like to respond to the 10 December statement by the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) concerning Transparency International Georgia’s (TI Georgia) study on the business connections of ministers and deputy ministers which was published on the same day.
The CSB’s statement is largely ambiguous and, in most cases, it is difficult to understand which specific facts or findings of the study the CSB is questioning. Still, we would like to respond to the parts of the statement which are clearly politicized, constitute an attempt to defend the public officials who have ignored the requirements of the law, and is part of the trend of the growing attacks by the authorities on civil society organizations.
- The statement argues in the very beginning that the “findings of the study are mistaken and could mislead the public.”
Transparency International Georgia’s study is based exclusively on official data: The asset declarations of public officials and information from the Public Registry. Every case presented in the study includes links to the relevant official documents.
- According to the CSB statement, the CSB has already reviewed the asset declarations of a majority of the officials mentioned in the study in 2019 and has not found the kinds of violations that are described in the study.
Ti Georgia does not have access to the details of the reviews conducted by the CSB. Yet, the fact that the CSB has found no violations of this kind despite numerous violations discovered by TI Georgia is surprising and raises questions regarding the effectiveness of the monitoring conducted by the CSB.
- The CSB also said that it found no violations in the asset declarations of ministers Maia Tskitishvili, Ekaterine Tikaradze and Levan Davitashvili.
This statement is surprising since all three ministers have clearly provided incomplete information in their asset declarations. Specifically:
- In the declaration filed in January 2019, Maia Tskitishvili wrote that her spouse is a shareholder in LTD Microclimate but did not mention the fact that he is also director of the same company. She also wrote in the declaration that her spouse owns a 75-percent share in LTD Tbilisi Commercial Estate but did not mention the fact that she herself owned this share until March 2018.
- Ekaterine Tikaradze filed her declaration in August 2019. She did not mention in the declaration that she had owned 50% of LTD Room 404 and had also been its director in 2018, or the fact that she had served as director of JSC Sachkhere District Hospital and Polyclinic Association which is a company actively involved in public procurement.
- Levan Davitashvili wrote in the February 2019 declaration that his spouse owned 100% of LTD Intermanagement but did not mention the fact that she is the director of the company too. Also, he did not mention the fact that he had owned shares in four companies in 2018 which he only have up after the end of the declaration’s reporting period - in January 2019.
- The CSB’s statement says that the “failure to include in a declaration an enterprise which has been inactive over the last six years or more is not a violation.”
The legislative amendment whereby a public official’s failure to include in an asset declaration his or her involvement in a company which has been inactive for the past six years or more does not constitute a violation came into force in April 2019. Yet, the public officials mentioned in our study had not disclosed their involvement in the companies in question in the declarations filed before the amendment came into force, which was a violation of the law at the time.
- The CSB’s statement that “incompatibility of possession of stocks and shares with the law is indicated incorrectly in the study” is confusing. Our study does not, at any point, assert that possession of stocks or shares is a violation of the law.
We would like to take this opportunity to once again express out extremely negative view of the aforementioned amendment which was adopted in the spring of 2019. The amendment makes it exceptionally difficult for civil society organizations, the media and interested citizens to monitor the connections between public officials and business, as they do not have the possibility of establishing whether a company has been active over the past six years: This information is not publicly available because it qualifies as a commercial secret and only the relevant official bodies can access it. The amendment undermines the transparency of business activities of public officials and fundamentally contradicts both the goals and the spirit of the law, as well as Georgia’s international anti-corruption commitments.
Given the fact that the CSB found violations in 59 of the 60 asset declarations of the Parliament’s members which it reviewed in 2018, legitimate questions arise regarding the reasons behind this amendments (particularly as deputies who had been fined for those violations were among the authors of the amendment). Essentially, instead of complying with the law in good faith, the deputies tailored the law to their own interests in order to avoid any future fines.
The spirit of the CSB’s statement is also extremely alarming. It leaves the impression that the CSB aims to defend political officials from criticism and is trying to achieve this goal by discrediting a study by a civil society organization. This kind of action fundamentally contradicts the CSB’s mission as a politically neutral public institution.
We urge the CSB to review TI Georgia’s study more closely and to take the measures established by the law, as well as to refrain from politically biased general statements and to provide specific and strong arguments wherever its disagrees with any findings.