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New Draft Introduces Bailing Off from the Military

As Georgian Army is celebrating its 11th anniversary, it also seeks to find solutions for the lack of funding and outdated structure. The new draft law by the Georgian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is aiming to tackle both of these problems.

A draft seeks to reform the system of compulsory drafting and introduce the military fee, which would allow bailing out from the service. The MoD planners consider this scheme would help to uproot some of the most pervasive corrupt practices and provide much-needed cash to the military, helping to fund transformation to the professional army.

The draft was already approved by the National Security Council and is sent to the Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security for further elaboration.

According to existing laws, each 18-year-old male citizen of Georgia is obliged to serve in the Georgian armed forces. However, numerous loopholes exist for evading conscription and drafting to the army fails to reach the target figures year after year.

But the problem is MoD fails to provide adequate living conditions and training even to those drafted. Georgia spends the lowest share of its military budget in the region, and even earmarked funds are frequently as a result of recurring failure to collect the budget revenues.

Georgian defense planners with assistance of the foreign experts began to make emphasis on reduction of the number of the military, putting higher emphasis on a quality of training. Currently, there are nearly 20 000 servicemen in Georgian armed forces and the National Guard, most of them are conscripts.

According to the Georgian MoD “White Paper” the number of servicemen is to decrease and reach 13 000 by 2003. It is also intended to gradually increase the share of contractors and form fully professional army by 2005. First steps have already been made towards this direction. US-trained soldiers in framework of recently launched Georgia Train-and-Equip program [GTEP] are to serve at least three-year contracts with MoD.

The projected dates of transformation to the fully professional army can be arguable; however the experts say the new draft is a step in a right direction to eliminate some of the most pressing problems in conscription, first of all, corruption.

According to the draft, military commissariats would be abolished. Commissariats, remnants of the soviet system, are special military committees to oversee and manage conscription. Local NGO reports say these agencies are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense, non-transparent to civil control and thus breed corruption.

Corruption is especially pervasive, as the commissariats have the unilateral discretion to grant delay or cancel conscription, as a result of a medical checkup. The rules for forming the medical commissions are not clear, rotation is not obligatory. As a result, the majority of relatively well-off conscripts are successfully evading service through bribes.

The new draft transfers the authority for drafting to the local government. According to the draft the conscripts will deal only with civilian authorities up until the moment they give military oath. Commissariats will be transformed into mobilization departments, subordinate to the National Guard which will coordinate reservists’ regular meetings and perform trainings.
While these changes would solve some of the problems, some argue that absent clear conscription procedures of medical checkups and control over decision-making authority the source of corruption would simply move from the military to civilian authorities. Unfortunately, the draft does not even sketch the mechanisms for civil control.

One important novelty in the draft law is introduction of the military fee. Each person could pay a fee of 200 GEL (approximately USD 100) to delay the service for a year. It is also possible to pay a lumpsum of 2000 GEL together and postpone the service before the age of 26. It is important that the new draft does not imply the ability to fully bail out from the service. Every 26-year-old male citizen will be obliged to undergo 6 or 12 month compulsory training, and join the military reserve. 

If the law is passed, MoD expects revenues of approximately 14-15 million GEL annually. According to the plan, accumulated funds would be used for ammunition procurement, while the state budget will cover the salaries and improvement of social conditions.

Independent military expert Irakli Aladashvili says he is skeptical of the plan.  “200 Laris will not decide anything. Inflation can easily devalue these funds,” he says. Aladashvili says incentives are to be designed to make military service attractive. Along these lines, the MoD and some Parliamentarians think it should be impossible to hold high public office without serving in the army.

Although the new draft can be breaking with some of the old habits and stereotypes, some still remain. And the independent analysts say, some of the most lucrative loopholes are not addressed. For instance the draft leaves mostly intact the current ambiguous system of officer training at the universities.

According to the current practice, students of the universities with military departments are not entitled to compulsory service, but pass training at the university, followed by the several-month field training, and are awarded the lower officer rank.  The new draft says the General Staff of MoD would determine in advance those professions and the number of reservists who will be trained at the university-based military departments, but no selection criteria are outlined.

The head of the defense department at the National Security Council Sergo Gumberidze says, there should be an additional law to regulate these details, but no draft has been presented yet. It is also unclear why these provisions could not go into a single legislative document.

Experts also claim the draft law is too general, providing the freedom of interpretation to the various official agencies outside of civil control. Thus, they say, the number of loopholes would not decrease; in fact, more ways of cheating the law can be discovered.

The new draft law is destined to generate controversy in the Georgian public and the parliament. It is hoped that the new legislation will help to guide the Georgian military on its path to becoming more flexible and professional force. However, existing shortcomings in the draft suggest that the way to development is far from being secured.

By Revaz Bakhtadze, Civil Georgia

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