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Irakli Melashvili: Lack of Correct Voters’ List Is State Mistake

22.02.2012

Koba Bendeliani, Interpresnews

Interpresnews interviewed representative of the Coalition for Freedom of Choice and expert in the election issues Irakli Melashvili regarding the drafted amendments to the election law and code.

-Mr. Irakli, if the parliament accepts your proposal about introduction of amendments in the election law, what will be real motive for their decision – your activity or oppression on the government from Washington and Brussels?

-Generally, Georgian people always expect others to do our job but it will not happen in this particular case. Neither Washington nor Brussels nor other political center will draft laws for us; nobody will explore possible results of badly drafted laws. So, Georgian organizations are entitled to do it. Simultaneously, we actively cooperate with international organizations. We met representatives of embassies, missions of various international organizations. We provide them with a lot of information in order to obtain their support for the initiated draft-law. So, if amendments are introduced, it will be result of two-sided effort - I mean activities of the international community and Georgian civil society. International community and the government shall see that Georgian society requests normal environment for the elections. If we achieve the result, it will be a result of joint effort.

-Are you ready to offer your proposals about the Law on Political Unions of Citizens and other election laws to the government?

-We have already handed draft-amendments to the Law about Political Unions at the chancellery of the parliament. My colleagues and I work on other draft-laws too. As for the level of drafted amendments, I want to assure you that it is high-level documents who were worked out by many experts. Besides that, when drafting the documents, we studied the opinions of Georgian and foreign experts about funding of political parties and relevant regulations in France, German, Denmark and other countries. So, I think our draft-law meets all standards. We also think the amendments drafted for the Election Code will be designed at high level as well and will be oriented at the eradication of existing shortcomings in the acting law.

-Can we suppose that the proposed amendments to the Election Code will not have only make-up effect?

-We really do not intend to introduce superficial amendments to the law and our proposals to the parliament do not have similar purposes either. It is important that large part of the civil society, almost every media organization in Tbilisi and in the regions of Georgia joined our petition and requests. So, we cannot speak about superficial changes at all.

-Part of experts believes that correct and common form of accountancy from political parties will be enough to ensure transparent funding of political parties. Do you agree with their allegation? If you do, what kind of form shall accountancy procedures have?

-First of all, we should underscore that several issues shall be clarified with regard to party funding. We should clarify the circle of entities, who can fund the parties. Another issue is the permitted amount of donations. The form of accountancy is next issue. However, it is rather technical issue than political and legal. We mostly focus on establishing correct procedures and to estimate concrete circle of people, who can transfer funds to political parties and be free from extra sanctions which might be imposed on a citizen or legal entity if the latter funds a political party.

-Majority of experts and opposition political parties believe, the amendments passed in December of 2011 restricted civic activities, right to property, freedom of expression and political activities, imposes grave and unjustified responsibility on the voter and grants unlimited and unconstitutional power to the main controller of the political parties’ funding – State Audit Company. Besides that, the restrictions hinder the activities of political parties. Have you worked out serious draft-amendments to be introduced to the law and what is their purpose?

-Of course, we have worked out all amendments. Initially we studied the problems with regard of all issues. Then we started working on formulations which could improve the shortcomings. Very concrete proposals were created for each issue and we hope the parliament will consider our proposals. As for the concrete essence of the drafted amendments, we can speak about each of our proposals in details.

First of all, we worked on the Article 26' of the law. The government alleges that they want to restrict transfer of illegal and black money in Georgian parties. This idea is completely acceptable for us; moreover, it was request of non-governmental organizations and opposition parties. However, if we review the adopted law in careful, we will find out that the new articles have nothing to do with the realization of this idea or funding of the parties. When a law-maker states that a legal entity, whose representative suggests a voter to refrain from voting any political party, the legal entity might share the sanctions envisaged for political parties. So we wonder what the connection between “suggestion” and “funding is.” It is clear if we restrict financial participation of legal entities in the election campaign of political parties, but this particular article does not mention the funding at all and it regulates demonstration of only sympathy or antipathy against political parties. Similar articles must not exist in this law. Any restriction, which can be imposed on a person, who has positive or negative opinion about any political party, is unacceptable for us. The restrictions must be imposed only for those people, who fund parties or spend money on the party activities. All restrictions must deal with the expenditures and not the expression of political will. There is a principle difference between the provision in the law and our proposal.

As for funding of political parties, we know that restrictions must be worked out in order to prevent one and the same physical person to fund the parties but it should be normally clarified and the State Audit Company or any other entity must not have chance to largely interpret the fact.

-What exactly do you mean?

-For example, a physical person can fund several political parties with total 60 000 GEL all together. A political party can accept only 60 000 GEL from one physical person. Let us imagine a situation when a physical person transferred 40 000 GEL to each of three political parties. All parties had right to accept this amount of money and they do not breach the law because the upper limit of accepting the donation is not breached. However, the second and third parties do not know that the same person has transferred money to other parties too. So, the first beneficiary did not breach the law but all others have violated the law. What will happen in this particular case? According to the law, the political party shall return the money back to the donator within three days time. But if it does not recover the money, the party will have to pay ten times more fine. But, how can we fine a political party for the violation when they could not have information about breaching the law?

Our proposal is – entire information about donations must be accumulated in the data base of the State Audit Company. Thus, before the Company imposes any sanctions on the parties, it should notify the party about possible violation. So, the sanctions can be imposed on the political party only after the latter does not obey the warning and appeal against the decision of the State Audit Company. If the entire information is accumulated in the State Audit Company, the latter will be authorized to inform both physical and legal entities about violation and unless they appeal to the court within five days, the Audit Company will have right to impose sanctions on the violator.

-Several political parties and experts protested ultimate power of the head of the Chamber of Control’s unit for monitoring of political funding. What are your proposals with regard to this issue?

-Article 354' of the Criminal Code of Georgia states – a prosecutor shall appeal to the court to sequester the property of a children’s kidnapper, purchaser of the Georgian citizens’ properties in the occupied territories and racketeer. The principle of competitiveness is formally preserved and whoever the accused is, she/he should have right to protect his/her position and provide arguments at the court. Our law-makers declared the political parties participating in the elections to be more dangerous units than kidnapper and racketeer and entitled one person to sequester their properties without court judgment. I mean the head of the Chamber of Control’s unit for monitoring of political funding. Before that, only disputed part of the property could be sequestered not only by our law but by the laws of other countries. According to the national law, one person from the Chamber of Control can sequester the entire property of an accused. Even though only 1 000 GEL is disputable, the entire property of the political party, which can value several millions, might be sequestered. Thus, the political party or the legal entity will have to stop functioning. So, we want to introduce a clear provision which will sequester only disputable part of the property. The abovementioned principle of informing the possible violator about the upcoming sanctions - must work in this particular case too.

-Before our interview you spoke about estimation of limit of financial expenditures for the persons participating in majoritarian elections …

-The parliament made unprecedented nonsense when fixed 0.2% of the Gross Domestic Product as maximum limit for political entities to spend during elections. The same limit works for a person participating in the majoritarian ballot. For example, a single mandate candidate in Kazbegi district can spend as much money as one political party in the entire territory of Georgia. It is both absurd and creates unequal conditions for the person who is a candidate of a particular party in the district. So, we offer the government to fix maximum limit for single mandate candidates too.

If a political party can spend 0.2% of the GDP during the elections, the sum shall be divided in 3, 600 000 – population of Georgia – and the received sum shall be multiplied by the number of population in the particular district. And it will estimate exact limit for the fund that can be spent by the single mandate candidate.

-Director of the ISFED Nino Lomjaria presented very alarming statists with regard to the Voters’ List. Have you drafted concrete proposals about Voters’ List?

-ISFED presented very good materials. According to them, only 58% of voters can be identified according to their place of residence. The CEC is not right when alleging that they have perfect lists. The point is that it is not fault of the Central Election Commission. Georgia spends millions of foreign aids on the creation of Civil Registration Agency in the country. It is an institution equipped with modern equipment but despite that we do not know exact number of Georgian population as well as the exact number of voters in the country. Lack of correct voters’ list is state crime.  The only source to improve the mistake is biometry. It ensures correct identification of a person and excludes duplication of people in the lists.

-Will they manage to distribute biometric passports before the elections?

-It will take three months in Georgia but additionally the process needs political will of the government which does not exist. So, a large campaign shall start to motivate every citizen of Georgia to go to the precinct and register his/her name and family members in it. We will have consultations with our colleagues, how to launch similar campaign.

If the campaign is launched, we will have more chances to receive improved election lists during the next elections. The campaign requires organization and resources which non-governmental organizations cannot afford alone. It will be nice if entire society will take part in the process and evaluate the reality properly. This government will never correct the election lists because with it they will not be able to win elections. If the society wants real changes in the country, everybody shall take responsibility to improve the election lists.

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