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Proposed parliamentary procedure changes criticized

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, February 8
The Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) has analyzed last year’s Parliamentary activities, and determined that new legislation is hindering good law-making and civic participation.

The organization claims that last year's sessions contained numerous procedural violations, with new laws were being drafted at record speed, noting that 483 were passed in 2011 alone. "Especially strained were the last days of 2011," a GYLA report reads. "In a two-week period, 90 new laws were adopted, which is 19% of the total laws adopted that year." The group believes that such a pace only leads to insufficient discussions of the laws and their consequences, as well as encourages violations of Parliamentary procedure. They cite problems such as failures to publish committee meeting schedules, failure to achieve quorum, serious changes made to legislation during the third reading (when it is prohibited), and the many shortcomings of the Parliament website – all of which prevents citizens and civil society groups from participating in the law-making process.

GYLA highlighted the fact that Parliament is currently working on revising parliamentary procedure for the upcoming move to Kutaisi, though meetings discussing these changes are closed to outside observers. Amendments to procedural rules are planned for the spring session, but no specific legislation is drafted as yet.

New time-limit regulations are being discussed, as well as restrictions on journalists' use of cameras.

Parliamentary Vice-Chair Mikheil Machavariani explained, “Standard TV cameras will be prohibited from recording Parliament sessions; only [Georgian Public Broadcaster 2] will be allowed to film, although journalists will be permitted to record Parliament sessions with small cameras or mobile phones".

Machavariani clarified that video recording with standard cameras will be prohibited due to possible abuse of members' images. “MPs do not want to be filmed from a bad angle, or from the back when delivering a speech,” he said.

Head of the Procedural Issues and Rules Committee, Khatuna Gogorishvili, noted that there will be a media centre in the new Parliament building in Kutaisi, where journalists will be able to watch sessions and download needed information. "At the same time, in the new Parliament building there will be eight ballrooms for holding sessions, unlike in the current one, where there are only two such rooms," she added.

Christian Democrat representative Levan Vepkhvadze claims that changes to parliamentary procedure serve only one goal – to give MPs "as much free time as possible". Under the current regime, one week of committee hearings are followed by a week in session, while in Kutaisi both sittings will be held in the same week. According to Vepkhvadze, the government may have chosen to move to Kutaisi but it is arranging Parliament to ensure that MPs have to spend as little time there as possible. Ideally, he argues, the government will visit Parliament just once a month, "like the European Commission in Strasburg".

GYLA and opposition members both assert that changes to procedure are being made in order to obstruct minority parties and create obstacles for the media.