On February 9, Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili published a lengthy letter accusing the Georgian CSOs of “lack of transparency” and “political bias” and proposing steps to solve this “double challenge” by creating portals for their financial transparency and making donors accountable for the activities of the organizations they fund.
Shalva Papuashvili writes that the government is actively working on the implementation of the nine conditions set by the European Commission for the opening of accession negotiations with EU, noting that this process comes at a “challenging period” due to the upcoming elections. He emphasizes the importance of “active, benevolent and constructive” civil society in this process, citing as an example the successful cooperation between the Georgian National Platform of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (National Platform).
Papuashvili states that the government welcomes civil society engagement but is “concerned” about “truthfulness and political impartiality of certain NGOs” especially after the publication of Eastern Partnership Index report. He also criticizes those of them that left the National Platform citing this as “a good example of such irresponsibility”, lamenting that “Parliament and the rest of civil society only found out about their decision post factum, while, it appears, the donors had known about the decision beforehand.”
Reiterating the old “rich NGO”s adage the Speaker claims that the problem is that “some NGOs are richer than political parties”. He notes that these CSOs exert “undue influence” over small political parties through contributing to their development.” He recalls the most recent election of the Public Defender when as he says CSOs “pressured small parties” to withdraw their parliamentary votes, “because those NGOs did not approve of the ombudsman’s candidacy.”
He claims that “these politically active NGOs do not feel accountable to the wider civil society or the democratically elected authorities” noting that they are “manipulating with the ongoing work on ‘9 Steps to EU’ negotiations”. “NGOs are accountable not to the public but to their donors” writes the Speaker which “raises a big issue of the donors’ responsibility.” Stating that “civil society is an influential political force” he argues that “a more serious approach is needed “.
Papuashvili argues that “the major problem with foreign funding is that it frequently lacks transparency.” He is surprised by why this should be the case, given that “clearly NGOs have never encountered persecution for their activities, at least since Georgian Dream came to power.”
Noting that Georgian businesses and people “are open to donating to political parties and charities”, he writes that NGOs must address their reliance on foreign funding and “potential political bias” to participate effectively in policymaking discussions.
According to Papuashvli NGOs are “political biased”, as they are often “associated with former Saakashvili government officials”. He writes that some have actively sought to influence politics, even proposing the formation of an “extraordinary Cabinet and even participate in such ad-hoc government’s activities,” and, according to him some NGOs, such as ISFED, have been involved in “election interference” [See Civil.ge news on ISFED response to the mentioned accusations]. In addition, the Speaker notes that some NGOs share names with political parties and receive foreign funding for political purposes, which “raises constitutional concerns”.
Papuashvili names two steps for solving the “dual challenge”:
- Increased financial transparency and full disclosure of NGOs’ activities, aligning with “Georgian Government’s exemplary record on transparency”. Papuashvili states that the previous initiative in 2016, the ‘Declaration on Transparency’, showed promise but was abandoned. Reviving such efforts, like the web portal cso.ge, would be beneficial, contingent upon the “goodwill of NGOs”.
- Taking responsibility by donors for the actions of the NGOs that they fund, ensuring transparency and accountability. Papuashvili notes that before elections, a public agreement could be reached requiring full disclosure of the funding and activities of NGOs involved in political activities, thus fostering trust and constructive dialogue between parties.
And finally, recalling “the disinformation campaign that raged to discredit the results of the 2020 elections” the Speaker concludes that ensuring free and fair elections is a “shared responsibility” and “not a matter only of the government’s obligation”. He writes: “All actors, including the government, opposition, civil society, media, and international actors, with their political or financial contribution, bear their share of responsibility for contributing to free and fair elections.”