PM Bidzina Ivanishvili has pledged to engage with civil society groups, saying that the latter’s role is even more important now, as he put it, in the absence of UNM’s “constructive” criticism of the government.
He made the remarks while attending with several key members of his government a conference during which civil society organizations presented summary of their observations (pdf) in the context of human rights and rule of law during first 100 days of the new government.
The conference, which was also attended by several UNM lawmakers, was organized by local non-governmental organizations, among them Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), Transparency International Georgia and International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED).
Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani; Interior Minister Irakli Garibashvili; minister for penitentiary system Sozar Subari; chief prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili were also participating in the conference. Chairman of Supreme Court Kote Kublashvili was also present.
“As the opposition [referring to UNM party] fails to be constructive, the government pins its hopes on your constructive criticism, as well as on your assistance,” Ivanishvili told the civil society representatives in his opening remarks, before listening to their concerns.
One of the issues on which the new government was criticized in reports presented by the civil society groups was developments surrounding local self-governance bodies in the provinces. Since change of government after the October 1 parliamentary elections, heads of local municipalities (gamgebeli) in 46 provincial districts out of total 69 have been replaced, according to the report by ISFED. Chairmen of local councils (Sakrebulo) in 24 municipalities have also been replaced. The process was accompanied by protest rallies of Georgian Dream activists in 28 municipalities demanding resignation of heads of local municipalities. In 24 of those cases, according to the report, protests grew into “illegal actions”, involving breaking into the municipal buildings or blocking these buildings and barring local officials from performing their duties.
“This trend, unfortunately, continues to persist and the government has not responded with effective preventative measures,” the report reads.
Responding to this issue, Ivanishvili said that he was also “concerned” about these developments. He said “frankly speaking” initially his position was to stay away from intervening in this process and let sitting heads of districts to retain their posts; he said he thought that such an approach would have evaded Georgian Dream and his government from additional burden of tackling local issues in the provincial municipalities.
“But then I was convinced [by allies] that letting processes to develop spontaneously would have triggered more chaos,” Ivanishvili said. “There were attempts from some [Georgian Dream] coalition representatives to intervene, but I would say that these were pitiful attempts.”
“Of course I am not delighted with such developments,” PM Ivanishvili said.
He, however, also said that reasons behind such developments were more profound, stemming from the fact that there was “actually no independent self-governance in Georgia”.
Establishing “genuinely” independent self-governance would help to solve the problem, he said and added that reform package of the local self-governance had already been elaborated and it was “actually ready” for public discussions.
The report by civil society groups also says that although broad amnesty, which granted release to thousands of inmates, was “justified”, a decision to also include in the same amnesty bill those 190 inmates who were recognized by the Parliament as political prisoners was controversial. GYLA, which prepared this part of the report, says that the process of compiling list of “political prisoners” – to which GYLA has also partly contributed, was flawed as it was done hastily.
“Of course there are questions marks, but in overall, I think, that absolute majority of [amnestied] inmates were serving their prison terms unfairly and this amnesty was necessary,” PM Ivanishvili said.
“Amnesty carried out with such a speed could not have been flawless,” Ivanishvili said, adding that “hasty process” was apparently the reason that there was no case-by-case approach while deciding who should have been amnestied, but on the other hand there was “understandable impatience” on the part of those who were waiting for the release from jails.
Concerns were also voiced by the civil society groups about multiple cases of dismissals in public service after the change of government. According to Transparency International Georgia “on many occasions” public servants, both in the capital and regions, were pressured by their superiors to file for resignation. According to the report recruitment of new public servants were not made through competition.
During the conference lawmaker from UNM Giorgi Vashadze reiterated the parliamentary minority group’s criticism towards the new authorities ranging from concerns over foreign policy to police failure to prevent violent acts, including by protesters in the provinces against the local self-governance bodies; UNM lawmakers also slammed the new government of practicing “nepotism” while recruiting new public servants. In his remarks MP Vashadze welcomed PM Ivanishvili’s condemnation of violence and expressed hope that the relevant authorities would take measures to prevent violent acts in the future.
PM Ivanishvili responded that taking into account difficult legacy his government inherited from UNM, in its first three months in office the new government did “maximum of what could have been done”.
“There were some minor misdemeanors in this process – it could not have been without that, including in police actions or possibly inactions; but there have not been premeditated [wrongdoings], that were taking place during the previous government,” Ivanishvili said.
“That’s good that you criticize us; that’s very good, but do not forget the legacy we have inherited from you,” Ivanishvili told UNM lawmakers present at the conference. “It was impossible to do more than we have done in three months; do not forget what was happening when you were in power.”
He said that many of the negative developments, including cases of violence had their roots in the way how the country was governed by the previous authorities; Ivanishvili, however, also said that the new government should not in any way use it as a pretext to justify its own shortcomings.
Ivanishvili said that he was not going “to constantly remind” UNM of its wrong policies, but at the same time, he continued, “one should have lived properly in order to have moral [power] to teach others”.
“Teach us as much as you want, but do not forget your time in power and do not forget what was happening in the country at the time,” Ivanishvili said.
At one point during the conference, when the PM had already left, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani got in verbal exchange with UNM MP Vashadze, who was deputy justice minister and head of civil registry agency under the previous government; after the UNM MP accused the new authorities of pressuring public servants to file for resignations, Justice Minister Tsulukiani in return accused MP Vashadze of using his connections from his previous job in trying to obtain diplomatic passport by giving “illegal order” to his former subordinate in the civil registry to issue such passport; Tsulukiani said that after that she had to fire that official. “Keep your hands off [Justice Ministry’s] staff. Stop giving illegal orders,” she told MP Vashadze with the latter responding by telling her to tone done rhetoric and “to stop threatening and acting dishonestly.”