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Changes made to law regarding funding of political parties

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, December 29
The law on political unions, which will determine the rules of sponsoring political parties, was confirmed on December 28 with some “additional changes” made to it. The majority of representatives claim the recommendations from NGOs in the country were taken in to consideration while working on the changes, however the views of NGOs and opposition parties differ significantly on the matter from that of the authorities.

According to the draft of the amendment to the relevant provision in the criminal code, offering, promising and giving money, services or other benefits of any kind directly or indirectly “for political purposes” or making any sham deals “for the purpose of evading restrictions” set by the law will be punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to three years.

A legal entity engaged in illegal activities, laid out in this provision, will become subject to “liquidation”.

As the majority lawmaker Pavle Kublashvili said, “Liquidation will not spread to the political parties. At the same time, political parties will be able to donate up to GEL 5,000 to citizens, however only for traditional festivals, and such action will not be considered bribe-giving.

Herewith, promises which might come true after a political party’s coming to power, would also not be regarded as bribing voters. This decision is an outcome of the consultations we had with NGOs,” said MP Akaki Minashvili.

Based on the changes, financial control of the political parties will be carried out by the Chamber of Control. Financial and working restrictions will concern not just political parties but legal and physical persons, family members and employees.

One of the new provisions is to apply the new rules retroactively to the extent that parties with a certain amount of money on their accounts at the time the new regulations come in to force and obtained not in line with the new rules must be returned to donors.

Political parties “which have received funding in violation of the regulations (of this law) and have not spent the funds by the time of this law’s enactment, are obliged to return these funds to the donor within three days after the law goes into force.” Failure to observer this provision will mean that the funds will be transferred “to state ownership”, the new regulation reads.

As a result it now seems that the four opposition parties allied with Bidzina Ivanishvili who have received GEL 4.1 million mostly from the billionaire politician in the past two months, will no longer be able to use these funds for the next year, when the parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held.

The authorities say that the changes that have been made to the law are just and create an equal situation for each political party. “It is not right when one political subject has already got a sum for the elections and another one is prohibited from getting financing in this way,” MP Koba Khabazi said, adding that if those parties have already spent the sum then they will be free of responsibility, if not then they will have to return the money. “It is most important for all political parties to be in equal positions in the pre-election period.”

“The changes are a classic and shameful example of the behaviour of the frightened authorities,” said one of the leaders of the Republican Party, Tina Khidasheli. She stated that she sincerely believed the authorities would have seen how absurd it was and would not have allowed such foolishness to go ahead. “The issue will not be left as it is, and such a decision will elicit a strict response from our side.”

Even the opposition party which has agreed to collaborate with the authorities regarding election issues, has expressed disagreement over the changes and mentioned that “The authorities are manipulating the Venice Commission’s recommendations and making changes to the law which impose grounded fears in society, in political parties and in NGOs,” said member of New Rights party Mamuka Katsitadze.

As representative of the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association Lela Taliauri told The Messenger, their formulations have not been reflected in the law; moreover she has mentioned that their suggestions did not take the form of recommendations. “We participated in the sittings of the legal Committee of the Parliament and in the discussion we expressed our views, members of different NGOs were present and the lawmakers were just listening to us,” Taliuri said. According to her, GYLA had a different formulation regarding the liquidation issue for legal entities based on which a fine and other means of punishment should have been introduced in place of imprisonment. At the same time, the issues which the NGOs remain negative about, referring to pre-election campaigning and punishment for voters for taking bribes, remain present in the law. “Thus our concerns have not been taken into account. One thing the authorities have mentioned is the note in the law which declares that the right of expression is protected. I will be sable to elaborate on this in more detail when we have access to the document.”