Web Portal on Human Rights in Georgia

Chamber of Control, Political Police or?...

15.03.2012

Aleksi Bezhanishvili
According to the articles of the Civil Georgia

The state audit agency, Chamber of Control, has claimed that an opposition coalition, led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, was renting office spaces in the regions in violation of party funding regulations, suggesting that in this process the group was using corporate funding, which is banned by the law.

The agency, which is in charge of monitoring political finances, said in a statement on March 14, that it was auditing whether financial declaration submitted by Ivanishvili’s public movement, Georgian Dream, matched with its actual spending and series of summoning of opposition activists in the regions was related to this ongoing probe.

The Chamber of Control has come under fire for summoning in last three days dozens of opposition activists from Ivanishvili-led coalition for questioning. Ivanishvili’s allies said it was part of the authority’s attempts to mount “psychological pressure” on its supporters.

The Chamber of Control said that during ongoing probe it had found that the Georgian Dream’s actual expenses did not correspond to those indicated in the organization’s financial declaration and in particular that applies to the movement’s new offices in the regions.

Since its formation last month, Georgian Dream opposition coalition has opened  over dozen of its offices in the provinces as part of the campaign in lead up to parliamentary elections in October. The latest one was opened in Kvareli, a town in eastern region of Kakheti, on March 14.

The state audit agency said that “on this stage it has been confirmed” that office spaces were rented not by political parties in the coalition or natural persons, as law requires, but by Ivanishvili-affiliated companies “despite of the fact that law bans funding of political organizations by a private firm.”

The state audit agency also said that similar violations were also found in respect of funding renovation costs of offices and salaries for the activists. The agency said the examination was still ongoing and other details would become available later Levan Bezhashvili, head of the Chamber of Control, said that the process was part of the agency’s examination of political finances and it aimed at “gathering information” in order “to clarify” how financial declarations submitted by political parties match with actual spending of parties in the regions.

A local activist of the Republican Party, part of Ivanishvili-led coalition, in Lanchkhuti of Guria region told a local media outlet, Guria News, that she had been questioned for several hours in the building of local municipal administration, repeatedly asked about how much she had been paid for distributing newspapers of Ivanishvili’s movement, Georgian Dream, and for collecting signatures of citizens in favor of restoring Ivanishvili’s Georgian citizenship. She said that while she had been paid for collecting of citizens’ signatures, no paying was made for distribution of newspapers; she said that during questioning she had been “advised” to testify that she had received GEL 100 for distribution of newspapers and called the process of questioning “psychological pressure”.

Tbilisi-based legal advocacy group, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, said that it was providing a legal aid to some of the opposition activists, who had been summoned by the state audit agency. The group said, citing its lawyers, that activists were mainly asked questions about their political affiliations, distribution of Georgian Dream’s newspapers, collecting citizens’ signatures in favor of Ivanishvili’s Georgian citizenship and whether they were paid for it.

“Asking these questions lasts for several hours, which is depressive for citizens,” GYLA said.

Also on March 13 head of the Chamber of Control, Levan Bezhashvili, met with representatives from local non-governmental organizations to discuss legislative amendments “to further improve” the law on political parties, the state audit agency said.

 “During the meeting setting up of an advisory council with the participation of non-governmental organizations was also discussed, which would increase involvement of non-governmental sector and its awareness about the work of [political parties’] financial monitoring service,” the Chamber of Control said.

Irakli Alasania, leader of Our Georgia-Free Democrats, part of Ivanishvili-led coalition, said on March 14, the Chamber of Control “has actually turned into political police.”

In an attempt to deny allegations, the state audit agency said that citizens were free to engage in political campaigning and that the ongoing “monitoring does not and cannot aim at studying of political activity of individuals.”

“Our goal is to secure transparency of political finances and [political organizations'] accountability before the public,” the Chamber of Control said.

Simultaneously, Parliament initiated on March 13 procedures required for constitutional amendment to rename state audit agency, Chamber of Control, into Supreme Chamber of Audit and Financial Transparency.
The initiative was signed by 84 MPs and supposedly it is related with reflecting the new authority of the Chamber of Control in its title that was granted to it based on the December 2011 amendments to the Law about Political unions.

Source: Civil Georgia’s articles