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The Dispatch

Dispatch | 7-14 September: Who Let the Watchdogs Out?

As the world marvels at Ukraine’s military success, mourns the passing of the British monarch, and looks with disquiet at yet another flareup of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Georgia’s internal politics remains insular and self-absorbed. The ruling party rampant, the opposition – dormant. Let’s catch up on the developments of the past week together.

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EASY COME, EASY GO It has come full circle. The departure of the four Georgian Dream MPs to “speak the truth to the nation” – a coded phrase for peddling anti-Western conspiracy theories – ended with them attending the ruling party’s retreat. Smooth-talking ruling ruling party spokesperson Mamuka Mdinaradze used the playground excuse of “Did I ever say they were leaving the majority?! I said they are leaving the party!” But the informal leader of the four, dour-faced MP Khundadze was more sincere, saying there are “no fundamental value differences” between them and the party. The only difference, is how brazenly they “tell the truth” – i.e. push anti-Western conspiracies. But even there, GD Chair Irakli Kobakhidze is not far behind…

RAGS TO RICHES There is an irony in the ruling party financed by the billionaire bashing others for having too much money. Yet, “rich NGOs” is precisely the angle that the ruling party picked to go after country’s leading civil society groups and watchdogs. After having been explored and honed by the party-affiliated trolls on social media for quite sometime, after the “breakaway four” spoke of the traitors on the American leash, the “rich NGO” tag broke out to the mainstream last week. The GD-amplifier, Imedi TV punched out the report titled “The Clan of Rich NGOs” . In it, the reporter is browsing the websites of these NGOs – listing their activities and projects. Under ominous soundtrack, the voiceover says these organizations receive millions of dollars from foreign sources, yet do not report on their projects (yes, all the while browsing the reports from these projects). The “rich NGOs” trope then gets dutifully picked by the party spokesperson Mdinaradze next day (in response to Imedi TV question, of course) who says the money from these “several richest organizations, we are talking millions here” is directed “against the state, against the government” [let’s note, warily and in passing, his equating the ruling party with the state]. Then comes the heavyweight: GD Chair Kobakhidze (a.k.a The Flaming Sword) thunders: “there are several riches NGOs that are being financed from various sources, come out with political demands and having political ambition. They have a moral obligation to show high degree of transparency.”

TRANSPARENCY, YOU SAY? Transparency, apparently, is important for the CSOs which get their accounts audited annually, reporting to their donors quarterly, and having the obligation of financial disclosure to the treasury. But not for the government. The media report from BMG, a news outlet focused on business, found that the the government has not been publishing its decisions for two years now. Many of those related to gifting or granting public property for cents-and-dimes. Government response – revoking the nosy journalist’s cabinet credentials for “asking too many questions”.

UNDER THE CARPET More sinister news may still be hidden under the carpet. Revelations from the imprisoned whistleblower would have been explosive in any other country – former deputy security chief says the Georgian top security officials have been running illicit goods tracking and political infiltration schemes at least from 2016-2017. made an excellent brief that explains these complex allegations. The detained security official has few sympathizers, and his past is at least as murky as that of those he accuses. Yet, the detailed nature of revelation would have warranted an inquest. The ruling party signals none is forthcoming, and the opposition’s demand to form the parliamentary investigative committee may also come to naught.

We haven’t seen the end of this campaign yet, and surely our coming reports will return to the topic. Meanwhile, the Georgian Dream has been doing what it does best: wrapping devil’s details into progressive-sounding proposals. The legislation foreseeing higher pro-forma involvement of civil society in the selection process may help the ruling party hand-pick the next Public Defender, while the progressive-sounding proposals for e-voting, might ease vote-rigging. We concede: in general, many political proposals carry the risks of abuse. But it is the concerted effort to silence the watchdogs that is amplifying our suspicions.

That’s all for now, The Dispatch will be back next Wednesday.


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