Parliamentary Control — Assessment of 2019-2020
Transparency International Georgia (TI Georgia) has prepared the report on the implementation of parliamentary control within the framework of the project, Parliamentary Control Assessment in Georgia, with the assistance from the Good Governance Initiative (GGI) of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The study provides the assessment of the parliamentary control carried out during the period between 1 January 2019 and 1 October 2020.
The reporting period saw the emergence of political tensions and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The study revealed that the Parliament has essentially abandoned its main function during the crisis.
The new Rules of Procedure of the Parliament of Georgia was a step forward towards the enhancement of parliamentary control, which manifested in improved statistics on the use of specific parliamentary oversight mechanisms. Nevertheless, parliamentary control is weak while challenges with the accountability of the parliament and government members in the process of parliamentary control as well as the lack of legislative guarantees for improving the rights of the political opposition remain serious.
The study revealed the following key challenges:
- During the Covid-19 pandemic and pandemic-induced crisis, the parliament actually refused to perform its function and fully entrusted its power of restraining fundamental human rights to the government. The parliament did not carry out an effective monitoring on the activity of the executive branch:
- During the state of emergency, the parliamentary committees did not conduct even a single meeting that would be dedicated to the control of government activity during the state of emergency;
- During the state of emergency, the parliamentary committees did not apply their power of examining, within their respective fields, the compliance of normative acts issued during the state of emergency with the Georgian legislation as well as the status of their implementation;
- During the Covid-19 pandemic, four ministerial hours were held instead of scheduled 11;
- The Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories of Georgia, Labor, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia, Ekaterine Tikaradze, did not appear before a committee meeting, when summoned by the opposition;
- The Rules of Procedure of the Parliament of Georgia does not contain legislative guarantees that would enhance the role of opposition in the parliamentary activity, including in the parliamentary oversight. A mere presence of opposition parties in the parliament is not suffice for an efficient parliamentary control:
- Chairpersons of all parliamentary committees are from the ruling party;
- When appointing heads of agencies accountable to the parliament, the Rules of Procedure does not provide for an obligation to hold consultations with the opposition factions and arrive at a decision through consensus, thereby heightening risks of politicized decision-making.
- Parliamentary control mechanisms are often not applied to issues that are important for the country. In the reporting period, the country faced a number of serious challenges such as, for example, borderization, kidnapping and incarceration of people living along the occupation line. There were instances of release of surreptitious recordings, including about high political officials. Information about conflicts of interest and alleged corruption deals of representatives of authorities, including MPs was made public. The problem that the court system has been run by members of the so-called clan was repeatedly discussed by society and foreign partners. However, committees never held a special sitting on the above-mentioned issues and never summoned accountable persons to it.
- The parliamentary oversight over the State Security Service is weak:
- The law does not grant the powers to the Defense and Security Committee to use special mechanisms for the control of the Security Service (for example, to exercise the oversight over the measures for obtaining information, clandestine operations, personal data protection in the Security Service, etc.).
- The Rules of Procedure of the Parliament grants the Trust Group a limited access to information.
- Although the new Rules of Procedure has enhanced the competence of the Trust Group has been enhanced under, it does not provide for the involvement of experts in the security sector oversight, there is no expert council at the Trust Group, whose members would be allowed to access classified information and exercise control;
- Government members and other high officials who are accountable to the parliament do not treat the oversight function of the parliament seriously; for example, ministers do not provide full answers to questions of MPs in a timely manner. Out of 1683 questions posed by MPs during the reporting period, 288 questions were left unanswered; when summoned by the opposition, they did not arrive for committee sittings. During the reporting period, the opposition factions exercised the right to summon accountable persons to committee sittings as many as 32 times but the summoned officials failed to turn up for 21 of them.
- There is no mechanism of parliamentary control that would enable the opposition to summon on short notice a government member to a plenary sitting concerning a pressing issue, to ask questions of him/her and to hold debates. Opposition factions may not summon Prime-Minister, Chief Prosecutor, Head of State Security Service to committee sittings; this rule unjustifiably limits the application of committee oversight mechanism to these very important officials.
Recommendations developed as a result of the study are designed to improve legislation and enhance parliamentary control in practice.
- During a crisis, the Parliament should fully exercise parliamentary oversight. A special oversight is required over the government-imposed restrictions directly related to the restriction of human rights;
- The positions of the chairmen of the committees in the Parliament of Georgia should be distributed proportionally among the represented political forces. The representative of the opposition, among others, should act as a chairman of the following committees: Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee, Finance and Budget Committee, Defense and Security Committee;
- It should be impossible to elect certain officials without consensus with the opposition parties, regardless of how many seats the majority holds in the Parliament.The consent of the majority of the opposition should be required to elect the Auditor General and the Prosecutor General. The candidates for the membership of the Supreme Court and the members of the High Council of Justice shall be appointed on the basis of simultaneous support of the majority and the minority in the Parliament.
- The role of the opposition in the parliamentary oversight should be increased:
- Members of the opposition should be privileged to ask questions to the government (in particular, they should have the right to open debates, ministerial hours, should ask more questions than the majority during the review of the Prime Minister’s annual report and during interpellation);
- Members of the opposition should have the right to request a debate, including a debate when there is an urgency or debates on the current issues;
- Members of the opposition (opposition factions) should have the right to summon officials at the committee meetings, including the Prosecutor General and the Head of the State Security Service.
- Parliamentary oversight over the State Security Service should be strengthened:
- A Permanent Oversight Council of Experts should be established with the Parliamentary Oversight Committee of the State Security Service, which will oversee the State Security Service on a permanent basis and will be accountable to the Parliament. The members of the Oversight Council should be elected by the Parliament. The Oversight Council should have the guarantees of independence.
- Members of the Parliamentary Specialized Committee and the members of the Supervisory Board should have access to the state secrets, with the only exception of not having access to the information about ongoing operations.
- Accountable bodies and members of the government should encourage the Parliament to exercise full and effective oversight, take responsibility on the parliamentary oversight procedures regardless of whether the oversight is initiated by the ruling party or the opposition;
- It is important that the Parliament monitors the implementation of the recommendations of the State Audit Office in public institutions and that the issue is discussed in detail at the meetings of the Finance and Budget Committee.
In order to increase parliamentary oversight over the implementation of audit findings and recommendations, it is advisable to establish a format with the Legal Committee, which will monitor the response to the materials sent to the Prosecutor’s Office by the State Audit Office.
- In order to establish a mechanism of the parliamentary oversight, which would enable the opposition to summon a member of the government at the plenary session on a topical issue in a short period of time, it is necessary to:
- Conduct interpellation procedure at least once a month;
- Introduce emergency / accelerated interpellation mechanism;
- Divide interpellation process over several days, if necessary;
- It is necessary to review the methodology of monitoring the implementation of the recommendations provided in the Public Defender’s report and to develop an effective format for reviewing the submitted proposals, namely:
- The draft resolution of the Parliament on the implementation of the recommendations outlined in the Public Defender’s annual report should be shared with the Office of the Public Defender;
- The Committee on Human Rights and Civil Integration should proactively provide the Public Defender’s Office with the information on the implementation of the resolution submitted to the Committee by the agencies.
- To increase the transparency of the parliamentary oversight:
- Information on the implementation of the parliamentary oversight and the results achieved should be available on the website of the Parliament in a centralized and proactive manner, including the summoning of the public officials at the Committee.