On December 6, two MPs from the ruling Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia (GDDG), Rati Ionatamishvili, (Deputy Head of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee) and Guram Macharashvili, (First Deputy Head of the Procedural Issues and Rules Committee and member of the Legal Issues Committee) have tabled an amendment to the recently enacted Law on Civil Service, that would transform the staff of Presidential Administration from civil servants into administrative personnel.
The explanatory note accompanying the draft proposal reads: ““The current structure of the Presidential Administration, considering the [future] role and functions of this administration, does not fully correspond to the logic advanced in the Law on Civil Service. Specifically, the staff of the Presidential Administration in effect represent assisting personnel in service of the politically appointed official, thus they should be employed on administrative contracts [rather than civil servants].”
The move, if passed, would apply to 102 civil servants currently employed by the Administration. Currently, more than 80% of the Administrations staff are career civil servants, hired on a permanent bases, while the rest are politically appointed advisors and aides, and technical personnel. The new proposal, if passed, would transform the majority of Presidential staff into short-term, contracted personnel. The procedures for hiring, firing and promoting short term personnel, as well as the criteria for their appointment are significantly less transparent and stringent, and their contracts may be terminated at a short notice, and at will.
Following the inauguration of the President-elect, whose Constitutional competencies are narrower than those of the outgoing President, the staff number was slated to drop to 60. However, a proposal to remove civil servant status came as a surprise.
Two local civil society organizations – Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) and Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) – said the proposal is contrary to the Georgian government’s stated policy, damages Georgia’s commitments to the European Union and is possibly also contrary to the Constitutional guarantees of fair employment.
IDFI said on December 12 “the initiated amendments infringe upon the rights of civil servants, pose a risk to the establishment of an effective, sustainable and politically neutral civil service in Georgia and generally to the successful implementation of public administration reform.”
In a statement released on the same day, Wednesday, GYLA called upon the Parliament not to support the initiative, because its approval “would harm the labor rights of civil servants, their professional independence and stability of civil service.”
Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria echoed those concerns, saying citizen enjoy a Constitutional protection from arbitrary dismissal.
Giorgi Abashishvili, head of the outgoing President’s administration, slammed the initiative as “cowardly, treacherous, clearly discriminatory and anti-constitutional.” The Administration officials have met watchdogs and diplomats to brief them concerning the proposals and exchange views.
MP Sergi Kapanadze of the opposition European Georgia party also assessed the proposal negatively, saying that it “abuses the principle of civil service.”
Some representatives from the ruling party were also critical. MP Roman Kakulia, member of the GDDG political board said the “protection of civil servants is an absolute priority. We saw numerous times, what problems the state faces if the institutional memory is lacking, what happens, when each time a new political appointee [is appointed, s/he] re-hires staff that [he or she finds] personally acceptable. This notion is categorically unacceptable.” He added, however, that the specifics of the proposal needed to be hammered out.
Giorgi Kakhiani, Chairperson of the Procedures Committee, said Georgia’s civil service reform has enjoyed “wide approval from the non-governmental sector, as well as from international organizations, and I want to say that no change would be adopted that may cast a shadow on this reform.” He said the discussions on the proposal will continue, and “did not exclude” that the proposal would be withdrawn.
Former Deputy Justice Minister Alexander Baramidze, of GDDG, has slammed the proposal as “shameful” and said the adoption of the Law on Civil Service was “one of the major preconditions” for Georgia qualifying for the visa-free movement with the Schengen group of European countries. He also pointed out, that the proposed changes are in clear contradiction with the principles of the Law on Civil Service, stipulating creation of the professional civil service and of transparent hiring and career advancement procedures.
In response to the criticism, Guram Macharashvili, co-sponsor of the bill, said that the key purpose of the proposal is to bring both the number and functional profile of the presidential staff in accordance with the reduced responsibilities of the President.