Remarks of the Public Defender of Georgia on National Integrity System Assessment Report by Organization Transparency International - Georgia
In June 2015, Organization Transparency International - Georgia has released a Report on National Integrity System Assessment in Georgia. The document encompasses examination of the functioning of 12 institutions in Georgia, including the Public Defender’s Office and reflects positive and negative changes implemented in these bodies over the last four years.
The Public Defender of Georgia welcomes the report of Transparency International - Georgia and notes that activities of non-governmental organizations in this direction significantly improves democratic processes and increases the level of transparency and accountability of governmental bodies in the country. However, the report does not adequately reflect positive changes that have taken place in the Public Defender’s Office and thus, the work of the Institution from 2011 until today is evaluated as slightly improved.
Given all the above and taking into account significance of the report “National Integrity System Assessment Georgia”, the Public Defender expresses a wish to remark on the assessment document and indicate those shortcomings that were mentioned in the report.
First of all, the inaccuracies in the assessment reporting period (2011-2015) should be mentioned. The report is dated by 2015 that creates an impression that it reflects the changes and tendencies implemented in 2015. Though, given the date of release of the report (June, 2015) this is impossible. Therefore, because the study was conducted in 2014, the report does not describe changes that were undertaken in the Public Defender’s Office in 2015. The only exception is the funding of the Office that was already known at the end of December, 2014, in accordance with the Law of Georgia on Budget, adopted by the Parliament of Georgia.
I. Structure, organizational arrangement and resources
In 2013-2014, the Public Defender’s Office of Georgia has become stronger institutionally and financially. In 2014, the mandate of the Public Defender was broadened. Namely, in May 2014, the Law on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination was adopted, according to which the Public Defender of Georgia carries out the oversight on the issues of elimination of discrimination and ensuring equality.
In the period of 2012-2015, financial and human resources of the Public Defender’s Office have increased significantly. Namely, in 2015, the budget of the Public Defender’s Office has increased by 68%, while the budget of 2015 has doubled compared to that of 2012 (in 2012 the budget amounted to 2, 100, 000 GEL while in 2015 the budget is 4, 000, 000 GEL). In 2015, the Public Defender’s Office has 123 staff members (which is twice as much as in 2012).
Significant increase of the budget is caused by structural changes that were carried out in the Public Defender’s Office. It should be noted that the Public Defender activated its efforts in various important directions: namely, the position of the Parliamentary Secretary was established; new departments have been formed: the Department of Equality (in accordance with the Law of Georgia on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination); the Department of Protection of Human Rights in Defence Sphere; the Department of Protection of the Persons with Disabilities (starting from 2014 the Public Defender conducts monitoring of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Georgia); the Analytical department; and the Department of International Relations and Communications. Also, Regional Division was established and important steps have been taken for strengthening the regional representations of the Public Defender. It should be welcomed that current advancement with respect to structural changes is also mentioned in the assessment report of Transparency International – Georgia.
II. Transparency and accountability
With regard to transparency and accountability, significant progress has been noted in the PDO activities on both, legislative and practical level. In December, 2014 changes were introduced to the Article 26 of the Organic Law of Georgia on Public Defender, according to which establishment of public councils at the Public Defender’s Office has become possible on the legislative level. With the view of inclusion of the public into the Public Defender’s activities, around ten councils of various profiles already operate. In accordance with the Public Defender’s Order of September, 2013 the PDO webpage has become more effective and proactive; reports and recommendations of the Public Defender are more easily accessible. Compared to 2011, the PDO work with regard to addressing requests for public information has significantly improved; in 2014, the Public Defender’s Office was granted an award by the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) for raising the level of transparency.
As to the accountability, we should especially mention monthly information bulletins issued by the Public Defender’s Office, monthly briefings for the press, preparation of qualitative and statistical reports related to PDO work, significant increase of the number of special reports. Also, in 2013 (for the first time), as well as in 2014 the Public Defender’s Office of Georgia presented its activity reports to non-governmental and international organizations, diplomatic corps and mass media. Despite the “tangible improvement of the situation” in recent years that the assessment also emphasises, Transparency International – Georgia still assessed the work of the Public Defender in the area of transparency and accountability in 2015 with the same points as in 2011.
In the light of an assessment of the practical part of integrity, the document mentions that the new staff members in the Public Defender’s Office of Georgia are hired without an open contest and this process is not transparent. An interview with an expert is indicated as a source of this information. We should unambiguously state that information indicated in the assessment does not correspond to the truth. In 2013-2015, staff members in the PDO have been hired only on the basis of a competition. The contest is held in accordance with the regulations defined in the Law of Georgia on Public Service. Also, starting from 2013, in accordance with the Order issued by the First Deputy Public Defender, a contest-attestation Commission has been established. Alongside the staff members of the PDO the Commission is also composed of representatives of the Georgian Trade Unions Confederation and non-governmental organizations.
All the more, even in the framework of the projects funded by the various donor organizations, when staff is hired through contracts and the Law of Georgia on Public Service is not applicable open vacancies are still announced and candidates are selected in adherence to all established contest procedures. This information can be easily verified on the PDO webpage where all vacancies are announced. Taking into account that dissemination of such an inaccurate information in the report leads to discrediting the Public Defender’s Office and its activity, it is important that the authors of the assessment included verified and trustworthy data in the report.
In the practical context of independence of the institution, the assessment mentions only the issues of public trust towards the Public Defender’s institution. The studies of the “Caucasus Barometer” are named as a source of information which shows a decline of public trust towards the Public Defender’s Office. However, the report only mentions the results of the study in 2011-2013 and there is no mention of the results of 2014 and 2015 studies. Nevertheless, the assessment claims to reflect the situation in the period of 2011-2015. We should also mention that according to the research of the “Caucasus Barometer”, the decline of the public trust towards the Public Defender’s Office starts not from 2011, but from 2008.
As to more recent studies, it should be noted that according to a survey published by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in 2015 , the Public Defender’s Office is in the top five institutions activity of which is assessed positively by the population. Namely, according to this survey, the majority of respondents puts the Georgian Orthodox Church in the top position, the second place is held by the Georgian Army, the third place is occupied by Public Service Halls, the forth – the Georgian Police and they are followed by the PDO and other agencies.
The second indicator that is important for us and reflects increase of trust towards the institution on the part of the public is significant increase in the number of applications received from citizens. Compared to 2012, applications addressed to the PDO have doubled. Namely, in 2012 4, 291 applications/complaints were registered, out of which allowance threshold was passed by 3, 617. While in 2014 7, 929 application/complaints were registered and allowance was passed by 6, 555.
V. The role of the Public Defender - investigation
With regard to increase of the role and influence of the Public Defender, also supervision of fulfilment of recommendations of the Public Defender, we can consider an essentially new approach of the Georgian Parliament towards discussion of the annual report of the Public Defender as a step forward. In 2013-2014, after hearing the Public Defender’s parliamentary report, the Parliament of Georgia established practice of adoption of a resolution where main recommendations of the Public Defender towards various government bodies are reflected. By the same resolution, Georgian governmental bodies are charged with obligation to present reports of conducted work aimed at fulfilment of recommendations stated over one year to the Parliamentary Committee of Human Rights and Civil Integration. This was first realized in 2015. Several committee hearings were conducted in the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee where representatives of the government agencies and ministries presented reports on the fulfilment of the Public Defender’s recommendations to the Parliament, the Public Defender and public.
The Public Defender has made approaches stricter and starting from 2014 began application of penalty mechanism envisaged by the law towards those state agencies that do not fulfil lawful requests of the Public Defender regarding provision of requested information or results of fulfilment of recommendations/proposals of the Public Defender. The mentioned mechanism has not been used by the PDO since 2006. Also, the Public Defender‘s Office of Georgia keeps annual statistical data on fulfilment of recommendations, reveals agencies that fulfil/do not fulfil or partially fulfil the Public Defender recommendations and this information is periodically provided to the public.
The Public Defender‘s Office has also activated its efforts with respect to preparation of legislative proposals. Numerous proposals have already been forwarded to the Parliament of Georgia. We have several success stories. The most important is that, the National Preventive Mechanism Group of the Public Defender’s Office was granted a right to make photo recordings in the penitentiary establishments. The amendment enters into force from September 2016. Currently, we cooperate with the Committee of Human Rights and Civil Integration of the Georgian Parliament in order to introduce amendments to the Law of Georgia on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination that will make authority of the Public Defender, as a supervisory body over equality issues, more effective.
We believe that abovementioned activities and many other important new developments of the PDO deserved to be reflected in the assessment of Transparency International – Georgia. Unfortunately this did not happen.
VI. Promoting establishment of exemplary practices
The assessment mentions that with respect to promoting best practices the situation has not been changed essentially since 2011 and apart from certain exceptions the PDO does not conduct trainings for representatives of the ministries and other government agencies. It should be noted that in this direction the situation has also changed significantly since 2011. Despite the fact that this information was communicated to the Transparency International – Georgia it has not been reflected in the study.
The Public Defender’s Office staff members are actively involved in the process of training of representatives of various agencies. Namely, the PDO has conducted trainings for around 500 district inspectors and 2000 patrol-inspectors on domestic violence; trainings were held for 30 representatives of the Ministry of Defence on gender issues. Trainings on issues of elimination of discrimination and ensuring equality were conducted for 763 school students, around 70 prosecutors and policemen, 20 journalists and others. This process still continues and educational activities remain one of the main priorities for Public Defender’s Office starting from 2015. Unfortunately, Transparency International – Georgia assessment report does not adequately reflect this progress.