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GYLA report slams partisan use of government resources

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, April 5
The final report of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association's (GYLA) Monitoring Pre-Election Processes for the 2012 Parliamentary Elections was presented on Wednesday. Covering the period from January 1 to March 30, GYLA monitored pre-election processes in Tbilisi, Batumi, Gori, and Kutaisi.

GYLA received information from public services and analyzed news reported by the media. “Often, citizens or party members would inform us about violations and political pressure. Then monitors from GYLA checked the trustworthiness of the facts and provided sources with legal assistance if necessary,” the report read.

Representatives of GYLA have been actively engaged in parliamentary discussions about improvements to the electoral environment. Despite various changes to the law, the young lawyers worried that some problems still remain. The new electoral code, adopted in December 2011, “increased the circle of [government] officials” who can participate in pre-election campaigns, thus putting participating parties on unequal footing.

The report emphasized the engagement of a group of NGOs and media outlets through the "It Concerns You" campaign. A goal of the campaign was to improve the electoral environment in Georgia, through an agreement with the Parliamentary Legal Committee on controversial legislative issues.

The report states that the amount of so-called "other" expenditures in the national budget has increased almost twofold this year. The lawyers fear that the 50 million lari reserve funds of the President and the government may be used to subsidize the campaign of the ruling United National Movement (UNM) party during the parliamentary elections this fall.

Speaking of the increased number of social, health, and cultural programs enacted by the government this year, GYLA suspected that these short-term programs may be intended to attract voters. They believe that the distribution of electricity vouchers, which was popular with the electorate, requires large budget resources but are, in the long run, inefficient.

The GYLA report also referred to the Chamber of Control’s new responsibility to monitor the financial transparency of political parties. Calling it an “unlimited authority”, the lawyers discouraged the “vague changes” to campaign finance law, and noted that the original duty of the Chamber is a constitutional responsibility to monitor how efficiently state resources are being consumed, through an audit system. “The law enables the Chamber of Control to carry out extraordinary discrimination to define whether the physical or/and legal entity is connected with the political party without the clear criteria,” reads the report.

Revealing instances of persecution, intimidation, and politically-motivated dismissals from work, GYLA appealed to law enforcement to study cases of civil rights violations and address the responsibility of offenders.

One of the cases involves 61-year old school guard Zurab Tavartkiladze, who said he was sacked for reading a Georgian Dream newsletter. The school principal, meanwhile, asserts that Tavartkiladze was dismissed for neglecting his responsibilities.

GYLA discouraged all “unwise and limiting regulations” which may endanger freedom of expression, the right to property, and act against the principles of a free and fair electoral environment, based on international standards.

As GYLA’s Lela Taliauri told The Messenger, their research has revealed the potential risks of using administrative resources for political ends, as it damages the ability of other parties to participate in democracy.

No government representatives attended the presentation of the report's findings. “Ruling party members Pavle Kublashvili and Ako Minashvili didn’t come to the presentation. As they said, they didn’t get the invitation cards we sent,” Taliauri noted, adding that this was not an excuse because no one else had any problems attending the event.