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In Debates on Surveillance Bill, Usupashvili Calls for Interior Ministry Reform
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 28 Nov.'14 / 17:09

Parliament speaker, Davit Usupashvili, has called on partners from the Georgian Dream ruling coalition to address some of the major “systemic” problems, including through delivering on promised reform of the Interior Ministry and curbing intelligence and security agencies’ influence over the politics.

In a speech, exposing fundamental differences between Republican Party and rest of the GD ruling coalition, specifically with PM Irakli Garibashvili, on number of issues, Usupashvili also made it clear that despite of disagreements, Republicans have no intention to quit the coalition.

Usupashvili delivered his speech in the Parliament on November 28 before a controversial government-backed surveillance bill was passed with its second reading.

The bill, which was passed with 74 votes to 45 with its second reading and with 73 votes to 30 with its third and final reading, allows the Interior Ministry to retain direct access to telecom operators’ networks.

President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who has not yet spoken publicly about his stance towards this bill, has the right to veto it. At least 76 votes are required for the Parliament to override a presidential veto. Not counting 9 lawmakers from the Republican Party, which are against of this bill, the GD parliamentary majority group has 78 seats.

The bill was opposed by lawmakers from Republican Party, which is part of the GD ruling coalition, as well as by Free Democrats and UNM. The bill is also criticized by those civil society groups, which have been campaigning for reining in security agencies’ unrestricted direct access to telecom operators’ networks.

A day earlier the Parliament voted down competing bill on the surveillance regulation, tabled by Republican Party MP Vakhtang Khmaladze, offering depriving the Interior Ministry of its direct access to the telecom operators’ networks.

Usupashvili said that disagreement over the issue with other partners from the GD caused groundless “stir” about possible withdrawal of the Republican Party from the ruling coalition.

“No. That’s not the case and I have to disappoint many on various sides of the political spectrum, who may dream about it. The Republican Party assumed responsibility by joining the coalition before founder of this coalition, Bidzina Ivanishvili, and before partners of the coalition. This responsibility entails not our brotherly and friendly relations, but what we have agreed on – not with whom we agreed, but what we have agreed on – and that is reflected in coalition’s founding declaration, in its pre-election platform and we remain committed to them even though we may have different views on various issues,” Usupashvili said.

He said that when lawmakers from the same group are voting differently signals the end of Soviet-style rubber-stamp parliament in Georgia.

“Yes, we have a progress in this regard,” Usupashvili said. “Yes, there will be issues on which we will have differences, but everything will depend how wisely we will act and how we will manage to be together even when we disagree.”
 
“I believe that the approach [offered in MP Khmaladze’s bill] is the right one and I believe that we will come to that solution, maybe the coalition and the government was not ready for this decision now, but that’s where the entire civilized world is moving and we too will have to move in that direction sooner or later,” Usupashvili said.

He said that example of Poland and few other countries in Europe where the interior ministries have a direct access to telecom operators’ networks, cited by supporters of the bill, is not reverent to Georgia, because, Usupashvili said, in those countries interior ministries have structures completely different from the one in Georgia, where the Interior Ministry incorporates not only police forces, but also security and intelligence agencies.

“Unfortunately that’s what we have inherited from the previous authorities,” Usupashvili said and then quoted parts of the Georgian Dream’s election platform in which the coalition was pledging to reform the Interior Ministry and to de-couple security and intelligence agencies from the ministry.

Usupashvili said that the Interior Ministry should be reformed in a way as it was pledged in GD’s election platform. 

This reform pledge has not been implemented and PM Irakli Garibashvili’s November 27 remarks about the need of “even stronger Interior Ministry” suggest that the government is not considering carrying out such reform.

Speaking at a ceremony marking 10th anniversary of the Patrol Police, PM Garibashvili said on November 27: “It is very regrettable that a small group of people do not understand the importance of why the police should be even stronger, why the Interior Ministry should be even stronger. Personally for me, stronger Interior Ministry means strong state and my slogan is the strong Interior Ministry, the strong state, the strong Georgian special services [security and intelligence agencies] – this is the prerequisite of our country’s success, progress, development and strength.”

In his speech Usupashvili called for ending “very pointless talk” and “speculation about someone wanting to weaken the Interior Ministry.”

During the debates on surveillance regulation bill, some GD lawmakers, who were supporting government-backed proposal on the issue, were arguing that depriving the Interior Ministry of its direct access to telecom operators’ networks would amount to “weakening” of the ministry. Among those citing this argument were one of the co-sponsors of the government-backed bill, MP Eka Beselia, chairperson of the parliamentary committee for human rights, and leader of GD parliamentary majority group MP Davit Saganelidze.

In an obvious reference to PM Garibashvili’s November 27 remarks on the Interior Ministry, Usupashvili said: “A concept that strong police is a prerequisite for a strong state is wrong.”

“There is no direct road from strong policy to the strong state if the route is not via a strong citizen, strong institutions, strong law, strong business sector, strong parliament, strong government, strong self-governance, strong individual and so on,” the parliament speaker said.

“Therefore, the issue is not that simple as if someone is building the state and some others are not thinking about these issues and do not even care if something is ruined. Perhaps, everything is just on the contrary,” he said.

Along with the Interior Ministry, Usupashvili said, the prosecutor’s office also requires reforming in terms of its accountability.

Although under the constitution prosecutor’s office is part of the Justice Ministry, with legislative amendments last year the Justice Minister was actually completely sidelined from overseeing prosecutor’s office.

“Let’s acknowledge that we have made some mistakes in this regard,” Usupashvili said. “We have actually cut all the links between the [justice] minister and the prosecutor’s office and received serious problems, because no one has been left who might be politically accountable about what is going on in that structure [prosecutor’s office].”

He said that this lack of accountability led to a situation when prosecutor’s office was using even the Parliament as a pretext for delaying a trial. Few months ago prosecutor’s office asked the court to delay trial in one of the criminal charges against former Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava, citing that investigators were not able to question some of the witnesses in the case, who were lawmakers because of their immunity; in the same motion, prosecutors were claiming that “active dialogue” was ongoing with the legislative body to arrange the questioning of lawmakers.

“The entire Parliament is now sitting here [in the chamber], can anyone tell me with whom this ‘active dialogue’ is ongoing? With no one,” Usupashvili said, adding that UNM opposition party was using such cases efficiently, conveying it to international partners and in foreign visits he is usually caught by surprise when his foreign interlocutors are asking him about such cases.
 
Usupashvili also spoke about the need for the Parliament to question executive government how it is preparing for moving to a new rule of questioning witnesses, which was postponed by lawmakers till 2016.

“I don’t think that we’ll weaken someone if we ask this question; on the contrary, by doing so we are strengthening the state and there is no [need] for those speculation that speaking out about some ‘taboo’ issues or persons is a state treason,” the parliament speaker said.

He said that the country needs “very strong security and intelligence agencies”, but they should not be taking political decisions “about which we are then sometimes notified and which we should then execute.” The strong intelligence agencies, Usupashvili said, are needed in order to provide politicians with “qualified analysis and information” to help politicians in decision-making.

“There were some cases when I was notified about a political decision. But there was no case, when we had received qualified, factual and analytical materials for making a political decision. We [MPs] are those people, who are making political decisions. Therefore, if we want a democratic state, if we do not want to slip on a slippery road, and if we do not want to appear in the position of these people [pointing finger towards opposition UNM lawmakers], we should put the entire systems on the right track,” Usupashvili said.
 
In his speech, Usupashvili also said that the government-backed bill on surveillance should not now turn into an issue over which the GD ruling coalition members would “clash” and called on them to start addressing “systemic” problems, which the GD inherited from the previous authorities.

“We should have enough political wisdom and intuition as well to make right decisions,” he said.

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